I love drifting. It’s the coolest thing you can do in racing games generally and even in the most serious simulations, dedicated modes have been springing up letting you have your drifting fun with a point scoring system.
Absolute Drift is focused solely on the drifting and initially gives the impression of style over substance but actually it becomes very clear that there is a deep and serious handling model that is very hard to master behind the scenes.
The visual style is the most striking initial impact this game has. From a slightly strange opening with a talking Buddha (I’m not wholly clear on why this is) you begin in a free roam area where you’ll get to grips with the handling of the car. This area serves to practice your skills and unlock different sections of a big interconnected world – each containing a number of specific ‘levels’ for you to compete for high scores. These areas on their own are great fun.
With no scoring you just have select challenges to complete. They get progressively harder although honestly there’s no major challenge here (which means everyone should be able to fairly easily unlock all of the game’s content) and there’s a good amount of variety. Set in a variant of Japan you’ll encounter docks, city areas and airports with challenges such as jump across a canal, drift past a crane, donut a lighthouse or spin on a roof. These are fun on their own but the way they are presented is even better.
Most of this game is creamy white. The palette is kept deliberately limited and it used red, blue and black to accentuate details. This is really effective and looks fantastic. Everything is set at a top down, slightly isometric view and cues are taken from the Ubisoft style textual overlay – so a challenge might be written across the wing of a plane for example before disappearing as you complete it. Through the open world some more and more accentuations appear which gives a nice visual feeling of progression.
Like any driving or racing game the real measure of success is in the handling. It should be said – the handling here is challenging. But the more you play the better you get, it doesn’t feel too light or too heavy and is deceptively complex for the sort of game this look like. A top down racer tends to be more arcadey typically but this is certainly not. Vibration feedback and delicate use of the accelerator and brakes are required to ensure you don’t over steer into a spin, and the handbrake should be sparingly used to give yourself a bit of extra momentum. The added and optional use of manual gears for additional control is available should you really want to test yourself. It is frustrating at first but as you get used to it and become more competent, pulling off even simple but eloquent drifts is more than possible and feels amazing every time.
Tracks on hand are where the action is, with leaderboard functionality (and available replays of top scorers) to test you over and over. Each has a series of goals but once these are done it’s just you vs. the world. Levels award point multipliers for smashing boxes, speed and length of drifts, lines round corners and being close to ‘clipping points’ – without hitting them. There’s variety in these tracks too, from lap events, to point to point challenges (some even at midnight with low light and headlights) and gymkhana events where you have a small arena just to rack up your points at leisure. It’s reminiscent of old Tony Hawk score attacks – the one more go element is huge here.
The look of Absolute Drift: Zen Edition really grabbed me but it’s the gameplay which keeps me coming back, trying to best my scores. There is a lot of content here too with different types of events and a fairly sizeable number of tracks too with which to play on. A comment near the end of the open world element hints towards an expansion or at least similar title in the future that I’m excited about but for now I have some more drifting to do.
Reviewed on PS4