Racing games tend to be very complex. It’s not just the Assetto Corsas, Forzas, and Gran Turismos of the world that are complex. Even the likes of Mario Kart and even all the way back to the old NES racing games that seem fairly simple and arcadey have a lot of different moving parts (pun intended).
But what happens when you strip away most of those moving parts? What happens when you build a game around a car, a track and your right foot? Absolute Drift attempts to answer that by taking the drifting game and distilling it down to just drifting.
When it comes to drifting games, my experience is all Codemasters. Whether it’s the various forms of gymkhana and drifting in the Dirt series or the drift events in Grid franchise. While Absolute Drift does have gymkhana events and drift circuit events, the execution is much different from Codies.
I find the Codemasters games to be very forgiving in terms of maneuvering the car around. Grab a handful of handbrake and you’re usually fairly safe for a medium length drift. Yeah, you can bottle it if you’re trying too tight a drift but you can always just hit the rewind button and you’re safe.
Absolute Drift has cars that feel like they have some weight. The degree of steering input will affect the angle of the skid but you don’t always have to use the handbrake. In fact, to control your drifts, you’re using the throttle, brake, handbrake and steering to keep the car under control. While the controls are easy to get your head wrapped, it’s hard to really master any consistency with the drifting. Early on, you’re spinning out or straightening up or crashing.
What Absolute Drift does that I prefer to the likes of the Codemasters games is that the heart of the game is a giant Free Roam mode that brings you through five areas with various tracks to enter and, more importantly, challenges to complete to unlock the next area.
So how do I go from hard to master to free roam mode? Because that’s where all the practice happens that makes you a master of drifting. Doing the various tracks over and over won’t hurt you improve your skills but I found the closed circuits helped me learn those specific corners but not a wide array of turns and skills. With Free Roam, I was able to practice whatever I wanted given enough space. You get so used to specific training modes that you forget how much good a little open-world freedom can do for you.
The one thing that may not sit well with a number of gamers is that there isn’t any competition in the game. Sure, you’re scoring points by doing drifts and gymkhana tricks but you’re not attempting to beat AI drivers or other drivers in real-time multiplayer. The only real competition, besides competing against yourself, is leaderboards. You’re ranked in deciles (groups of 10%) against the other players. If ascending leaderboards motivates you, then you might get something out of the game. Granted, if you don’t need competition, you don’t need to worry about the leaderboards.
One thing that really surprised me about this game was how much I liked the graphics. Apart from the cars’ paint scheme, the majority of the game is put together in a very minimalistic way. All the shapes are done in a very basic way but coloured in the white to black spectrum with splashes of red and blue. The shapes, shadows and colours are all done in such a way that it seems very simple and very minimal but everything it recognizable. It’s not like you won’t recognize what anything is or that it’s there because the art design is so well done.
Minimalist is the most accurate way of describing Absolute Drift. It focuses on one thing and works toward getting that right. There are no extra bits and bobs whether you would consider them superfluous or not. If you aren’t interested in drifting or car handling, this definitely isn’t a game for you. If you would be happy with a Codemasters game stripped down to just the barebones essentials, this is something you should check out. It does have a demo if you don’t want to drop $10 sight unseen.
For what it is, I think that Absolute Drift does its job very well. It’s probably a bit niche for most racing game fans but for fans looking something in that niche, they’ll be pouring a lot of time into it.
Absolute Drift was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available on OS X and Linux. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and if you think cars should go forward without simultaneously going sideways.