Developer: Nadeo / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played On: PC / Price: $24.99 / ESRB: Not Rated
When I think of racing games, two distinct sub-genres come to mind: arcade racers like Crusin’ USA or San Francisco Rush and simulation games like Gran Turismo. I tend to steer toward the arcade racers for their fast, easy gameplay over the more complex gameplay of simulation racers. And then there’s the TrackMania series, which blends elements of these two sub-genres. The TrackMania series features fast paced arcade style racing, an intricate level editor, and an online hub to connect racers from around the world. With improved graphics, streamlined editing tools for novice editors, and a strong online component make TrackMania 2 a good sequel that racing fans will enjoy.
TrackMania 2, in a similar fashion to its predecessor, does away with gameplay modes you might think standard in racing games such as the aforementioned grand prix and in its place tasks you with a series of time trial modes. Your main drive in the game isn’t to earn lots of cash and enter the winner’s circle. Instead you are competing with players from all around the world for the best times in a multitude of courses. Single-player mode has you taking on several tracks that range in skill level from beginner to expert. The starting stages get you used to the races, while the final stages test every inch of your patience and require great skill and a bit of luck to complete. Finishing each race under a specific time earns medals that add to your overall player score, which is actually displayed for the entire TrackMania community to view on your player profile.
Some races last half a minute, while other tracks can take upwards of three minutes to complete, depending on your skill. Tricky turns, environmental hazards, and strategically placed guardrails and/or tunnel entrances make stages more difficult, but checkpoints scattered throughout levels allow you to restart in the middle of the stage, assuring you won’t have to redo the entire race for crashing at just one tricky section. Even with checkpoints some stages are near impossible to complete with high ratings; one of the last of the 65 single player stages has you driving in a loop-de-loop and for the life of me I can’t do it. Still, I was surprised by how fun the races actually were. Finally figuring out how to drift correctly and getting a gold medal on a stage is extremely satisfying.
Installing TrackMania 2 requires you download ManiaPlanet, which is the online hub for all things TrackMania 2. Single-player races are a great way to hone your skills, but showing off your awesomeness online is the best part of the game. An array of servers can be filtered by skill level, country, and track difficulty. The number of participants on each of these servers can be anywhere from two to 200 (or so their website claims, though the biggest I played in sported 50 racers). Races function the same as single-player races, however you have a set amount of time to achieve your best result. So after you reach the finish line you can start the race over and try for a better time, with the player who has the overall best time winning the match. You can see the ghosts of each other car on the track, meaning you see your opponents’ progress but cannot crash into them or interrupt their play. A chat function lets you communicate with other racers as well. The overall multiplayer experience is both casual and competitive: trying again and again to get the best score is fun, and playing with other players is the best way to play TrackMania 2. A local multiplayer option is also available, splitting the screen and the keyboard and allowing two racers to go at it simultaneously.
Even in a racing game like this that’s a fairly laid back, controls are still important. The default setup has you steering with the directional arrows on your keyboard. This isn’t too horrible to control but definitely takes some getting used to. Sharp turns and drifting are the hardest techniques to master, but with practice you can figure them out on the keyboard. If you have a PC controller you can connect that and play, and Xbox 360 owners can also use a wired Xbox controller. A controller is much easier to use and handles better than the default keyboard.
Customization is a big part of TrackMania 2. You can create your own tracks as well as unique paint jobs for your car. The level editor has a streamlined version for newbie creators and an advanced version for editing pros. The easy creation mode is simple and I was making tracks in no time. TrackMania 2 implements a system of checks to ensure stages are acceptable to the community: before you can complete a track you must perform a validation run that makes sure it can actually be completed before being made available online. I’m not a person who spends hours tweaking a stage to make it perfect, but TrackMania has those options for players that want them with the advanced editor. Seeing the tracks other users make online is cool and gives inspiration for your own creative genius to emerge. The car editor allows you to adjust the paint and decals of your ride to fit your style. I thought the car editor was a bit lacking, with only a few decals available and no way to create or import your own designs. Creation is a big part of TrackMania 2, and the longevity depends on what the community can come up with (very similar to LittleBigPlanet, and more fittingly ModNation Racers).
TrackMania 2: Canyon isn’t like other racing games: it focuses on quick, creative races, not prize money and tons of cars. I liked the sense of accomplishment I felt after completing a complex level, and online play is entertaining. Racing game fans won’t find the same type of gameplay in Gran Turismo, as the arcade style gameplay leans more toward the casual crowd. There isn’t much to say about the bland sound and graphics, but the real draw to this game should be the level editor. If this is your sort of thing then you’ll get a lot out of TrackMania 2.