A screenshot of one of my favorite back-it-in corners, replayed.

I lived a deprived childhood in which my parents never allowed a gaming console in the house. It wasn’t until high school that I was even able to pirate some bootleg copy of Need for Speed 5 onto our old desktop. My experience with racing games, then, is mostly defined by desire. I’ve spent most of my life wishing to be playing something else. That is, it was until recently.

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Again, I’m not really used to having games around. In college I blew many deadlines playing a pirated version of Richard Burns Rally after I couldn’t get an even older pirated copy of Grand Prix Legends to work on my then-new laptop, but I’ve had little impetus to get back into things seriously since.

I played around with a copy of Project CARS for a while last year on my roommate’s console. I remember how much I anticipated that game years ago. I pined for it. I wished I could live a life where I had a console and a wheel and no homework to get in the way.

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But I don’t have a full wheel and pedal box for a console, so I never really got into Project CARS. And this MacBook I’m writing on doesn’t want to play anything, so I was really left once more blithely devoid of racing games in my life. I wasn’t really playing video games at all for a while there.

Then a mechanic friend of mine showed me this drifting game he had on his phone and fuck, I am completely and utterly hooked.

It has the extremely extreme name CarX Drift Racing, which is embarrassing, and you steer your car with your phone in your hands, which is even more embarrassing. It is not a dignified look to be wiggling your phone around sideways while you stand on the subway.

But the physics of the game are remarkably good. Your car can understeer or oversteer, there seems to be a genuine sense of balance with the weight of the cars and you can definitely get a lot out of how different cars handle. Tricks that you know from driving in the real world apply here in ways that every other free little car game I’ve played don’t. You can left-foot brake (left-thumb brake?), for instance, to shift weight up to the nose of the car.

The game might look like other mobile offerings, but it plays better than any other one I’ve seen. There is no NOS. There is no turbo boost button. It’s just an easy but challenging driving game that works on your phone. It’s not hard to start, but it’s easy to make mistakes and that makes the game rewarding.

A gameplay screenshot on Saihem Forest. Forgive my sloppy driving, it’s hard to screenshot on a mobile game.

The game has gone through a few big updates since I first downloaded it in the spring of ‘15, after it had already been available for download for about a year. As far as I can tell, the changes have mostly made it harder to buy cars and unlock tracks without forking over money into the game’s pay-to-play side.

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The game doesn’t make itself unplayable if you don’t put real dollars into it, but the game is definitely set up in tiers, and paying speeds things up. I haven’t put in a penny and have been quite happy.

There have also been other additions of how many settings you can mess with in tuning your car, which are all very much over my head. But none of the updates have messed with the basic fun of playing, piloting knockoff cars around knockoff circuits.

There’s my little ghost of me doing a much better run, while I fly past the apex of a corner. Screenshotting is hard!

The Godzilla R3 (a “Godzilla” Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R clone) on Wilson Race (a Mid-Ohio clone) is a fun run, either in pointless drift mode wherein you try to drive as sideways and as fast as possible or in more serious time attack mode wherein you just shoot for the lowest lap time.

Definitely read the full list of fake names here, but I’ll mention also the ‘Hachi-Roku’ Toyota Corolla AE86, the ‘Bimmy P30' BMW E30 and the recent ‘Cobra GT530' Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R.

Bad score. I’m not normally this bad, I swear!

I have played racing games that are more realistic. I have played racing games that are more broad. But this stupid game on my phone is as good as I’d want it to be and more accessible than is probably healthy. But it’s made me stop pining for anything else, and that’s as high a compliment as I can pay it.