Review: Inertial Drift

We’ve had twin stick shooters, so what about twin stick racers? That’s the driving thought behind Inertial Drift, an arcade racer all about, obviously, drifting.

Described as a ‘90s retro-future’, Inertial Drift’s story mode tells the tale of four characters, all animated as hand-drawn figures preparing to compete in a racing tournament. Each has their own story and car (with unique handling properties) and is told through a series of text pages. It’s fine, but ultimately who cares as it’s all about the drifting right? And the drifting is unbelievable.

Everything you know about car handling needs to be forgotten. Gas and brake function as expected, but your left stick positions the car on the track, the right stick is your ‘Drift Stick’. The easiest way to describe this is that the left stick controls the front wheels, and the right stick the back end. What it translates to is an incredible amount of precision allotted to you to navigate the various turns and courses.

This finesse control ensures that you can stay glued to an apex whilst managing how far the back end turns out, for a precise blend of balance and speed. Need more turn? More drift. Maybe less drift but with a slightly adjusted angle. You’re left with an easy to use, surprisingly easy to master control scheme that is rewarding every single time you pick it up.

Every car feels different too. Sure, there are speed and acceleration differences, but the ease of which they get into drift matters. The easiest, ‘beginner’ car if you will, flicks easily with the stick. On the other end of the spectrum, a car will perhaps only start a drift with no gas or brake applied. Varying degrees of sensitivity and resistance all play into making each vehicle feel unique, and will take a few laps to get the hang of.

Visually it’s more style than substance, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. Various purple hues dominate cell-shaded landscapes, vistas and vehicles. What better time is there to drift than late night/early morning? It’s fast, and zips by nicely accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack of ambient, electronic beats. If I’m being picky, some of them do start to grate slightly as it’s persistent in an area until you move on. For example, each stage of the story is set on a certain track. You may have to do a time attack, a duel, a race and an endurance run before moving on. The same track looping over can niggle.

But that’s a minor complaint as on the whole, it’s great, and well suited. The aforementioned modes are all very similar – time attack is just that, duel is making sure you stay ahead of someone more than them you. Race is first to finish, and endurance is your classic arcade racing ‘beat the clock to the next checkpoint’. Racing another opponent is made easier by ghosting – explained in game with a futuristic technology. Given the speed and amount of time that cars spend sideways, this works well.

The best way I can describe the thrill of gameplay here is to imagine yourself sliding perfectly, at speed around a winding track. A tighter turn comes up, requires a dash of brakes, then as your car is at its most sideways, you straighten up and slam on the gas at the same time. It feels like you’re out of Fast and Furious, downshifting and hitting the pedal to burst away in an action scene. I never tire of it.

And that sums up Inertial Drift well. It does feel like you’ve seen it all fairly quickly, but there’s such an amazing core gameplay feedback at the heart of it, running hot laps against your time, shaving seconds off here and there feels consistently brilliant, it’s hard not to fall in love with it every time. Should you be fortunate to have some competitive friends to trade times with, then you’re really in for a treat.

Reviewed on PS4

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