Early Access Review: Driftwood – Slow Ride

We all have different ways we chill. It could be cozying up in blankets and reading a good book, taking a stroll in the sunshine, or bombing down a hill on a longboard. Driftwood is all about that final option. Developed by Stoked Sloth Interactive, Driftwood has you descending some big hills on your board to try to rack up points and complete other goals. Looking for a relaxing game with chill vibes and nice graphics? Driftwood is the game for you.

Currently in Early Access, Driftwood doesn’t offer much in terms of a story or depth in it gameplay, but that’s the whole point. The developers want you, the player, to experience the ride for yourself and discover your own goals and challenges, much like if you were an actual sloth (or human) trying to longboard. Driftwood is all about getting into a flow state, where your only worry is to avoid cars and wiping out.

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While the gameplay is relaxing the crashes are brutal

Being a simple game, Driftwood keeps its mechanics minimal, but it’s probably best to use a controller (which is what I used). Use a designated button to push yourself off and the control stick to lean forward to gain speed, or lean back to air brake. The controls are pretty intuitive, with the only caveat being drifting your board. The right and left bumpers control which side you start drifting so you can slide around intense turns. Opposed to other games that have a drifting mechanic, selecting the appropriate bumper is important, as pressing the right bumper only allows you to perform drifts on the right. Drifting also doesn’t seem like it’s helpful in the sense of turning your board. The mechanic is very fiddly, and more often than not you’ll find yourself doing 180’s that you didn’t mean to do, throwing off the direction of your board and running you into a guard rail. With the word “drift” in the name, you would think drifting would be the best mechanic Driftwood has to offer, but it almost ruins the fun instead. I found myself crashing a lot, unable to properly maneuver the tight turns. The crashing takes you out of what Driftwood is about: the flow of boarding. I really wanted to get into the experience, because the visuals and audio has such a great vibe, but unfortunately the gameplay holds the experience back.

Map navigation is a fun side experience in Driftwood, where you ride around a map in a camper van. While hitting road barriers and cutting donuts in the scenery is silly and enjoyable, it can be a pain to navigate to the next location. I wish there was a way to do it in the main menu, or at least have the camera zoomed out a little more so I can see more of where I’m heading. The path to the next location is also not a linear line, so you have to back-travel. Being in Early Access, Driftwood only has four locations, but that’s all you really need to have a good time boarding.

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Making donuts on the map could be a game within itself

The world in Driftwood is colorful and vibrant, with smooth low-poly models and textures. Everything feels as if I were to go on a nature hike: peaceful and pleasant. The locations are actually quite large, but if you stare at the sky you’ll start to notice that it only renders the world a certain distance away, allowing your computer to process the graphics easily. When you hit a certain speed, air starts rushing around you, rippling the visuals.

My only real gripe with the art choices is the user interface; Driftwood only uses one font for all its text. The font can be great for headers because it’s thick and bold, making it nice for all caps, but for descriptions and explanations the text becomes mushy and illegible. Because there is little to no kerning (spacing between letters), letters are almost touching one another making them difficult to read. Another problem with using the same font for all of the text is the inability to navigate the user’s eyes to where they need to look next. When people are presented with large blocks of text that involve multiple sections, their eyes quickly glaze over the content looking for meaning to latch on to. Kind of like a survival tactic, in a way. If there was a large open road that I’m longboarding down, I’m not going to be as focused on what looks the same (the road), but what is different (the car coming right at me). Having all the text the same boldness and intensity makes it difficult to understand what to look at because my eyes have no direction.

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Who wouldn’t want to be a chill sloth shredding down a mountain into the sunset?

The audio in Driftwood is mainly a soundtrack of (hopefully) licensed music playing in the background as you skate. It’s the same kind of vibe as listening to lo-fi music as you study or work. Some of the tracks I wish were a little less indie rock and more synth-y chill music, or maybe each location has a set of tracks that fit a vibe so the upbeat stuff doesn’t ruin my experience of cruising in a sunset. The sound effects are mixed well and fit within the theme. Overall great audio experience to set the mood.

Jordan played Driftwood on PC with a code provided by the developer.

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