Drift games appear to follow the well-known saying about buses, where there are none for ages and then two come along at once. Following hot on the heels of the impressive CarX: Drift Racing Online comes the second bus, Inertial Drift. Now, this is a much more arcadey offering than the aforementioned game, and it appears that the developers, Level 91 Entertainment, have taken the ‘90s as an inspiration, with a lovely neon, almost Tron-like glow about the game.
First off, the way that Inertial Drift looks is absolutely beautiful, with a real retro look to the visuals. Do you remember back in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s where every game seemingly had to be cel-shaded? Games like XIII or Auto Modellista? Well, it appears that the devs remember those days well as Inertial Drift has a cool collection of almost cartoon quality cars to unlock and master, along with a whole roster of rivals to challenge and beat. There is a massively big tick for the way the game looks.
The cars are all imaginary, so don’t have to correspond to anything on this planet, and as such look futuristic, tinged with a lovely retro style. Another plus point is in regards to the speed and presentation of the racing itself, with Inertial Drift absolutely tearing along, with nary a hint of slowdown. To be fair, there are only ever a maximum of two cars on the track at once, and they can’t collide with each other due to some nonsense about “phase shifting technology” in the vehicles, but the upshot of this is that things fast turn into a battle between you and the track, as you learn the twists and shave seconds off by drifting harder and sooner.
The second thing I have to mention is the unique control method that has been introduced here. The driving controls are as you’d expect – RT to go faster, LT to slow down, left stick to steer. So far, so boring right? Well, that all changes with the introduction of the “Drift Stick”, otherwise known as the right stick on your controller. This allows you to drift, even in a straight line, and by using it in conjunction with the left stick, a drift can be made sharper or you back off the angle a bit by countersteering. It’s actually really hard to put into words how this system works, but it is so intuitive that within just a few minutes I was drifting pretty much the entire first circuit of Inertial Drift, with hardly any braking and a series of beautifully executed transitions.
You see, braking is only done in a real emergency, and often just lifting off the throttle will see you around all but the tightest hairpins. There’s nothing like seeing a long sweeper in front, executing the perfect drift through it, then firing out the other side faster than you went into it. Getting a series of bends just right, overtaking your rival and winning on the last corner is a genuine punch the air moment.
Of course, without cars Inertial Drift would be pretty flat; luckily it has many. As you work through story mode with each of the playable characters, you are given a series of missions to accomplish, which culminate in a race against the adversary of the level you are on. Should you be able to beat your rival, you will then unlock the ability to try and win the car for use yourself. Usually this involves taking the car in question out for a spin and trying to beat a certain lap time, and with each car handling very differently these can be quite challenging. One that sticks in the mind is when trying to win the Katana, a car that accelerates fast but doesn’t corner very well. I had to take it around a snowy course complete with snow drifts on the corners. It didn’t end well. Finding a car that suits your style is a big part of this game though, and with many to choose from there is sure to be one that will no doubt fit the bill.
Racing in Inertial Drift basically breaks down into several basic types. There is time attack, which is basically you against the track, trying to beat a certain lap time. Style has you trying to score as many points as you can, while Endurance is the closest thing to a proper arcade-styled race, where you have to cover a certain distance by getting to checkpoints in time. Duel sees you trying to stay ahead of your opponent, as whoever is in front gradually gets points accumulated. This is the one I find hardest, in all honesty, as the AI generally speeds off into the distance, and catching them can be a real pain. Ghost battle and Race do exactly what they say on the tin, whilst last but not least, in terms of the game modes, is that of practice – we all know what that makes, right?
There are a good quantity of modes to go at too, with your car of choice. Standard career mode sees you take control of a character, and attempt to get them ready for the big race through a series of scenarios. With four different characters to choose from, each of whom not only have a different backstory, but crucially a different car to drive, there are effectively four careers to play, and this a good way of honing your skills. Arcade mode lets you take any car out for a spin on any track, in any of the disciplines that the game has to offer, whilst Grand Prix sees you trying to complete a series of five objectives in one sitting, as quitting out before it’s complete will require you to start the whole process again. There is even a split-screen mode for couch based shenanigans and Inertial Drift works very well here, with no slowdown and some ridiculously close battles coming out.
There is also an online multiplayer mode included for when you are ready to unleash your skills upon an unsuspecting world, but it isn’t quite as comprehensive as you might have hoped. There doesn’t seem to be any modes available online other than a straight up race, so, for example, there are no style events to partake in. Also, as there is a lack of a lobby system, if you want to play with a friend, its a case of setting the class and region to be the same, and then crossing your fingers that you get matched with your opponent of choice. It does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity to be honest, as can you imagine how much fun a proper tournament setup could be, drifting around the world?
So, we’ve seen that Inertial Drift looks great and plays beautifully, but is there anything to grumble about other than the omission of specific game modes in the online multiplayer? Well, a couple of minor things, but that is all really. One is that there’s no way to change the camera, so if you don’t enjoy looking at the back of your car, you’re out of luck. There’s also no mini map to show you what corners are coming up, which I feel in a game as fast and furious (sorry) as this one would be a great help. Another niggle is that if you do hit a barrier, they do seem to be a little magnetic, as getting off them can be quite hard. Other than those oddities though, the rest of the game has been a pleasure to play.
In conclusion, if you like an arcade racer, if you like drifting, and especially if you like drifting in arcade racers, Inertial Drift on Xbox One is the game for you. Even if you usually like the more serious end of the racing spectrum, I defy anyone not to be gripped by the sheer exuberance of the game world and the outrageous handling that is on display.