The Tokyo Xtreme Racer series has seen a few good entries, but for the most part, the series hasn't been much to get excited about, particularly in the last couple of years. That didn't stop developer Genki from creating a spin-off series that focused on drifting, a type of racing where you throw your car sideways into a turn so that you can take it at high speeds. The first DRIFT game was hampered by bad handling, ugly graphics, and a repetitive conquest mode. Now, almost one year to the day later, Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 suffers from the exact same problems.
DRIFT 2 opens with a nonsensical story about the Emotional King, a great street racer who suddenly disappeared. Then there's something in the story about two racers known as Absolute Emperor and Miracle Summit who take his place as the best around, as well as another group of racers who are threatening to take over...or something. The story is a complete mess and unfolds via a series of inane message board posts that are somehow less coherent than real message boards. It's impossible to follow the story, even if you wanted to, but thankfully, it doesn't matter much.
In the game's career mode, you start as an unknown driver. As you win races, you'll get better vehicles and become better known. DRIFT 2 has a solid roster of more than 170 vehicles from manufacturers, including Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, Honda, and more. While there are some nice cars available, most of the roster is unimpressive; most of the cars are subcompacts, there are too many older models, and many of the "different" models are virtually indistinguishable from one another. You can purchase new, as well as used, vehicles, and they can be upgraded with the money you earn from winning races. You'll be able to upgrade your engine, brakes, tires, shocks, transmission, clutch, and more, as well as reinforce the car's body, decrease its weight, or add turbo. If you enjoy tuning your vehicle, you can alter a number of settings to try to get the most out of your ride. You can also change your paint scheme, and if you have a sponsor, you can add its decal to your car to earn some extra cash.
The original Tokyo Xtreme racing games took place on the highways of Tokyo, but the DRIFT series takes the racing to the mountains. In DRIFT 2, you'll race through the mountains of Japan in such locations as Hiroshima and Hakone. As in the previous game, racing takes place during the day, as well as night. In daytime races, you'll try to beat specific course times, navigate through cones on closed courses, or in drift races, try for the highest point totals. You'll earn money for placing, but you only earn points toward leveling up by finishing first. There aren't many different races you can compete in, and it's hard to figure out how to unlock more races, which means you'll likely find yourself racing the same events over and over again.
Once you've dropped a little money into your ride, it's time to race at night. You find races by going to parking lots and challenging other drivers. They'll respond with some lame comment, and then you're off to race. Most races are over when someone crosses the finish line, but you can also win by staying out in front of your opponent long enough to completely drain his life bar. You can also lose this way, and your life bar drains a bit every time you hit a wall or your opponent. There's no visual damage in the game, but if you repeatedly ram walls over a long period of time, your car's performance will decrease. The night races are fun for a brief period of time, but like the rest of the game, they quickly become repetitive.
The basic concept might sound good, but DRIFT 2 stumbles in almost every aspect of execution. The menus, dialog, and instruction manual are poorly translated, which makes even the most basic tasks difficult. The message board and e-mail system is cumbersome and completely ridiculous. Nearly everything about the game is tedious, from earning money and unlocking new races to figuring out what you need to do next. You'll spend a lot of your time wading through posts and e-mail in search of a clue as to how to unlock the next race because winning races and beating rivals often doesn't do anything. Then suddenly, you'll hit some magic point threshold and unlock something new.
The game's biggest problem is that the cars handle more like boats than cars. Even with your car totally pimped out, it's a struggle to make it through anything other than the gentlest curve without grazing the wall because the cars are so unresponsive. That's when you're driving normally. It's even worse when you try to drift: Your car will start to slide and then it's almost impossible to control. This is a huge problem in the drift races because not only do you lose any points you gained in a drift when you hit a wall, but you also lose the opportunity to get any points in that particular drift section. Bumping into walls is also frustrating because you lose almost all of your forward momentum; hitting one wall is often the difference between clearing a course and not clearing it. You can somewhat compensate for the shoddy controls by changing your tire type, but even that is made difficult by the menus, changing weather, and races with seemingly random sections of dirt.
None of DRIFT 2's problems are helped by its lackluster presentation. It does have a solid frame rate and the cherry blossoms that fall on some of the courses look nice, but nearly everything else is substandard. There's a lot of aliasing, and the draw distance isn't very impressive. Despite the solid frame rate, the game never conveys any sense of speed; something that makes the dull racing even more boring. The car models aren't very detailed, and they don't show damage either. Most of the courses look the same; you'll see lots of trees and the same signs repeatedly. For the most part, they're designed the same because it's often impossible to discern one course from the next. There's little variation to the sound of the car engines, but the finishing touch on DRIFT 2's shoddy presentation is put on by the game's soundtrack, which is mostly an ear-splitting mix of a handful of Japanese ska, punk, and pop songs.
If you played the first DRIFT game and found yourself wanting more, you'll probably be reasonably content with DRIFT 2 because it's essentially the same game. But the reality for most people is that Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT 2 is an all-around disappointment, even if it costs just $20. Anyone else who's in the market for a cheap but good racer would be better suited to grab something out of the PlayStation 2's ample "Greatest Hits" library.