I’m a big fan of arcade-style racing and I especially enjoy drifting my way around bends and feeling particularly smooth when nailing them with pinpoint accuracy. There’s just something mighty satisfying about it, with a certain degree of finesse and plenty of skill required to absolutely nail each track’s turns perfectly to shave those milliseconds off your time…
That’s what Inertial Drift, the slick neon-lit racer from developer Level 91 Entertainment and publisher PQube, is all about. This isn’t a game about competing with groups of rival racers in hotly contested showdowns, but rather one where player skill and accuracy is vital to being the quickest racer around.
At its core, Inertial Drift is an arcade-style racer that focuses more on beating the clock than rival racers. You shouldn’t expect massive street races full of opponents here, but instead spend your time beating… well… times as opposed to actual AI racers – in fact, you’ll only ever end up in one-versus-one showdowns, and even in those there’s more focus on driving fast and accurately thanks to a lack of in-race collisions. With that in mind, I’m sure you’re wondering where the excitement of Inertial Drift actually comes from… well… that’s where the slick and unique drifting mechanic come into play.
What makes Inertial Drift’s titular drifting feel unique is its use of the Drift Stick (the right stick on your JoyCon). By pushing it left and right you’ll send your car drifting in the corresponding direction, with your acceleration, braking, and angle of the left stick allowing you to control your drift with a bit more delicacy in order to hit each twist and turn of the game’s tracks perfectly. It’s a really clever idea and one that really allows a deep sense of control over your drifting… eventually.
Be warned: it isn’t the easiest of mechanics to get to grips with immediately, even for racing veterans like myself who’ve spent HUNDREDS of hours drifting in racing titles over the years. You can expect to spend a good few of your earlier races slipping into the side of tracks or falling short of your turns, with plenty of practice required to get to grips with the system – each car feels different too, so you’ll need to apply different levels of drift based upon the stats of what you’re driving. When you do finally figure everything out, though? It feels great and really adds an extra dimension of subtle finesse to Inertial Drift’s racing. It’s good stuff and ensures that races are fun to compete in, even without rival racers to face off against.
Besides the racing being a lot of fun and the drifting intuitive, there’s also plenty of content to keep you playing Inertial Drift for some time. There’s a decent little story mode that involves each of the playable characters in the game, you can jump into modes such as Arcade, Time-Trial, Endurance, Ghost Battles, and more, whilst additional challenges give you specific objectives to work towards in order to unlock new vehicles for your garage. There’s a good selection of cars to use in-game and each feels different to use thanks to their varying stats, so there’s plenty of time to be spent working out which works best for you and then utilising them across the game’s multiple modes.
Add to that some split-screen and online multiplayer and you’ll quickly find yourself addicted to Inertial Drift’s arcade-style drifting racing. That being said, I haven’t been able to find an online race yet – it probably doesn’t help that I’ve spent most of my time with the game pre-launch, though I’ve still struggled to find other players to race against post-launch too. Hopefully, there’ll be a bit of an online community for the game because it’d be fun to show off my slick drifting skills against some online foes…
One area where Inertial Drift certainly shines is with its visuals, with the cel-shaded-like neon-lit world really feeling quite impressive to look at. The cars all look and sound great in-game too, whilst some neat visual effects add an extra spark of life to the races. Add to that some well-presented visual novel-style segments in the game’s story mode and it’ll become clear to anyone playing that Inertial Drift is a well-presented title.
Whilst the game is pretty to look at, it’s worth noting that it only manages to hit 30fps as opposed to the 60fps which would have made the racing feel extra silky smooth. It isn’t always super consistent with the 30fps, mind – especially when playing handheld where frame drops can occur quite regularly. It’s a shame, especially since other recent racing releases such as Hotshot Racing have managed to nail it.
The lack of competition from other racers could take away from the tension too, especially since you can literally drive through your rival competitor when there is a one-on-one race. Whilst I’m a fan of beating times after playing plenty of rally titles over the years, jostling with other drivers whilst drifting through stylish tracks would have been a lot of fun; instead, you’re essentially only competing against the track and your own drifting skills.
Between its intuitive drifting mechanics and its super-stylish visuals, there’s a lot to love about Inertial Drift – even IF the lack of proper competitors in races can see it lose some of its excitement. It is a little disappointing that the frame rate can be a little bit jittery on occasions too, but with plenty of content to dive into and racing mechanics that remain fun throughout, it’s easy to recommend this slick racer to fans of the genre.
Developer: Level 91 Entertainment
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC