Arriving in 2020 from Nexon, KartRider: Drift is the latest in a long list of games to line up on the starting grid against the acknowledged race leader, Mario Kart. Due for release next year, the intriguing prospects for this game are two fold: it will be truly free to play, with no paywalls promised, and it will feature cross-play with PC gamers. In order to test these features out, a closed beta has recently been held and so I present to you my thoughts from the racetrack/battleground.
The first thing to acknowledge with KartRider: Drift are the visuals. Everything looks so shiny and hi-res, and the animation on the karts themselves and their drivers is absolutely silky smooth. However, the music is largely forgettable, to be brutally honest, and the screeching tyres and buzzing engines will just about hold the majority of your attention in race. The tracks themselves are a good range of sizes and feature the usual Kart racer tropes; ice tracks, tracks set in towns, others taking us to forests and so on. They are multi-level too, and feature shortcuts to find and exploit, so learning the tracks is going to be absolutely vital here. The circuits feature animated backgrounds as well, with leaves falling and clocks striking the hour, and nicely, already in the beta, the draw distances look fantastic. Until someone drops a smoke bomb, that is!
In the recent closed beta, three main race modes were available to test out. The first, Item Race, is a classic Mario Kart like game mode. The race can be played either in 4v4 Teams, Duos, which unsurprisingly features four teams of two, or Solo, which is every man for himself. As you tear around the track, various containers can be opened to give your Kart a power up, either in offensive or defensive form. Those attacking opportunities feature the usual suspects, with missiles and banana skins, water bombs and obstacles placed on the track, while defensive options include shields that block incoming attacks and boosts to your speed. There is no better feeling in KartRider: Drift than drifting round the last corner of the race, triggering a boost as you barely straighten up and blasting past the other racers.
The second race type was that of Speed Race, which features no power ups and does exactly what it says on the tin. The winner here will be the best driver, and knowledge of your kart and the track is vital. The racing is so close that it only takes one mistimed slide, one misjudged corner or a collision with a wall to go from first to last place in an instant.
And then last, but not least, the third race is Time Attack, which charges you with setting a pace time around of any of the tracks, then racing your ghost and hopefully beating it. This mode is perfect for trying out the different karts and learning the best racing lines through all the circuits, and trying to beat yourself is surprisingly engaging.
The amount of customisation available, even in a beta, was a joy to behold in Drift. Once you had chosen your character from a choice of three, each character then had different outfits they could wear. The karts themselves can also be customised, as each different kart allows the chance to change the wheels, all the panels and even the colour of the flame when the boost is activated. I’m guessing these things will be unlocked by racing and levelling up your character, as I made it to level 10 in this beta without anything noticeably changing, but the depth of the customisation looks like it will be awesome fun.
All in all, the closed beta for KartRider: Drift was a great success for me. I had no issues finding people to play with, with a decent population found across Xbox and PC, and at no point in time did I experience any discernible lag, so the netcode is already pretty stable and robust. With more polishing to come, I’m now super excited to play the full release of KartRider: Drift, and if you have any interest in fun, kart racing, or even fun kart racing, you should be excited too and Mario may well have to have a glance over his shoulder when this releases for real in 2020.
Massive thanks go out to Nexon for allowing access to the closed beta on Xbox One.