I love me a slippery-slidy, drift-centric arcade racer, as you’ll know very well if you followed the extensive Ridge Racer Cover Game feature from a while back, or indeed were kind enough to watch my playthrough of Split/Second Velocity on YouTube.
As such, I was immediately interested when PQube announced its upcoming racer Inertial Drift, developed by an outfit known as Level 91 Entertainment. This game promised a ’90s style aesthetic, exaggerated arcadey racing action… and what sounded like a rather unusual control scheme.
How exactly does a twin-stick racing game work anyway? I fired up the Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue interactive demo to find out.
Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue provides you with just a taste of what the full game will offer. There are two tracks to race on, and two classes of car to enjoy, making for a total of four separate playable events. The inclusion of the two cars was a very deliberate attempt to demonstrate how differently the various vehicles handle — something the dev team has been keen to highlight in its prerelease marketing. And believe me, you’ll really feel those differences.
The racing events provided in Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue are all time attack events in which you have three laps to set the best possible lap time. Gold, silver and bronze par times are given, and there are also global and friend leaderboards to compete on. It sounds as if there will be races against other vehicles in the full game, but a mention of “phase shift impact prevention systems” in the introductory dialogue suggests that there will be no collisions implemented; this is all about finding the perfect line and getting the best time, not racing dirty. If you’ve ever played Nadeo and Ubisoft’s classic TrackMania series, you’ll be right at home.
The fact that this is a bit different from your common or garden arcade racer makes itself immediately apparent as soon as you start racing. For starters, this is a game designed specifically for gamepad rather than racing wheel, so those without expensive hardware won’t feel at a disadvantage. But it goes deeper than that.
Steering feels unusually heavy — so much so that it’s pretty much impossible to get around even a gentle corner using just the left stick on your controller. That’s because in Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue, you’re supposed to use both sticks — your left stick is your basic steering wheel, while the right stick throws you into a drift.
The genius of this system is that it allows you to precisely control the angle of your drift, and you can keep an eye on this thanks to a helpful on-screen meter. While learning the tracks — an essential part of developing your skills in Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue — you can use this as a handy visual aid to determine the optimal drift angle to get around corners while avoiding collisions with the barriers and the loss of too much speed.
The exact implementation of the “drift stick”, as the game refers to the right stick controls, varies quite a bit from car to car. The Class C car provided in Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue, known as the Coda Gecko, allows you to get up to half of the maximum possible drift angle while accelerating; easing up on the gas allows you to slam the car around a corner at almost a complete 90-degree angle. The Class B car, meanwhile, known as the HPE Dragon, is an altogether different beast, requiring you to let go of the accelerator to start drifting, and allowing the angle to tighten only when you slam the gas back down again mid-drift. Ridge Racer fans will be particularly at home with this one.
As a control scheme that is radically different from pretty much any other racing game out there, Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue naturally takes a bit of getting used to. But once you nail how it all works, it’s immensely satisfying. The use of two sticks instead of just one to slam your car around corners adds a surprisingly potent amount of physicality to the experience of playing the game; it feels like you’re really wrestling with the controls, and it brings to mind those people — perhaps you’re one of them — who find themselves leaning into corners and actually tilting their controllers in an attempt to turn more tightly. (On that note, if Level 91 doesn’t feature some sort of gyroscopic control scheme in any console ports of this, they’re missing a big opportunity to really help players “feel” the game!)
Aesthetically, the game adopts that sort of “bathed in purple” look that is fashionable at the time of writing, but it doesn’t overdo things with the neon glow — and, notably, it also eschews the usual ’80s-style synthwave soundtrack that tends to go along with this sort of thing. Instead, Level 91 has opted for a more ’90s-inspired aesthetic, so the soundtrack features hints of garage beats and funky acid jazz rather than going to hard on the synths. It immediately makes the game stand out from an aural perspective, and in my mind creates very positive, nostalgic associations with Namco’s classic PS1 titles of the late ’90s such as Ridge Racer Type 4 and Anna Kournikova’s Smash Court Tennis.
The game also makes use of cel-shading on the cars, which is something I haven’t seen in a racing game since Capcom’s vastly underrated Auto Modellista, and as such is something I heartily endorse. It fits perfectly with the exaggerated, over-the-top feel that the game is going for without feeling like it’s trying too hard to ape classics such as Initial D. Even if the game title is clearly a riff on Initial D.
So the game looks good and sounds good — and while the Inertial Drift Sunset Prologue demo is understandably a little limited in terms of content, there’s clearly great potential for longevity here between the three par times for each track, the fact you can race against a “ghost” of your best time when retrying an event, and the online leaderboards.
Hopefully the full game will provide plenty of variety in unlockable cars and events to participate in — a little more variation in the background scenery and colour palettes with the new tracks wouldn’t go amiss, either — but it’s already clear from this demo version that Level 91 very much knows what it’s doing. This is a game that both developer and publisher appear to have great confidence in — and the positive reception from community members at the time of writing suggests that this game is likely to be a big success.
It certainly deserves to be, and I eagerly await the finished product to see what it offers!
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