Auto Tech

Joysticks and Gear Shifts: Neo Drift Out

Max Prince chases down the good, bad, and bizarre from the golden age of coin-operated motoring arcade games. Today, he parties like it's 1996 with Neo Drift Out.

Like all brilliant racing games, the backbone of Neo Drift Out, New Technology is its cars: many old-school arcades stick you in generic Porscherrarighini blobs, but since Drift Out actually carried WRC licensing, you'll get to choose from a few authentic icons. Back in '96, having real-world cars in a racing game was cooler than the other side of the pillow.

There are three rides in Drift Out: the Toyota Celica, the Mitsubishi Lancer, and the Subaru Impreza, each with a rating for Speed, Control, and Body. There isn't any real discernible difference between 'vehicle dynamics'...it's really just about speed. Though it's tempting to get your McRae on in the Subie, the Celica is fastest and really the only car worth driving.

The Practice Stage gets you acclimated with the controls, though if you struggle with a gas/brake and joystick setup, you've got bigger problems than sucking at a video game. After knocking out Practice (which allots you 50 seconds for an 12 second run) it's on to the European Stage. This is your first real taste of Drift Out, and it's freakin' awesome.

First off, Visco Games ported some seriously rowdy exhaust clips, so there's plenty of straight-piped stimuli and machine-gun backfiring to enjoy. This is one you want turned up to 11. You play from a sort of three-fourths angle with transitions to overhead perspective and, silly as it sounds, this rapid-scroll angle actually gives Drift Out a feeling of speed and frantic pacing (as a rally race should). There are onscreen pace notes with audible cues, hidden short cuts, time bonus checkpoints and plenty of obstacles, including barrels, water, cones, and other cars.

And, as promised, there's a whole lot of drifting.

Pitch the car into a bend and it will actually spin; input the right angle and it rewards you with a tidy, satisfying tailslide. Cock the wheels midair during a jump and the car will come down swerving and out of control. Playing Gran Turismo-style bumper cars doesn't work; braking is required for most turns.

Speaking of turns, there are lots of them...hairpins, kinks, and sweepers. Each of the eight levels is distinctly different -- there are even dirt and snow climates. Apparently, these stages were all lifted from actual '90s WRC routes (though the, er, socially questionable depictions of Kenyan spectators on the African level is a little off). Each stage lasts only a minute or so, but Drift Out is challenging enough that you'll need to play each leg a decent number of times. Mercifully, you're allowed to continue through to the finish line after time runs out instead of an automatic 'Game Over.' Once you've aced every track, there's always the second go-round exploring shortcuts or even attempting repeat victory in the painfully slow Mitsubishi.

Neo Drift Out is surprisingly immersive for a classic, but most importantly it's addictive and fun. The pacing is hectic, the noise is spot-on, and discovering just the right touch (even with a joystick) makes it enthusiast-friendly. It just may be the most fun you can have with 330 megabits...