“Drift? Waddya mean, drift?”
With the immortal lines of the protagonist of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift ringing in my ears, and the best/worst southern American accent I’d ever heard making me smile, a new drifting game has appeared on the Xbox One. Now, I’m used to playing racers and drifting despite what the game wants you to do, like in Forza Motorsport, where you can drift but almost feel the weight of disapproval from the developers when you do. So, with the developers CarX Technologies (hit them up on Facebook and Instagram) building a game where drifting is not only tolerated, but pretty much mandatory, I pulled on my Nomex romper suit and decided to get stuck in to CarX Drift Racing Online.
First off and I’ll admit that I was initially disappointed to see that the names of the cars included here weren’t what they should be. Now, when I was a younger man, I used to take to take part in 1/10th scale RC Drift contests the length and breadth of the land, and quite often these were run in tandem with the British Drift Championship in its early days. I quickly learned to tell my AE86 from my Supra, my S13 Silvia from my S15 Silvia, my Skyline from my 350Z, my… you get the picture. Long story short, no matter what kind of ridiculous body kit the drift cars sported, I could tell what they were. And it’s the same here: the Hachi Roku is a Toyota AE86 (Hachi Roku is the Japanese nickname for this car, meaning almost literally 86), the Panther is a Mazda MX5 and so on. This is however a real pet hate of mine, as I can clearly see that the car I’m driving is a Camaro, yet it’s called a Hornet, and even that’s a bit too close to Bumblebee from Transformers. It just seems a little dishonest to try and sidestep licencing in this manner.
Anyway, we start off, as is traditional in these games, with a weedy bunch of underpowered, asthmatic cars that would struggle to pull the skin off a rice pudding. I initially opted for the Hachi Roku (imagine me rolling my eyes here) as it is a hero car in Initial D, and obviously I had to paint it in the traditional Panda style. Taking a stock car out on track is a bit underwhelming, as you’d imagine, as they don’t have much power, struggle to kick the back end out and lack the ability to hold extended drifts. Still, each run round the car park saw my score get better, as I learned how best to extract drift that was hidden inside the sleeping monster. With sufficient runs, I had some money saved up, and so was able to power up the car, and from here the fun and the drift just went ballistic.
In the Garage menu, you can mod your selected car in four ways. Turbo does what it says on the tin, and shoehorns a turbo under the bonnet, giving much more power but no more control. The Drift mod allows you to add parts to make the car better at drifting, alongside freeing up some of the spare horses lurking in the depths of the engine bay. Racing mods do similar, but set the car up for the Time Attack mode that is included, and finally Ultimate mods allow you to fully exploit the performance of the car, giving you total control over its setup. Of course, Drift and Racing mods are cheaper than Ultimate, and can be bought at a lower level, so I settled for a Drift modified Hachi Roku, with the most ridiculous body kit money could buy – painted pink and lime green because I could. After this, the sky was the limit, and the gold cups began to stack up on my mantelpiece.
Earning money and levelling up in CarX Drift Racing Online not only lets you modify your car, it also allows you to purchase new tracks, as well as new classes of car. The most fun I’ve had so far has been with a Nissan RPS13 – a 180SX – a lowly Class 2 car. Drift modified, with a body kit that features the front end of an S13 and the biggest spoiler known to man, the balance and power of this car was a revelation. You truly could balance it on the throttle, applying just enough power to keep the back end hanging out, feathering the throttle to make a transition, powering through bends with smoke pouring off the back tyres. This truly was drifting nirvana.
As a drifting game, CarX Drift Racing Online is without doubt the best I’ve played on the Xbox, and the feel of the cars is absolutely bang on. Each needs a different technique to get the best out of it, whether it be taking a Hachi Roku and absolutely wringing its neck to get it to drift, valves bouncing off the bonnet, or whether it be the Hornet, with a big lazy V8, utilising the torque to keep the drift going. It is fantastic fun, and the feeling when you manage to drift a whole track without the front wheels ever being in line with the rears is a fantastic feeling. I used to do this on Autumn Ring Mini in a Dodge Viper in the first Gran Turismo, and the years in between haven’t dulled the sheer fun of drifting.
So, single player drifting is great fun – how about the rest of the offerings? Well, there is a tandem drifting section, which is how the competitions used to be run back in the day. A car leads off, and the chase car has to keep as close as possible to the lead car, scoring points for speed, angle, proximity and style. I assume it’s the same here, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what I am supposed to do as the chase car in the game. There is literally no explanation provided, and having discovered that overtaking the lead car leads to disqualification, even sticking to his rear bumper like glue doesn’t seem to let me win, so I’m at a loss. The Time Attack mode is sadly another damp squib: with the cars and seemingly the whole game designed around drifting, trying to put a fast time together without drifting, even in an R34 Skyline, results in a messy, sloppy, half race-half drift lap that fails to trouble the leaderboards. It just doesn’t feel like a racing game, if I’m honest; it’s more a hooligan, burning rubber, sliding everywhere simulator!
Online is another enticing playground, however, and with cross-play with PC, the drift scene is always well-populated. I have had no trouble in finding lobbies to join, and the netcode here is also very good indeed, with no lag or slowdown. Finding a likeminded person online, and tandeming around some of the demanding tracks, makes this a must play title online, and the replays are truly amazing to look at. The smoke pouring off the tyres does seem to have real physical weight, and can totally obscure the track ahead if you get too close to another racer, so much so you can almost taste it. I suppose doing it virtually has to be better for the environment than doing it in real life!
Are there any bad points to this game, I hear you ask? Well, the Time Attack is a let down, as it just feels limp, and the camera is another issue. Well, issue may be a bit strong, but in every driving game I’ve ever played, I always play in the front bumper view. Well, every driving game ever, that is, except CarX Drift Racing Online on Xbox One, as it is very difficult to place the car on either the bumper cam or the cockpit view. For proper control, I have to use the external view, as it allows you to see how close the car is to the wall and also how close it is to a spin. Other than this, and the lack of anything resembling a tutorial, and a general rough feel to the menus, CarX Drift Racing Online is a very capable drift simulator. The physics work, the joy of sliding and skidding is real, and if you have the slightest interest in the noble Japanese art of drift, you need to play this game.