Review: Absolute Drift: Zen Edition (PS4)

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Title: Absolute Drift: Zen Edition
Format: PlayStation Network Download (362 MB)
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: FLIPPFLY
Developer: Funselektor Labs Inc.
Original MSRP: $11.99
ESRB Rating: E
Absolute Drift: Zen Edition is also available on PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

The beautiful thing about a game so simplistic in design and aesthetic is the resulting laser focus on pure mechanics. A minimalistic look can fuel the creative environments and the concentrated approach to a game’s core element can characterize its greatness. There is, however, a very delicate balance between brilliance and boredom inherent with such a design. This game frequently succeeds, despite straddling that thin line.

After playing titles like Thomas Was Alone, I began to think more abstractly about game design. It’s a puzzle platformer at its core but the characters are just blocks with differently weighted movement. The game’s unique soul and narrative are actually defined by its lack of pizzazz. I had similar feelings about Absolute Drift: Zen Edition.

Gameplay:
The game is presented with an isometric viewpoint which sometimes fuddled my sense of direction. The experience is very much about successfully navigating the learning curve and mastering the game’s systems while making sense of left and right. This title rewards the magic touch and it passes the ultimate test of keeping the player engaged long enough to care about getting better.

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A small amount of color and decal customization options are available as you set off into the meat of the game, Free Roam mode. You’re dropped into a Hot Wheels lover’s dream world with only steering, braking, and accelerating at your disposal.

Any and all obstacles aid in achieving the toy box feel while the game’s sense of humor is presented through text. Tutorial messages realize that players will be crashing and failing frequently at first.

… addictive and gratifying …
Players can drive into garage-like buildings right from the “open world” map to access Events mode which is also available from the main menu. The events take place on separate courses and come with their own set of objectives to complete.

Holding a drift for a specified amount of seconds and achieving a certain score are commonplace among event objectives. Event variety comes by way of winding tracks of increasing difficulty and nighttime rides where visibility can play a factor leading into that unexpected curve.

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Exiting an event lands you back in the action of free roaming where the next section of the world isn’t accessible until a specified amount of missions are completed. You might see “drift between the wall and the pole” written right on the road. Perform the required action and the text will disappear, indicating that the mission is complete. There are collectibles to pick up in addition to these stunts and checking off the mission list is both addictive and gratifying.

Pseudo-new mechanics are introduced as you gain access to more of the world but not much is added to the game. Donuts are “unlocked” but they consist of the same old drift mechanic done in a circular motion. Doing a burnout or spinning in place begins to pop up in your mission objectives but it’s likely a move that you’ve already accidentally done while incessantly failing at the game’s outset.

… a handful of primary and secondary colors …
It felt almost deceitful to see these moves presented as new abilities in this particular context. There does seem to be an attempt to hide the monotony by decorating the map with more circular objects and areas to spin in, encouraging the player to use the “new” moves.

Visuals:
Through its look more so than any of its other elements, Absolute Drift: Zen Edition achieves the digital toy box feel. Players are navigating a tiny car through obstacles and pitfalls seemingly set up by the inner child of the dev team.

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Rudimentary geometric shapes make up the environment and I so naturally assigned real world landmarks to those shapes. The circles I saw were fountains that I needed to do donuts around. The spaces between the squares (buildings) and the rectangles (walls) were perfect alley ways to test my refined drifting skills. The brilliance of the visuals is in its imagination-provoking appeal.

The game also doesn’t try to fancy up the world with an extended color palette. It uses only a handful of primary and secondary colors in conjunction with almost too much white as a backdrop for all of the action. The blank slate approach works for this game and it’s wonderful to see that theme blanketed throughout.

… doesn’t change much from inception …
Audio:
The game has a very finite soundtrack but the selected songs are a perfect fit. They’re upbeat and energizing, and they get you in the mood to pull off some skillful sliding. I assume that the goal was to pepper the track list with some mood music while half expecting the player to use their own tunes. The sound effects are refined with satisfying cashing and tire screeching.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only but there are intuitive leaderboards for each event. Players also have the option to drive alongside a ghost representation of either their own best run or the world record holder in an effort to study and up their game.

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Conclusion:
Absolute Drift: Zen Edition hones in on a single driving move that’s been popularized by flashier racing titles like Need for Speed and idolized by Hollywood blockbusters like The Fast and Furious. Manufacturers, horsepower, sticker price, and any other indicators of performance or status are stripped away, leaving behind only the raw fun that is digital drifting.

While the best games in this class of simplistic design find better, more fun ways to evolve the single mechanic, this one doesn’t change much from inception. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s what keeps this title out of the discussion of masterclass minimalism.

I plead guilty to the crime of sliding my car around empty parking lots after a light snowstorm because I believe there is something intriguing about attempting to control the uncontrollable. In this game, skillfully trying to maintain handling amongst the chaos provides hours of fun and doing it in the comfort of your own home makes it perfectly street legal.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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