I can’t stop playing Absolute Drift, and in order to properly explain why, I have to tell you a little story.
My first car was a Renault 19 TXE Sport. 1.7, White, and always happy to oblige; one of my then-students named her Lola, as she was a showgirl. My Dad bought me the car at a time when I’d just given up the illustrious world of selling car insurance to (somehow) become a teacher, so from the very second he described the specs I knew the cost to insure this vehicle would probably be double the car’s actual cost, and I was right, except that she was totally worth it.
She had real personality and is still to this day the only car I’ve ever named or genderised. Before she finally gave up the ghost in Petersfield, gearbox hanging out her belly as she slumped on a roundabout verge like a beached whale, my favourite memory of her was on a wet night somewhere in the Welsh valleys. Having dropped a student home in a village made purely of repeated consonants, I was eager to get back to civilization (or the closest Cardiff can achieve) and the rain took full advantage of my haste. As I was going round a huge roundabout, the tyres kissed the tarmac goodbye and my back end spun out. Thanks to many, many years of Ridge Racer, Grand Theft Auto and Burnout, my hand automatically felt where the car was going and corrected the steering outwards to counteract the drift.
For two, maybe three seconds that stretched impossibly into a raindrop-frozen decade, I held Lola in my hands as she yawned round the roundabout in a curved diagonal until sliding into the exit, tail giving a satisfied duck wiggle as she once again found the traction of a straight line. I’ve never felt so much driving satisfaction than in those few extended seconds.
And Absolute Drift is that moment, over and over again.
It’s a simple game, really, and it’s in this simplicity that it shines. Viewed from an isometric viewpoint, you have to control your tiny car through a set of obstacles and showboating tasks – spins, donuts, jumps and so on. At its heart, though, is the central drift mechanic and it’ll be this flow that you’ll spend a great deal of your initial play time perfecting. Be prepared for more crashes and mistakes than completed corners in your first few hours; the combination of frustration from too much oversteer and the disappointed audio slump that berates your car hitting the wall again can seem insurmountable at first.
However, persevere and you’ll be richly rewarded. Each time you take your car for a spin, you’ll learn more about where the edges of control are. How much to turn into a corner, when to use the handbrake over footbrake, looking forward to visualise the arc of your drift and you fly sideways past a cone; each mistake becomes a learning opportunity that is quickly incorporated. For me, the moment of revelation was turning off the steering auto-correct and using handbrake into corners to spin my back end out before relying on my footbrake to correct my angle on the exit. Suddenly, I felt a little bit more in control. Still failing, still crashing, but actually starting to define my drift in specific directions.
The key to the game’s success is that feeling. Every time I get the drift just right, I bite my lower lip. It’s automatic and I can’t stop myself; I’ll let you work out what that means. The feel of tyre on track is just right, with enough slip to help sideways motivation (and crashing), but the perfect about of grip to bite out of the corners (and crash). It’s reminiscent of Burnout 2 and 3, with their extremely gratifying slides, and also of Mashed (specifically the long ice level), the great combat racer for PS2 and Xbox. Most importantly, you always feel like you’re learning something; every failure gives another reason to restart, something I felt was missing from Galak-Z‘s approach to control and progression.
Absolute Drift is a generous game, too, with lots of driving options to suit your tastes. There are multiple open-world – or certainly open-plan – levels filled with stunts and tracks, where completing a certain number of the former opens up a new world to find more of the latter. What’s great is that, if you just want to race, you can skip to any of the specific tracks from the game’s first menu. Tracks are split into laps around Drift courses, where every corner needs to be predicted and refined, and Gymkhana, where your driving prowess builds points in a set time limit. Each style of driving area the game presents has its own tone and flow, allowing for you to drive in whatever way you feel in that moment.
Visually, it’s gorgeous too, although saying that it’s inspired by Mirror’s Edge‘s art style is perhaps a kinder way of saying you could be driving around that game’s city. The tracks and walls are presented in shades of white and grey, with certain parts painted in bold red strokes. Again, that red is used to highlight stunts or specific areas of tracks, but it’s not just a nod to that established palette; the style suits the game perfectly, helps with visual recognition of locations, and gives it a kind of minimalist cool that feels alluring and, most importantly, authentic. This cool is further underscored by the fantastic original electro soundtrack that plays seamlessly under everything.
Over this white and red backdrop are the visual signs of your movements; twin black lines that flow from your wheels. When the crashes occur, they’re a tangled mess of scruff but, get the drift just right and they have the long ink strokes of a paintbrush. You’re marking the world with your journey, making it more beautiful as your driving improves. They even float in the air after huge jumps, leaving arced bridges overhead before gently fading away. It’s a beautiful effect that really enhances the feeling of control.
The cars can change, too – not just in colour and design (quickly altered with drive-through PAINT stations), but also in model. From the dependable Original, to the showboating Super and the wonderfully angry Das Whip, there are a number of vehicle options to suit your driving style. And there’s no stats pages here; drive them individually and feel how they differ. My current choice is Das Whip, with its growling engine and complete disregard for my safety, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the Original. In its default white it looks exactly like a certain car I used to own, which makes me remember that moment, then I feel it around every perfectly rounded corner.
Absolute Drift is made by the one-man team of Dune Casu At Funselektor Labs, and if this is the quality of his first game then I’ll be following his growing career with great interest. It’s an absolute gem of a driving game and I thoroughly recommend you get lost in its beautiful vehicular calligraphy.