KartRider: Drift would appear at first glance to be a fairly standard kart racer, but look beneath the surface and you'll find a couple of noteworthy additions that mix up the formula and help it stand out. We went hands on with the closed beta.
Right off the starting block you'll notice an immediate familiarity, as KartRider: Drift offers mechanics that would feel right at home alongside Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing. There's weapon pick ups aplenty, drifting as expected, but also one or two interesting tweaks that skew toward a slightly fresher approach. While you can stack weapons in much the same way as other similar titles, you get to select when to deploy your boost from a successful drift. It adds an appreciated level of control that helped turn the tide in our favour on more than one occasion.
One big marquee feature is its eventual launch as a free to play title, supporting cross platform interaction between Xbox One and PC. Matchmaking times seemed pretty quick, although with this being a beta, there were some glaring issues that definitely need to be resolved before it jumps out into the wild. We were given access on Xbox One, and there were a couple instances of locked forever loading screens where the game refused to proceed any further. Sound bugs are persistent too, with disappearing effects and missing music all coming in to play.
But, as we've already noted, this is a beta after all, and there's no doubt plenty of time for any kinks to be ironed out. Regular content drops have also been promised, with everything from new customisation to themed tracks planned for release down the line. There's a sense that developer Nexon are in it for the long haul, and considering that the barrier for entry is pretty low at this point, there's ample opportunity for players to dip in and take things for a spin.
Items are a mix of familiar (boosts, rockets etc...) and more unique fare, with a magnet that you can use to quickly close the gap on nearby rivals ensuring plenty of close finishes. The drifting itself is extremely sensitive, and should only be used in very short bursts; we found the turning circle to be way too extreme, often leading to unintentional face plants in level geometry or track side barriers. You can tweak your kart stats with unlockable parts, but this is earned through gameplay and thankfully avoids any nasty pay to win scenarios that would undoubtedly leave a bad taste.
Graphically speaking, character designs have an exaggerated look that is absolutely in keeping with the bright, technicolor environments. You'll find different tracks mixing up aesthetic elements (such as item box design) to be in keeping with the theme of that particular race. That kind of attention to detail is always appreciated. It's an Unreal Engine 4 title, with a solid framerate; another critical box tick for a competitive title. Despite some bugs that need squashing, generally speaking it's in a pretty good state.
KartRider: Drift isn't trying to reinvent the wheel (sorry) from a pure gameplay perspective, but the business model (free to play) and multiplayer feature set (crossplay) make for eye catching ideas in a kart racer that isn't relying on an established license to set tills alight. We're intrigued to learn more, and enjoyed our time with the game.
KartRider: Drift launches in 2020 for Xbox One, and PC.