Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 Review
Drifting, the impractical racing maneuver that sends a car flying around a turn at a severe angle, is always an eye-catching stunt. Hell, they made a whole movie about it - a bad movie, but nevertheless - and of course, they had to make some games based on the style. The first was Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT, and while it turned out to be a very mediocre racing title, we all hoped Genki would get it right with the sequel. Some of the problems they would have to overcome included unrefined technicals, repetitive (and boring) races, and a poor semblance of speed. But somehow, they managed to address none of these issues and produce a virtual carbon copy of the original, only more bogged down by a confusing progress format.
We could call the graphics "passable" as a PS2 game, but not as a late-generation PS2 game. Sure, the cherry blossoms add some much-appreciated color to a few of the racetracks, but beyond that, the entire presentation is very unremarkable. We're so used to seeing beautifully detailed vehicles in many other recent racing games, and in comparison, DRIFT 2 is one big disappointment. The cars are bland - and there are far too many of the same model type - the tracks are grainy with plenty of aliasing problems, and if it weren't for a dash of decent lighting, the visuals would be borderline disastrous. Thankfully, they don't completely decimate the racing experience, just because it's a consistent graphical palette with no crippling flaws or errors.
The sound is only marginally better, even though a few of the soundtracks seemed like very odd choices. One of the first rival events featured what sounded like a mildly upbeat cool jazz rendition, which made absolutely no sense. You did have your requisite rock tracks; it's just too bad the sound effects were so generic, the player would soon begin to forget they even exist. All the engines sound too similar, hitting every wall sounds identical, and even the squeal of the tires holds no real authenticity. Ironically enough, we generally complain about a lack of variety when it comes to the soundtrack, and there's no such issue here. Despite some of the stranger selections, the music does help the overall experience, and the unimpressive effects don't hamper the gameplay as much as you might think. Still, the sound is hardly what we'd call "good."
On the surface, Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 has a whole lot going for it. When you start out, you've got your choice of the surprisingly involved Conquest Mode or the Record Tour mode, so theoretically, the game should feature many hours of entertainment. You can practice, enter into the garage to fiddle endlessly with your cars, purchase new vehicles (the game boasts a library of 170), challenge rivals, check e-mail, and in general, really get acquainted with the underground world of street racing. But once you go beneath the surface and actually start to play, you'll notice one thing above all else: it's boring. There's no better way to describe it; it's just boring. Nothing about the races are ever anything but repetitive and even frustrating, and you can never fully understand how to advance.
During the day, you can race to beat the best times on available tracks, visit the store and tune up your car, and log on to the Network to check out the latest buzz. At night, you take to the mountain streets of Japan, meeting your competitors in parking lots and simply challenging them to race. You can sign sponsors as you go, buy faster and better handling vehicles, and unlock several new racetracks. But too many of the cars and tracks feel very, very similar, and the control is questionable at best. They get a bit better at higher speeds, but your first car will likely make you give up immediately. It responds like a giant yacht, not a semi-decent sports machine; the turning radius of our Mazda was akin to that of a Crown Vic. And what about the drift? Isn't that supposed to be a cornerstone of this game?
Yeah, well, don't expect the drifting you experienced in Ridge Racer 7. The drift here is ungainly, unrealistic, and nigh-on uncontrollable, which is super confusing...after all, the word "drift" is in the title. You apparently need a lot of momentum to even get a drift going, and when you finally start, good luck prying it out of the slide. There's just no good way to control the car throughout the maneuver, and it ultimately turns out to be a futile endeavor, anyway. Chances are, you'll smack into the wall, and that will reduce your forward progress drastically, almost to the point where you stop completely. Even grazing a wall can have a major effect on the car, and that's a big error. It's not a huge problem, though, just because you can usually keep an opponent behind you without too much trouble. The roads are crazy narrow.
But every race, whether you're racing a rival to the finish line or trying to beat the best times, feels identical. It almost doesn't matter what car you use or what track you're on; no matter what the situation, it all boils down to controlling a very unresponsive vehicle down a narrow, mostly featureless road with only one opponent to worry about. They tried to add some flavor by including a "life bar" of sorts, which drains faster when you're behind, or if you hit a wall or the other racer. If that bar gets to zero, it's race over for that competitor. It's an interesting concept, but it just doesn't do much for the excitement factor. Things only get more annoying when you're trying to figure out how to avoid racing against the same cars, time and time again.
See, we could never really figure out how to get a new batch of racers to appear at the parking lot. You have to defeat a team leader to gain access to the rest of the team, and you also have to utilize the completely absurd message boards on the network to pin down a certain plot-advancing event. There is a storyline, but it's too ridiculous to even mention, so we'll just bypass that element (it doesn't help the score, let's just put it that way). And when you finally get that big-time race to pop up, it plays out like all the other races: get in front, block out on turns where you screw up, and win without much difficulty. There is no car damage, and you can easily run your opponent into the wall without any repercussions whatsoever, so the challenge is very low. We don't mind accessible gameplay in racers, but we do mind when it's not an intentional bonus.
On the plus side, there are dozens upon dozens of intricate mechanical and cosmetic upgrades you can make to any car, which should satisfy any gearhead. The only problem is, the mechanical changes don't make a big enough impact on the car or the race, especially in the early goings. Many of them aren't even necessary, although it remains somewhat fun to experiment with each and every vehicle you purchase. If there was one saving grace here, it would be the depth of the Conquest Mode and the sheer number of options when it comes to upgrading your car, but in the end, it doesn't "save" much of anything. On the whole, the game is seriously flawed both on the track and off, and that makes for a very tedious experience.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 is little more than the original in disguise, and it's a poor disguise, at that. It suffers from the exact same problems, and we'd actually prefer the original because at least that one was a little more straightforward. For racing fans, there are plenty of options out there now, both in the arcade and simulator realm, but this shouldn't be on your list of "possible purchases." Yeah, it's a little more attractive due to that budget $20 price tag, but the appeal loses its luster the instant you step on the gas. So don't waste your time or money; look elsewhere for an entertaining racing game.
5/15/2007 Ben Dutka