Inertial Drift Review

In a year filled with many great racing games, Inertial Drift manages to sneak its way into a podium spot thanks to an interesting twin-stick control scheme and retro-futuristic anime graphics. Fans of Initial D will immediately feel at home in this arcade drifter developed by Northern Irish studio Level 91 Entertainment. The end result is a gorgeous racer that manages to encapsulate the pedal to the metal nature of street drifting.

This review contains spoilers

The premise for Inertial Drift is straightforward. You use one joystick for drifting and another to make adjustments to the direction. It is easy to label the control scheme as a “twin-stick drifter”, but once you start racing, you’ll quickly realize that you need full mastery of both sticks to successfully tackle the races. This is where the beauty of Inertial Drift’s control scheme really shines. The intuitive controls always inspired me to keep making adjustments and experimenting with my approach to races. Small tweaks started shaving precious seconds off my lap times – often the difference between a first-place finish and the dreaded last-place finish. While simple on the outside, Inertial Drift comes with an insidiously high skill ceiling that caught me off guard initially.

This learning curve is accelerated by the 16 different vehicles that are made available to you. These vehicles are available in three different classes: race, performance, and sport. These classes act as difficulty modifiers with the easiest being sport and the hardest being race. All of the different vehicles have their own strengths and weaknesses, with some heaving and hurling around the track with gusto, while others may require a more delicate application of drifting to whirl around the tricks. You will have to quickly acclimatize by slowing your car for the harsher turns and speeding up to clear the long straights.

Living life a quarter mile at a time

Speaking of long straights, Inertial Drift also comes with 10 different tracks (which are also available in reverse). I’m happy to report that all 10 tracks are distinct, with each having its own visual identity and layout. Learning each track took quite some time as I initially made friends with the railings before holding my own on each track. Special mention must go to the art style in this game. The anime meets Borderlands cell-shaded graphics really helped make every track feel handcrafted and vibrant. From gorgeous seaside villages to the neon-lit cities, the graphics never felt dull, even if most of the background was a blur as I raced to the finish line.

Inertial Drift isn’t afraid to let you sink your teeth into these maps. With a myriad of different modes that lets you chuck yourself at these maps to learn the nuances hidden in each map. Traditional racing fans will take comfort in the 1v1 ‘duels’ or races. Whilst high-score addicts will also be able to sink dozens of hours into the style challenges that require mastery of drifts to provide points. All of these different modes are amalgamated in the story mode, which allows you to experience these different events across a few different locations. There is a visual-novel style story in here that serves to connect the story mode, but I’ll be honest: it never grabbed my attention and ended up being a distraction from the on-road racing. Your mileage may vary and I’m sure there will be gamers out there that will enjoy the added context around races.

The usual suspects are available for the rest of the game. Arcade mode allows you to choose a track configuration and car of your choice and lets you loose to start practicing on the road. There is also an addicting global leaderboard that definitely lured me into trying to rise a few places on the rankings. This practice is definitely necessary to tackle the Grand Prix mode, which has limited restarts. Successful completion of the challenges in Grand Prix allow you to unlock new vehicles, so there is some draw to completing these.

Overall, I had an enjoyable experience with Inertial Drift. The anime vaporware aesthetic and intuitive controls help elevate Inertial Drift into a very solid arcade racer that doesn’t lack in depth or nuance. Shaving seconds off your times can be a gratifying experience and one that is not to be missed by arcade racing enthusiasts.

Inertial Drift can be found on Steam.

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