TrackMania 2: Canyon
After the acquisition of French developer Nadeo by Ubisoft back in 2009, fanbase concerns turned towards the potential future of their signature racer, TrackMania.
Fast-forward a couple years and, at a cursory glance at least, the formula for its first full-blown sequel remains thankfully unmodified. The focus once again is undoubtedly centred on the community’s creative finesse when it comes to track construction; providing a playground of toys for modders to manipulate into ludicrous loop-de-loops and hair-raising ramps, all matched with arcade thrills, as you hurtle across dizzying, corkscrewing tarmac aiming to nail that top time.
The gameplay is relatively untouched, as handling the vehicles remains simplistic – with perhaps the weight feeling a touch heavier. While we’re careering down one of the developer-built tracks, jumps and giant half-pipe walls catch us off-guard and, more often than not, send us spinning midair and off the road, biting the dirt.
Not that we’re too bothered: it’s exactly that trial-and-error approach to mastering each track that fuels TrackMania’s fervent competitive nature, and drives the community to constantly create crazier constructs of boundless imagination.
Cosmetically, the series has undergone a huge makeover. While nowhere near as po-faced as other racing franchises, you’d be mistaken for thinking that the visuals don’t match up to any of its petrol-guzzling ilk.
While all the unlicensed cars share the same stats (to keep the game squarely about skill, rather than engine size) each flaunts some impressive detail, showing collision scuffs and shining with glossy finishes.
Meanwhile, the dusty, red-rock setting (hence the title Canyon, duh) looks rugged and barren enough to leave players feeling thoroughly dehydrated – all of which is optimised to look stunning even on a modest PC setup.
TrackMania 2: Canyon also marks the first part of three TrackMania packs being released by Ubisoft, with greener pastures in TrackMania 2: Valley and another diverse environment-based add-on released some time later.
In addition, Canyon also acts as a springboard for Ubisoft’s new multigame platform, ManiaPlanet. It’s with the guiding hand of Ubisoft that Nadeo have been able to expand their vision, stretching outside the realm of racing and creating ecology of titles, with FPS ShootMania and RPG QuestMania soon to follow.
“Ubisoft want to become a strong player in the online world,” says Nadeo’s International Project Manager, Edouard Beauchemin. “TrackMania has been big online for years, so they’re keen on learning new things from us and we’re learning a lot of things about production and quality from them. We’ve had a huge amount of support but have maintained total control over our games.”
For now though, Nadeo and Ubisoft are focusing their attention on Canyon, polishing and enhancing the features to help the community build the experience they desire.
Jumping over to track editing and the revamped constructer screen is well refined, featuring over 240 TrackMania blocks and a swathe of scenery options to toy with, place and modify at a whim.
Simple adjustments, such as the ability to put track pieces down through mountains and other environmental obstacles instead of having to carve a path first, reinforces the ease-of-use system Nadeo seems to have mastered in the sequel. Crucially, jumping in and out of test mode remains seamless, making the whole process painless for newcomers and veterans alike.
But the series would be nothing without the community, and their involvement has been key to the sequel, with Nadeo snagging some of the most talented modders to work closely with the small studio to improve and generate many of the features in the follow-up.
“The first TrackMania is five years old,” says Beauchemin, “and we’re still amazed about all the ideas that spring from the fans after all these years. Being able to bring some of them into the studio and watching them produce content has been mind-blowing for us.”
And, as many diehard fans will know, the success of TrackMania 2: Canyon won’t be judged on release day, or the week after that. It’ll be months and years of community passion and inventiveness that should make TrackMania 2 a unique competitor on the racetrack.