Absolute Drift Zen Edition
Originally released in 2015 on PC, I played Absolute Drift in 2016, drawn to it for several reasons. The first, of course, is a racing game that revolves around drifting. While I hadn't completely scratched the surface with my obsession for Ridge Racer and similar arcade games, I'm a fan of "arcade drifting" titles. The second was its minimalistic nature, opting to use subtle colors and shapes to create art. Watching gameplay trailers drew me into an artistic representation of drifting. If the gameplay was anything similar to what was presented to me, I would have been on board from the beginning.
Unfortunately, I was let down by the game because I expected something vastly different than what I purchased. In the second half, I was correct. Absolute Drift was a beautiful "poetry-in-motion" game that looked and felt amazing when everything went right. Those are the keywords, as oftentimes everything went wrong. The game is played from a top-down perspective yet the controls require a degree of understanding of how car handling worked.
Like in real life, the player is expected to countersteer while drifting and brake before drifting. Finding an ideal racing line is important as certain challenges require the player to do so in order to score points. In other events, drifting close to the pole will grant the player points in relation to their speed. Driving too fast will prove difficult to control the car while driving slow won't net any points. On harder difficulties, players will also have to shift up and down as well as rely on clutch control.
The problem is that none of these make up what I'd call an "arcade game." Again, this was my fault because I played the game expecting one thing when it was actually something different. There is an intense learning curve with Absolute Drift Zen Edition, which is an ironic title as the first few hours are a test of patience. First-time players will feel everything but "zen" as they ram into a wall from understeering in the first five seconds of an event.
Six years later I played the Switch version for the first time and my thoughts from the past remain in the present. However, there's a level of understanding to be had. If you mess up enough times during each event, the loading screens will tell you what you're doing wrong and how to adjust. The moment you begin to play Absolute Drift the way it's meant to be played rather than the way you think it should be played, that's when the pieces start to fall.
These moments of success are fleeting as immediately you're left with new challenges to resolve. Each new map and challenge is like a puzzle that requires the skills previously learned to succeed. Successfully completing events and missions in free roam will unlock cars, giving players an incentive not to give up. The problem is, again, I wanted to like this game as much as I did in the past.
It's a beautiful title with a beautiful premise, but underneath its beauty lies a ferocious beast that will not hold your hand whatsoever. There is no "game over" screens and players are free to hoon in the free maps to destress before embarking on another challenge. The soundtrack, with its ambient trance, also helps a lot as well.
Absolute Drift is a hard game to gauge because it's one of those games that demand your attention and time. This isn't a title that even fans of drifting can pick up and expect to knock out of the park. Like a rose, beyond its thorns that will cause your sanity to bleed, lies a gorgeous game to view, feel, and play. It's up to the player if they have the patience to make it through the pain and frustration first.
Absolute Drift Zen Edition is available on the PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. A physical version for the Nintendo Switch releases on August 5th 2022