Arcade racers, I’ve always had a major soft spot for this genre ever since playing Sega’s awesome OutRun when I was a kid. Throwing drifting into the mix makes the arcade racer an absolute joy to play and titles such as Ridge Racer were a riot. There hasn’t been a good arcade-drift racer for some time, Yeah sure, there have been arcade racers with some drifting in but arcade racers with dedicated drift mechanics are very thin on the ground. Developer Level 91 Entertainment and publisher PQube have a new game that tries to change that with Inertial Drift. A game that is as heavy on arcade action as it is on drifting.
The first thing to cover with Inertial Drift is its rather unique control system. Yeah, you have your standard accelerate, brake and steering. Steering is done using the left stick on the controller as tradition these days, but this game throws in a dedicated drift control with the right stick. In fact, the steering is done 90% with the right stick here, while the left stick is really used to tweak and fine-tune your drifting. At first, this control method feels very backwards when you are so used to steering with the left stick and I admit to having difficulty when I first picked up the controller, continually smashing into the barriers at the side of the tracks. However, after a few corners, relying on the right stick to control the car became second nature.
You’ll soon find yourself using both the left and right sticks in perfect synergy to pull off some really impressive drifting. Going full lock on the right stick to throw your car into a corner and sending your car screeching sideways, while carefully moving that left stick to perfect the angle, get closer to the apex of the corners and maintain good momentum. The drifting in this soon becomes a rhythm and you’ll want to keep that rhythm up to get the most out of the races and the cars themselves.
As for the cars, they all feel very different to each other and mastering the drifting offers a fresh challenge with every car you drive. Some cars respond well to a dab or two of the break, others will really work well if you just lift off the accelerator slightly, then there are those that are built to just be thrown around. Inertial Drift really does have you learning and relearning the drift mechanics to the point where you’ll be feeling just like Kunimitsu Takahashi. Your two thumbs will have to work overtime to get the most out of your car and it tears around the tight and windy tracks you race on.
In terms of game modes, Inertial Drift has a few offerings. Arcade mode does what every other arcade mode in a racer like this does. Pick a track, pick a car and away you go. Challenge mode gives you twelve one-off races where if/when you finish them, you’ll unlock a new car. Grand Prix mode chains together five races and gives you three attempts to beat them in one go. The main meat is the story mode. This is played over five tracks with three races each and throws you into a very The Fast and the Furious (before they got really stupid) type of plot with ‘family’ and plenty of car talk. To be honest, you can get through the story mode in a couple of hours or so… but you can play through as four different characters, each with their own story to follow. There’s a decent selection of modes and options to keep you busy and if that’s not enough, you can race online or even indulge in some two-player split-screen action. Then, you can unlock Xtra Crispy mode, this is the story mode, but with stricter targets to hit and faster opponents.
The graphics in Inertial Drift are very neon-nineties, retro-future like. A heavy dose of cell-shading that made me feel like I was watching an eighties Saturday morning cartoon… and I loved it. The screeching tyres leave plumes of smoke flowing behind the car, the track caked in rubber, snow gathers on tyres and more I did notice that some of the roadside details were ‘lacking’ but you’ll be so fixated on the racing and getting the perfect drift that you’ll hardly notice unless you really look for it. The races themselves felt a little limited too. It’s only ever one-on-one and while there are different types of races, some of them are so similar that there’s no point in them being separate races. For instance, you can race against a ghost car to try and get the best time. But when you do race against a real car, the game features (what the devs call) a ‘Phase Shift Impact Prevention System’, so you can’t collide with any of the cars anyway… so the real car may as well just be a ghost car. Plus, the time trial races are just ghost car races… without the ghost car. So yeah, some of the races are pretty much the same as others.
There is some variety in the races though. Duel mode has you going up against an opponent, with the idea to put as much distance between you and them. You score more points the further in the lead you are with the winner being the person with the most points. Then there are the Style races. These ones are all about making the most of the drifting, scoring points for the most outrageous drifts, getting close to the walls… even scraping the walls. You get rewarded for pulling off the most impressive and risky drifts, probably the best races in the game too.
Inertial Drift has a price tag of around £17 and for me, that’s a decent price point. The story mode can be finished in a couple of hours but you’ll get more out of it if you want to play through with all four characters, then add on the harder Xtra Crispy mode too. The other modes all offer plenty of play to keep you busy and the racing really is terrific fun. The unique and dedicated drift control system takes a while to get to grips with but when it clicks, it really works. Best of all, playing this really took me back to the nineties and screaming around the track(s) in Ridge Racer. Inertial Drift really is a fantastic arcade racer with a really unique control concept to breathe new life into drifting.