Ubisoft takes Nadeo's latest TrackMania for a spin.
Published on Sep 22, 2011
It’s not until TrackMania 2 confronts the player with a seemingly unachievable target that its true worth can be assessed. The beleaguered competitor, having thrown his game pad to the floor after the fourteenth botched attempt to improve his personal best, considers giving up on the challenge for the very first time.
Will he blame the developers for unfair scenarios, dodgy draw distances or an unreasonable learning curve? Or will he question his own ability? Perhaps the tendons in his hands will finally force him to take up the calmer pursuits of golf, gardening and gastronomy instead.
Whatever the reasons behind the player’s struggles, one thing’s for sure: that controller won’t remain buttons-down on the lounge carpet if the game, like Nadeo’s sequel, is addictive enough.
Indeed, the latest entry in the TrackMania series has lost none of that ‘one-more-go’ quality that has kept so many speed addicts hooked since the debut entry skidded into view in 2004.
Behind the rather generic facade of livered cars and weathered asphalt remains a manic medley of time trials, loop-the-loops, half-pipes and acceleration strips.
So while the courses may be decorated with tiresome grey structures, Ubisoft banners and the expansive orange canyons that give this sequel its name, there are moments of joy and outrageousness that betray the serious image.
The action is presented in a wide array of bite-size circuits, typically 30-45 seconds in duration, and most come complete with at least one gravity defying jump or spiralling piece of tarmac.
The majority, but not all, of these routes are expertly crafted, with the sort of undulating terrain that might force Lieutenant Frank Bullitt to slow down, and a track twisted enough that you’ll spend much of the game playing with your neck tilted at an angle.
The cars that negotiate these race courses are both fast and incredibly responsive, which allows for the precision control that will make for both the swiftest times and the most spectacular of collisions.
This is basic creation mode. Think of it as Scalextric.
The focus is on laying down the fastest feasible laps and attempting to collect various medals, improve upon personal bests and, most delightfully of all, rise through the ranks of regional, national and international players.
Topping the speed charts can require hours of practice and you’ll find yourself hitting the instant reset button as soon as you trade paint with a storage cylinder or exit a ramp in a slightly askew position.
To improve, players can load ghost laps not just of their earlier attempts but also for any of the top drivers from around the globe. From these, it’s possible to learn the best racing lines and the most cunning of shortcuts.
The desire to shave off fractions of seconds is even more irresistible in multiplayer. Proceedings take the shape of a Formula One qualifying session, with a set time limit to find the quickest possible finish.
With each improved lap you’ll scan the right-hand side of the screen to catch a glimpse of the live rankings, and it’s not long before you’ll discover that there’s a fine balancing act between striving for perfection and failing to complete several solid, but competitive laps before the clock reaches zero.
Whatever your approach, it’s here that Canyon triumphs, as with such a variety of track styles it’s likely that there will be at least a handful of courses that you’ll excel at in comparison to the bulk of other users.
For some, this may well be the multiple lap endurance races – trust us, on some routes it’s extremely difficult to traverse the terrain five times without fault – but for others it might be a 20-second long stunt run.
You'll find many a super jump to tackle.
Either way, when battling over fractions of a second with rival racers, it’s hard to better the euphoria of posting a blistering lap time right at the death of the contest.
Sadly, there are a number of issues that shouldn’t have made their way into the finished product, even if many of them can, and probably will, be rectified by several simple updates.
For example, entire chunks of TrackMania 2, such as Skill Points and Planets, don’t appear to be explained in-game at all, and a number of the circuits suffer from an apparent lack of playtesting.
With some courses devoid of adequate signposting, not to mention the nuisance of an occasionally pedantic checkpoint system, it’s not unusual to see multiplayer games in which players fail to post a time, with vehicles spinning around in circles as budding motorists struggle to work out which way they should be heading.
The clunky user interface is yet another frustration that may make some newcomers, who can’t even refer to a proper manual, feel like unwanted guests.
None of these gripes prevent TrackMania 2 from being every bit as enjoyable as its predecessors, but that doesn’t mean that, for the time being at least, there isn’t a slight air of disappointment.
The franchise is clearly adored by its dedicated online community, but it’s hard not to feel that the team at Nadeo have become a little too reliant on followers to improve the experience on their behalf.
And given that such a large proportion of this committed group has already invested so much time mastering earlier entries in the series it’s not entirely clear whether they will all move across to this new model.
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If they do, Canyon may well become the definitive version of this smile-inducing stunt racer, but unless you’re already a veteran it may be worth waiting a while before taking this sequel for a drive.