With developers often favouring realism in racing games, pure arcade racers have been left in the dust. Thankfully, indie developers are keeping arcade racers alive.
Retro-inspired indie games like Horizon Chase Turbo and Hotshot Racing mix modern graphics with old-school gameplay, recapturing the spirit of classic arcade racers like OutRun and Ridge Racer.
These are the perfect catalyst for realistic simulation games, but they rarely innovate the genre. Enter Inertial Drift.
Version tested: PS5. Review code provided by the publisher.
Inertial Drift: Twilight Rivals Edition Review
Originally released for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in 2020 Inertial Drift is the work of a two-person team at Level 91 Entertainment based in Belfast. It gained a cult following thanks to its stylish visuals and unique control scheme.
Two years later, we have Inertial Drift: Twilight Rivals Edition, an enhanced PS5 and Xbox Series X|S port. This new release offers higher-resolution graphics, a faster frame rate, and an array of extra content including more cars and tracks plus a new story campaign.
Owners of the original game aren’t left out either. PS4 and Xbox One players can upgrade to the enhanced version for free and buy the Twilight Rivals Pack DLC separately.
Ridge Racer Revolution
Taking inspiration from Ridge Racer Type 4 (developer Michael O’Kane’s favourite game of all time), Auto Modellista (Capcom’s forgotten foray into racing games released in the 2000s that’s overdue a sequel), and the Japanese manga series Initial D, Inertial Drift is unlike any driving game you've ever played.
With its cel-shaded cars and neon-lit environments, Inertial Drift oozes style. This is a visually striking indie racer, and it’s never looked better on PS5 thanks to HDR support and a bump in resolution up to 4K. If your TV supports it, Inertial Drift even runs at a buttery smooth 120fps on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.
Loading times are also drastically reduced, with events now starting instantly. DualSense haptic support is underwhelming, but the graphics and performance improvements are still impressive for an indie title.
From the slick animated intro that looks like an episode of Initial D to a neon city circuit clearly based on Ridge Racer Type 4, the influences are not subtle. Despite this, Inertial Drift stands out – and it’s all thanks to the innovative control scheme.
Twin-stick drifting is a game changer
Try to play Initial Drift like every other driving game and you’ll understeer into the nearest wall on the first corner. Instead, it utilises a unique twin-stick control scheme.
You steer with the left stick in tandem with the right stick, which controls the angle of your drift. Independently controlling the steering and drifting feels counter-intuitive at first, but it soon comes naturally and feels great.
Every car also feels distinct. Some require you to ease off the throttle to kick the back end out. Others need a tap of the brakes to start a drift. Mastering every car’s characteristics is challenging, adding a layer of depth that makes Inertial Drift tough to master but rewarding to revisit.
The twin-stick controls give you more precision than any other drift game. It does for driving games what EA’s Flickit controls did for skateboarding games. Courses are wide and forgiving at first, but the harder tracks are narrow and more technical, testing your mastery of the intricate controls.
Once it clicks, finding the sweet spot to maintain speed while throwing your car through corners sideways is satisfying and highly addictive.
There's a good variety of game modes ranging from simple one-to-one races, time attacks, and ghost battles, to duels where you get points for staying ahead of your opponent. Style is one of the most enjoyable modes, rewarding points for your best drifts.
There’s also a story campaign told through comic book-style cut scenes between events but the story and characters are ultimately forgettable. The text presentation and character designs look like a mobile game. This is forgivable though given the limitations of the small development team.
The Story campaign is short but helps familiarise you with the different event types and prepare you for the harder Grand Prix and Challenges modes. In the former, you only have three tires to complete a set of Grand Prix events, while the one-off events in Challenges mode unlock extra cars.
Events can get samey as you can't race against more than one car at a time, but these one-on-one duels evoke the spirit of Japanese touge racing. You also always race against ghost cars. While this makes every event feel like a time trial rather than a race, it eliminates the frustration of hitting other cars so you can focus on drifting.
New rivals bring new challenges
The new Twilight Rivals DLC expands the experience with an additional story campaign. You also get four new cars featuring unique handling and four more tracks, bringing the total number of cars and tracks to 24 and 14 respectively.
The new story sees you take on the Team Equinox drift gang. Beat all four rivals and you’ll unlock their cars in other modes - but this is no easy feat. These obnoxious opponents are challenging to beat and the new DLC tracks are the toughest yet, set on winding mountain roads and narrow city streets that will give your thumbsticks a workout.
Unlike the main story, each event puts you in a different car to mix things up. Replacing the original game's Jazz-style music is a new Eurobeat soundtrack inspired by Initial D with faster tracks increasing the intensity.
Trophy and achievement hunters will be disappointed to discover that the Twilight Rivals DLC doesn't add any extra trophies or achievements for beating the difficult campaign. Overall though, the Twilight Rivals DLC is essential for existing owners and will push even experienced players to their limit.
Inertial Drift is beautiful but brutal. Don’t let the initial difficulty put you off though. For existing players, the Twilight Rivals DLC adds tremendous value to an already addictive arcade racer, with challenging new courses, more cool cars, and a compulsive story campaign.
New players, on the other hand, will have the pleasure of discovering a new hidden gem.