Inertial Drift is best described in a single word: slick. That being said, that hardly encompasses everything, but this arcade racer offers lots of fantastic modes and plenty of thrills, all wrapped up in a somewhat simple but appealing visual package.
First, I just need to talk about the visuals. It’s interesting, because they are not the most technically accomplished graphics in the world. You don’t get photorealistic lighting effects and reflective surfaces like you see in many of the AAA racing games out there, but there is something distinctively gorgeous about the neon-soaked world of Inertial Drift, which somehow has both a retro and futuristic vibe going on at the same time. It is all just incredibly distinctive and the thing that first stood out to me even when the game’s initial announcement and trailers came out.
However, whether a racing game is going to hold up ultimately boils down to how it handles, and to that end Inertial Drift manages to be really unique, but loads of fun at the same time. I will say that the control scheme while being intuitive, still sometimes took a bit of adjustment on my part. It’s simple to learn – your left stick serves almost more as a strafe, moving you left and wright without actually turning you. The right stick is what aims the nose of your car and creates the ‘drift’ effect in the game’s title. The effect is in no way realistic, but that’s not the point in Inertial Drift – the focus here is an arcade-style brand of fun, and to that end it succeeds wildly.
There were definitely times however, old racing reflexes kicked in, so while it was an easy concept to pick up and learn (I won my first handful of races with no difficulty at all), there were absolutely times where I would let off of the right stick and accidentally skid into a wall because… well – my fingers started manipulating the controls just like they did almost every other racing game from the last couple of decades. Those hiccups aside however, I found the core gameplay rewarding – if at times perhaps threatening to become just a bit repetitive due to the lack of nuance.
There are different cars that can be used, and they certainly feel different from one another in the typical ways: handling, speed, acceleration and so on. However, this is not a simulation racer, and you don’t spend oodles of time under the hood tinkering with settings to create the perfect glove-like fit to your racing style. That may irk purists looking for more serious racing titles. Here it is all about the actual racing – so much so that I was stunned the first time I had an opponent on the track with me. Why? Because I tend to be a bit of a ‘paint rubber’ – in other words sideswiping my opponents is a pretty common strategy for me. So imagine my surprise that first time I was leaning into a curve, waiting to throw my weight into the car next to me and knock them silly only to cruise right on through them. There are competitive racing modes – but you are meant to focus on actually outracing your opponent, not beating them to a pulp. It makes perfect sense, even if it was a bit disappointing due to my desire for carnage.
There is an actual story mode, which works quite well due to its length, variety of modes and how it also serves as a fully functional tutorial. You run into a variety of different race types, such as endurance (keep hitting checkpoints to extend your timer), duel where you time spent in the lead earns you points and the first one to a specific score wins, time trials, ghost trails and more. Probably the most unique of these modes is Style – where you earn points for various types of tricks like extended drifting, driving close to rails, things of that nature. The core story can be played with a variety of drivers, which helps since it only takes a few hours to complete any one racer’s story. That being said, since all of the cars handle differently (and in particular drift differently), you get some nice variety in playing through with the different characters.
All of that being said, the variety of modes and cars that can be unlocked still doesn’t provide quite as much content out there as some of the other bigger name racing titles. You will burn through this considerably faster than say a Forza title, but that’s okay because Inertial Drift’s pick up and play nature makes it perfect for short sessions where you just need a quick burst of racing goodness. The tracks provide good variety, and the online and offline modes should suite everyone from those who like to just plug away at single player content or those who like to test their mettle against other players.