Racing games have always held a special place in my heart, and while I may not be the biggest fan of drifting, Drift21 looked like it had a lot to offer for someone like me who enjoys the occasional racing sim and owns the car featured in its key art. When I first checked out Drift21's Steam page I was expecting something along the lines of Forza or DRIVECLUB. A racing title that's a little more arcade than simulator with a more grounded overall presentation. What I got instead was a drifting sim that while difficult at first, ended up being one of the more challenging yet rewarding racing games I've played this generation.
As the name implies, Drift21 is a drifting game first and foremost. You're not earning any power-ups for completing slides or depending on NOS to get you from 0-60 in 1 second. Drift21 offers players a more grounded experience that definitely appeals to the same fans of iRacing and Project Cars over someone who prefers Asphalt 9: Legends and the Forza Horizon series. The downside to this level of simulation is that the barrier to entry is a bit higher than your standard arcade racer like Initial D.
Drift21 is definitely not an easy game if you don't know what you're doing. However, thanks to achievable goals and an instant restart button, it's easy to avoid discouragement while trying to understand how Drift21 thinks my BRZ should act while moving sideways. While I found it difficult to play on a standard PS4 controller without an auto transmission enabled, I did have a better time using my Astro C40 and I would only assume this game was meant to be played with a full wheel and pedal set-up. Regardless of my personal control issues I quickly found myself genuinely enjoying Drift21's current limited early access offerings and after about 25ish minutes of slamming into the wall of the first turn and spinning out on to the grass, I was able to execute tofu delivery driver like drifts and tear up Drift21's limited track selection.
How Does Drift21 Play?
Drift21 in its current form at the time of this article features 4 tracks, 3 track modes (time attack, solo run, and free play) and 3 of the most recognizable drifting cars at the moment, The Subaru BRZ, Mazda MX5, and Nissan Silvia S15. As a Toyabru owner myself I was shocked at the level of detail Drift21 has with how the BRZ drives and looks in the inside (even down to the 6.1mpg you get when you participate in "spirited" driving). There's definitely a level of care and craftsmanship here that you don't see too often in smaller racing games throughout all of Drift21. From the real-life tracks and cars to the staggering 750 parts you can add in your car, to the overall presentation and accurate driving physics. I never felt like Drift21 was lacking in any department considering it's still in Early Access. In fact, a new track was patched in while I was working on this preview.
There are a few things I hope to see in the game in the future such as a tutorial mode, ghost races, and even an oval track just so I can push my cars to their absolute limit and see what's possible with various configurations. But since the game is in early access and the team is small I'm very pleased with what was already available in-game and would still recommend it in its current iteration. The only real drawbacks I could find with Drift21's gameplay was the fact that it's a very rough start. If you don't know what you're doing and get easily discouraged from sim racing games, the first hour or so will be really tough. But once you power through the learning curve and understand the game's physics and how they want you to drive your car, you'll end up with one of the more fun drifting games on the market.
First Person Mechanic
One of the biggest surprises here is how you upgrade and modify your car. Drift21 ditches menus and dyno stats in favor of a first-person garage gameplay mechanic. When working on your car you need to physically walk up to the car (after lifting it) and place the appropriate parts in the correct spots. As someone who spent most of my adult life under and in the engine bay of a car, I really found this charming and quite fun. There's something kinda cool about digitally working on my car's engine and seeing each part that goes into it instead of just ticking off a box to make the numbers go higher on a stats sheet. There's also a hidden basketball hoop outside I spent a while tossing the batteries from my MX5 at. So let's hope we see some more features in the garage as the game progresses development.
Drift21 Early Access Preview | In Conclusion
All in all, Drift21 is a racing game for someone looking for something that's a little more "real" than your standard AAA racing title. There's a level of attention to detail and love for the sport here that you don't find too often in the big box racing games, and the inclusion of fun and engaging ways to work on your car definitely sets Drift21 apart from its contemporaries. It's a racing sim at its core but also fun and accessible to people who aren't willing to build an iRacing rig in their house. So if you're in the mood for something that's challenging but also rewarding, Drift21 just might be worth checking out. Now go burn some rubber.
TechRaptor previewed Drift21 on PC via Steam Early Access with a code provided by the publisher.