Drift Mania: Street Outlaws has a lot of problems. Some of it is actually pretty fun and, once you manage to understand how to play into it and the mobile platform’s limitations, can be rather engaging. But it suffers from an oversimplification and misalignment of its base driving mechanics. Most notably, though, it goes largely unchanged from its predecessor, which is not necessarily a good thing.
Street Outlaws is the latest in Ratrod Studio’s signature franchise. In it, you play as a street racer driving across the public infrastructure of cities worldwide. As you complete objectives within the tracks, you’ll unlock car upgrades and additional tracks and earn money. There’s a massive focus on drifting, making precision and control the paramount concern in the proceedings.
It, as a whole, is a pretty good looking game. The textures are surprisingly high quality and the models have a fidelity that, upon first glance, inspires a fair amount of confidence. The presentation also does quite well for itself as each race begins with a fantastic fly-through sequence of the track and shows off the graphical upgrades since Drift Mania Championship 2.
The sound design also operates with ample confidence. Hearing the engines rev and the tires screech around hairpin turns sounds pretty true to life (as close as you can get from iPad speakers, that is), and with a soundtrack of unknown but incredibly appropriate artists and songs, it all comes together in a rather cohesive aural package. And the fact that you can choose to play your own songs is a nice touch.
Once you start playing the game, though, the problems begin, and they are the same problems from Championship 2. So much runs over to Street Outlaws, in fact, that the tutorial is pretty much identical with the same text and graphical breakdowns. It covers the basics of accelerating with a gradient bar on the right, initiating drifts with the handbrake on the left, and tilting to steer. It also covers maintaining drift combos and earning bonuses by going extra fast, extra stylish, and extra in-bonus-zones as well as losing points by going off-track and crashing into stuff.
The biggest problem is that steering with an analog tilt mechanic to emulate a physical act of working off the feedback of a steering wheel just doesn’t allow sufficient precision. This is entirely personal, I’m sure, but none of the steering sensitivity options worked; low was basically worthless in taking any turn and medium was half the time too squirrelly, so I can’t even imagine how the minimum and maximum options would feel.
Then the drifting doesn’t really work like real drifting, an issue I really wanted to highlight in Championship 2 and want to bring to the forefront once again. Basically, drifting in real life works by countersteering, or turning the wheel in the opposite direction of the drift so that your momentum and loss of traction maintain the sliding action. In Street Outlaws, you instead gently increase or decrease your twist towards the drift, fine-tuning it as if you were directly controlling the car’s direction. In essence, it’s the complete inverse of how drifting works.
This means that if you have ever been behind the wheel of a car while it has been fishtailing (real, digital, whatever), you have to fight your intuition on how to maintain the drift. As a byproduct of this design choice, it introduces a significant learning curve to people with even the minimal understanding of how regaining control of an out-of-control car works. You’ll find yourself twisting your tablet or phone from one extreme to the other and then heading hood-first into a wall with a single, red-colored indignant thought running through your head.
Actually, holding down the handbrake the entire time seems to work best as I found myself spiraling out of control more often when I was just trying to recovering with the throttle; going in a straight line is perhaps the greatest challenge in the entire game. It makes no sense and drastically slows down the overall pace of the game.
I will say, though, that the speed reduction feeds into the surrounding gameplay design focus on the drift, so if you find the squirrelly and counterintuitive nature of the steering to be acceptable, a lot of the framework surrounding scoring your racing works rather well. Precision takes precedent over speed, so if you can get your car all the way sideways before drifting into the next turn, your skill (or luck) rewards you. It’s definitely more methodical than your average gun-it-always-and-forever racing game.
Every track, though, has the same set of achievements (the same, in fact, as from Championship 2): no damage, always on-track, time limit, drift combo, and drift time. And as the tracks increased in difficulty, I found myself grinding out the achievements just to unlock the next course. No damage and always on-track in one, time limit in another, and drift combo and drift time in the last one. It didn’t necessarily ever feel like I was learning to drive better but more like I was cycling through a trio of driving methodologies.
Really, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the problems that fill Street Outlaws. But that would be essentially talking about the problems of Championship 2 because these are almost entirely identical games from the menus to the upgrade system to the controls to the HUD. The only meaningful differences are that Ratrod added custom soundtracks and high resolution textures.
To use the game review cliché “if you are a fan of the series then you will blah blah blah” wouldn’t even be viable here. It’s more like if you are a fan of the series, then you are a fan of a singular game because this is nothing more than a reskinned track pack, which isn’t a problem if that’s all you are looking for. I know some people, in fact, that will be happy to race on new territory, but to hoist Drift Mania: Street Outlaws as a new game is disingenuous.
+ Excellent presentation within and before races
+ Soundtrack and sound design are appropriate and effective
– Steering is counterintuitive and imprecise when the game demands precision
– Almost wholly identical to Drift Mania Championship 2
Final score: 3 out of 10
Game Review: Drift Mania: Street Outlaws
Release: October 10, 2013
Developer: Ratrod Studio
Available Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows 8, Windows Phone