"Numerous customization options also mean that this game is a car fanatics’ wet dream. Those are almost more important than the cars themselves."
You know, I’m not really the sort of guy who gets into racing games. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s just because I prefer a plot-oriented gaming experience. Typically, I’ll only bother with racing games in arcades. After playing Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 for a good long while, a title that’s actually less a racing game than it is an in-depth street racing simulator, I’m starting to wonder what I’ve been missing. I’ve never cared for the street racing scene; teenagers with too much testosterone driving illegal speeds and ending up in a car wreck never caught my interest. This game, however, is a heck of a lot of fun and almost makes me want to look into the “sport.”
I’ll admit to initial trepidation at the thought playing this game. The sight of a fifty-page instruction manual when you open the box is fairly horrifying. I had to do a double take, since I usually regard racing games as straight-forward. What’s odd is that you honestly need to sit down and start playing the game before most of the stuff in the manual makes sense. Then again, maybe that’s just me and my greenhorn ways. Some of you racing fans may understand the manual more quickly.
The game presents you with a bevy of modes right from the start. Each offers a bunch of different race types to test your mettle. To describe them all would be a task all by itself. The major focus is typically placed on your ability to drift, whether it aides you in a time attack challenge or is the focal point of the race. For those who don’t know what drifting is, it’s essentially a controlled sideways slide. It wreaks havoc on your tires, but it can be useful for cornering tough turns at high speeds.
Drifting is a huge thing in and of itself. There are “races” solely designed around determining the best “drifter.” These usually involve insane cornering tricks and are fun to watch. They’re difficult to perform, though, and they won’t work the way you expect at first. It’s fairly easy to make your vehicle drift, but it’s hard to master the skill well enough that you don’t smack into walls.
Rather than starting your experience with the “Record Challenge” mode, you might find that “Conquest Mode” is your best option straight out of the gate. Besides eventually rewarding you with custom cars that make races in other modes simpler, it details your character’s emergence from obscurity on the street racing circuit called Kaido. Recently, the leader of the racing circuit, Emotional King (silly name, I know) disappeared and several other racers have begun to move in to fill the power gap that this has left. You’ll attempt to break the power of the other top two racers who have basically laid claim to the Kaido circuits and become top dog. To begin, you’ll need to buy a new or used car and then slowly feel your way into the game. The cool thing is that you can race in legitimate challenges by day, winning category experience points that help you make your way to the more important races. During the night, the illegal side rears its head as you compete against other racers in car battles. These resemble regular matches, but provide an actual opponent. This is a really cool and fairly realistic dichotomy that makes the game more enjoyable.
So does the ability to race in well-known cars from a variety of manufacturers like Mazda, Honda and Subaru (my first car was a Mazda Miata, if that tells you anything). The cool thing is that each different type of car has its own benefits so you shouldn’t ever really find yourself confused as to when to use each one. If you are using a front engine, front drive type car (basically your everyday variety) then you are using one that is all around useful. You can upgrade it to make it go faster and still know that you have good handling capabilities for, say, time attack types of races. If you are using a front engine, rear drive car, you have greater handling capabilities so you can control yourself a bit better when drifting.
Numerous customization options also mean that this game is a car fanatics’ wet dream. Those are almost more important than the cars themselves. You can upgrade everything from your engine to your tires, muffler and even cooling parts. Weight, handling and maximum speed can change depending on your efforts. You can make even the slowest car speedy, and will need to do so if you really hope to excel. Each race requires different attributes, so you must customize more than just one car, tooling each one to specific race types. You’ll need at least one car with a turbo engine and one without to compete in the most races. Also, if you don’t like the paint jobs the dealers offer, you can make your own in the shop. You can even apply customized license plates and decals.
Sponsors may also invite you to race. Should you win, you’ll gain the ability to slap one of their stickers on your car. Pimping out their name nets you extra money after a race if you place first. You can stick up to sixteen of these on your car at once, spread across several areas. Their placement determines the amount of money they’re worth, which in turn enables you to more quickly purchase better car upgrades.
When choosing upgrades for your car, you’ll also need to keep the game’s weather system in mind. That’s especially important if rain is pouring down and you forgot to save enough money for wet tires. What’s really interesting is that sometimes the inclement weather can help you complete the drifting missions, or Cornering Artist Battles. Once you get the hang of how your car moves in the rain, it can actually help you to maneuver through some turns. It’s kind of weird when you’re planning to skid out, but the trick is in learning how to harness it to your advantage.
Something else I didn’t expect were graphics that are actually pretty good. Sure, the crowd looks like a bunch of cardboard cutouts, but it took me a number of races to even notice that they were there. Most of my attention was focused on the cars, the courses themselves and the weather. Those elements actually look very good, especially the courses. Plus when you paint up your cars, cover them in decals and trick them out you can see all of it on your car as you drive.
Though I like this game, I think my biggest gripe is the lack of ability to restart races while partway through. Most other racers let you pause and choose to restart, but in here you have only the option to “Retire.” You must exit fully before returning to the race. It’s a small matter, but when you know you’re going to fail the race and simply want to try again, it’s annoying.
Another, admittedly small issue is the lack of vehicular damage. When you race, you can see the wear and tear as it occurs on your brakes and tires but nothing on the cars themselves. Even when you slam into a wall going one hundred miles per hour, nothing happens. I realize that this is due to the brand name cars and companies that probably don’t want to see their precious beauties get smashed to pieces, but the rest of the game is so realistic that the absence of damage bothers me.
Lastly, the learning curve is pretty steep. While most of the daytime missions are completed pretty easily, the nighttime missions are incredibly tough. You need to be at the top of your game to even stand a chance, and losing some of the later ones can be costly indeed. It hurts to lose forty thousand dollars or some hard-earned category experience points. Sometimes all it takes to lose is to simply touch a wall, lose some speed and then watch your competitors take the race. It's crazy how perfectly they drive sometimes. Most racing games have this problem, but with a game going for such high amounts of realism, it gets a bit odd seeing how perfectly some people drive the courses while blocking you from passing.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 has seriously made me question whether or not I need to start paying attention to racing games. While it isn’t perfect, the game is certainly good enough to warrant a rental. I don’t know if I have enjoyed a game this much in recent memory and I will likely be playing it for months to come, if for no other reason than to try and beat the game using different cars. Honestly, I’m not sure if the replay value will ever run dry. There simply aren’t enough games of this ilk available.
Freelance review by Daniel Acaba (May 24, 2007)
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