This is the most baffling game I’ve played in years. CarX Drift Racing Online is objectively as full-featured a driving game as you could hope for. There’s vehicle customisation, decal editing, a photo mode, 16 tracks with forward and reverse variants, drift events, time trial events and showcase Tandem events, plus online play – all dressed up in decent physics and solid graphics.
There are even lookalike versions of famous tracks like Silverstone and Bathurst. So what’s wrong with it? Well, here’s where it gets weird.
The game boots into a loading screen that precedes the front menu with no fanfare. There’s no introduction sequence and not even any music. Even so, first impressions are good, as it runs well in the early environments, and the drift physics are inertia-heavy (important, of course), with a slightly simplified control scheme that makes it easy to manage each slide and avoid going past the point of no return, after which you’ll spin. There’s no damage modelling, but it’s solid and looks particularly impressive in handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch.
But then more weirdness. The A button, which should logically be the handbrake, by default instead resets your car to a standstill. It’s way too easy to press it by accident seeing as B is the actual handbrake button (and you’ll be using it frequently), and if you pause the game, don’t think you can use A to select ‘continue’ – you’ll resume with an unintentional reset to track. Maddening.
The next thing you notice is that the difficulty is way, way out of whack. Early offline events make it hard to win a bronze award, let alone gold, but perseverance sees you go up in level and earn money, both of which are needed for unlocking more tracks and events.
Soon, you’ll buy a new car and you can change its appearance and buy a mod kit to make it more suited to a specific discipline. Race trim is supposed to be used for time trials, but my Tier 2 Wütend turned into an unstoppable wondermachine when I installed it.
I was suddenly able to beat the Gold times by some 26 seconds each. There are penalty seconds added for going on the grass, but it should never be this easy. Even in race trim, your car is always keen to break out into a slide, which is a shame because a little more grip and this could have made for a genuinely awesome time attack game. The handling and motion are actually very good.
Then it gets even weirder. In most games, gold/silver/bronze awards are saved for each event, allowing you to gain them with one car or using several to collect the set. This game instead has separate event awards not only for each car but also by the body kit you applied to that car.
So, in theory, if you multiply the 32 tracks by the 77 cars and their 5 body kits each, then double it all thanks to the drift/time trial variants, that makes 24,640 events to complete if you want to get gold on everything. Surely nobody has the time to play and win all of them… which might also go some way to explaining the wildly inconsistent difficulty. It also gets rather grind-tastic, as playing each event once is not enough to keep progressing.
Online is fortunately much simpler. The servers are nice and busy, with many open rooms to join, and making your own is easy. However, nobody seems keen to play competitive events, instead just zooming around and voting to change the weather to ‘day’. There’s more of a lounge feel than any competitive play.
Get more than a few cars on-screen and the frame rate on the Switch sadly cuts up badly. Drift competitions are therefore messy affairs and even when you do get a race and win, there’s no prize at the end. Just a results table and then you’re back to the aimless and limited free-roaming. You can show off your edited livery (which other players may choose not to see), and drive about, but it’s no Burnout Paradise.
There are many glitches, as wheels clip through bodywork as you increase their size, cars get stuck on the scenery and even spawn in above the track at the start of events, sometimes sliding down the banking before the lights have even turned green.
It’s a pity because the game is clearly chasing some kind of artistry, but not in Absolute Drift’s stylised kind of way. This is more about absolute precision, not least in the showcase ‘Tandem Drift’ events.
In these, you must turn and drift close behind another car the whole way around the track without overtaking it or hitting it. This demands absolute control of your vehicle, as you need to drift through special zones and avoid others, as well as staying on the road on what basically feels like ice. You’re not required to pass these in order to progress through the track unlocks, which is fortunate because they’re insanely hard. Not impossible, but expect tens of retries each time.
It’s the extremes of quality that make this game so unusual. The unlicensed lookalike cars have intricately rendered suspension springs, yet the crowd members look like they’ve melted when you see them up close. Some objects like lamp posts are solid, while others like flagpoles clip straight through you.
There’s no damage, though the smoke looks really rather lovely. And while the Switch does a very impressive job of rendering realistic racetracks with large draw distances and pretty skies, the frame rate drops and blocky town squares make it look alarmingly shabby.
Just like the way you can simply veer your car left and right and even bang it off walls to keep the combo meter alive, the game veers from great to awful with alarming frequency. While it’s nice to have a decent new driving engine on Switch, the offline mode feels like a grind, and online doesn’t save it.
There’s loads of content here, but it’s devoid of personality, charm and – most damningly – fun.
|Release date||24th June 2021 (Nintendo Switch)|
|Available platforms||PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch (we’ll have more on the PC/PlayStation/Xbox version soon)|
|Version/s tested||Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Joy-Con and Pro Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.