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KartRider: Drift

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Nexon America


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XOne/PC Preview - 'KartRider: Drift'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 9, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

KartRider: Drift is a cross platform free-to-play kart racing game that delivers intuitive gameplay for all skill levels.

A kart racing game announcement was something that few expected to get serious airtime during last month's X019 event in London. This is especially true of a kart racing game that, despite being around for 15 years, is only recognized in South Korea. Yet here we are, with a remastered version of KartRider: Drift, a title that's on the Xbox One and PC with cross-play support. We got our hands on the game in the closed beta period, and the title has some surprising promise.

The core game mechanics should be obvious to anyone who's played a kart racer before, but there are a few things that stand out in KartRider. First of all, the choice to go for cross-platform play has already proven to be a big boon, as the first few hours saw a ton of PC players from South Korea who were ready to race. Except for one random crash, it never took long to get into a game, and thanks to the short nature of each race, we were able to get in a bunch of races in a relatively short amount of time. There's also a good number of gameplay modes. You have the choice between playing a standard match with an emphasis on speed or one that goes for the expected weapons in play, but those can be played as free-for-all races, full 4v4 teams, or four teams of two racers.

Secondly, while KartRider is primarily an online multiplayer game, the beta gives you the chance to try out every track in a time trial format, so you can get the layout of each track at your own pace and discover where the precious shortcuts can be. It also gives you a chance to play around with the drift system, since you're employing a handbrake to initiate the drift rather than a standard brake button. This makes the driving aspect feel more technical, since it is possible to hold the handbrake button too long and cause you to careen into a wall or turn around completely, both of which necessitate a track reset to get back into a race. In short, don't expect to get into the top three without treating the game like a cute Forza Motorsport.

The mode doesn't let you practice using weapons, which is a shame since the assortment is way different from other kart racers. There may be banana peels and rockets to throw at opponents, but you can also put up solid walls on the track and use a magnet to propel yourself forward and catch up with others. Perhaps the most vicious of the weapons is a water bubble that suspends you in the air long enough to go from first to last, if you're unlucky. The game is good about letting you know right away if your chosen weapon hits its target, so there's no need to guess. You'll also like how you can quickly recover from a bad hit if you know when to hit the gas upon landing. Like the actual driving, there's some nuance with item use, which translates into a depth that the genre rarely sees.

Thanks to the fact that KartRider is built on a game with a long history to it, there are only a few things that need to be done to get the title into a more feature-complete state. Right now, while you are gaining XP, there doesn't seem to be anything to unlock by levelling up. If there is, it takes a while before unlocking a new cosmetic item. The kart selection is pretty good, but with only three characters available now, we are wondering how many will be available once the game formally launches. The same goes for the tracks, which are quite plentiful, but more must be available for a game that's been around this long. Finally, since this is a free-to-play title, we are wondering where monetization will occur and what the average cost for each item is.

As far as presentation goes, KartRider pushes a clean cartoon-ish look that makes for a great demo of Unreal Engine 4's capabilities. Colors are bright, and while the racers sport the familiar chibi-style look, the environments are more impressive because of details like smoothly animated bystanders in the bleachers and ice and snow falling on some tracks. The particle effects from boosts and weapons look good, and the game's constant lock at 60fps is appreciated, especially since it never dips below that.

The sound, however, is where some work still needs to be done. The music is nice and lighthearted, but it is played at such a low volume that you might not notice its existence. The voices are limited to grunts that are so short that you might be forgiven for thinking they aren't present. The sound effects are good, but there's also a disparity when it comes to volume; the drifting skid sounds are played at a low volume, while driving over a log bridge produces an almost deafening sound. A little more balance would go a long way toward making this more polished.

People should give KartRacer: Drift a shot when it reaches an open beta or full release, especially since the game will be free to play. Its almost evergreen popularity in South Korea and the presence of cross-play also mean that it'll be easy to find opponents for a very long time, even if you place near the back of the pack. With that said, the game is genuinely fun thanks to its unique weapons and wonderful presentation. The quick nature of each race also means that sessions don't last too long, and if the development team can consistently pump out new content, you may be looking at one hell of a kart racer that's not from Nintendo. For now, KartRacer: Drift is worth keeping an eye on.

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