“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a motto that divides game developers. Do they keep what works well for them and seems to be a winning formula at the risk of becoming stale? Or do they change things up and risk alienating the fans that made their first game successful in the first place? It’s clearly a dilemma that Nadeo, creators of the immensely popular Trackmania series faced when bringing out Trackmania 2. After all, there’s already been three ‘other’ Trackmania titles and revisions with seemingly minor changes, and one of those was – and still is – completely free on Steam. So does Trackmania 2: Canyon bring enough new to the table to warrant its 2 moniker, and for that matter a £20 price tag? The answer is yes, but it’s not as obvious as first impressions may make it out to be.
As ever Trackmania is, at it’s heart, a racing game distilled into it’s purest form. There’s no messing around with gear shift ratios, tyre pressures or fuel gauges here: there’s only one car to one set of specifications that can only go as fast as all the other cars can. The skill comes in navigating the courses, eking out the speed from the crazy turns, the loop the loops, taking the corners just so and making the most of the environment on any of the infinite number of courses. Your primary foe isn’t the physical cars on the track, it’s time. So as a result even on multiplayer cars just pass through each other as ghosts, which makes each race far more straightforward as you’re concentrating completely on mastering the course, and not for example relying on your aggressiveness to physically barge your way to the front of the pack.
And all this is in aid of making your way up the persistent leaderboards by earning Ladder Points. Granting more of these Ladder points increases your position on leaderboards that are broken down geographically in such a way that you can find out how you rank against the entire world, right down to how you rank against people from your region, such as Yorkshire and the Humber, Bath and North East Somerset, London and the like. This, combined with individual times on servers both for the session you’re in as well as in a lot of cases overall for that server always gives you something to work towards, a tangible form of progression that compels you to keep racing, to keep trying new tracks and to keep trying to take that corner a little better. Furthermore, the chance to set ‘official’ times on the built in maps allows you the chance to win Mania Planets – something new to the series, which I’ll elaborate on a bit later.
The other side to the addictiveness of Trackmania is the level of customisation that Nadeo allows you to do with the game. The in game track editor is back, and seemingly more featured than ever, allowing for an infinite number of possibilities in terms of tracks. Hairpin turns, speed boosting ramps and loop the loops can all be placed with just a few clicks, and then all the tools to polish the presentation of your map, such as camera angles for the start and custom music. Jumping onto the multiplayer servers means you rarely know what tracks are coming next and how exactly they’re going to work, and this alone means you are on a relatively equal footing with many of your fellow racers – as it may be the case for many of them too. Furthermore the in game Painter tool allows you to customise your car by giving it the paint job you choose – even with a little know how, allowing you to import your own textures and decals that you can make in external programs such as Photoshop – even your own car models, if you have the know how.
Which, it does have to be said, is probably the main down side with Trackmania. It’s not very informative in terms of instructions. Yes, of course the pure driving is fairly straightforward as it gets, but the smaller nuances, or things like importing your own skins aren’t very well explained at all within the game. On the one hand the countless number of Trackmania fan sites and indeed community sites on there – and the game even provides every player with the space to make their own through the game’s in built ‘web’ browser (it can’t browse the whole internet, just sites created within the Mania framework) means there’s plenty of places to get the detailed documentation you need to learn the many many nuances of the game, but on the other hand a little more explanation of many of the mechanics wouldn’t go amiss and means new players might find themselves a little lost and just stick to the pure driving aspect, meaning they’re missing out on a whole other side of the game. The aforementioned Mania Planets seem to be a currency that will pass along to the other games in the ManiaPlanet series (the team is working on both an FPS maker and RPG maker using the same framework, and eventually they’ll all tie into each other) but as what to spend them on so far mainly seems like publishing and advertising of your track and buying ‘webspace’ from the developers. It’s really quite obfuscated more than it strictly has to be, so if you really want to get stuck in Trackmania’s community, be prepared to put a bit of work in.
But of course, the beauty of it is that you don’t have to. You can have just as much fun completely ignoring that side should you choose, but you may wonder about whether the game is really different from the older games in the series. You could point to the improved graphics and engine that’s massively scalable and really marks out in terms of versatility, defining itself as a PC game through and through, or you could point to the improved handling model, making the cars feel more solid and weighty, allowing powerslides to become a key part of the experience. But the truth is in terms of Nadeo intending Mania Planet to be not just a game, but a creative platform. It’s a game that’s built on being ever evolving, user powered and ever changing. It’s quite possibly the most organic game out there and is – and will be – ever changing, so long as there’s a community supporting it. The reason you should buy Trackmania 2 right now is because it’s a solid, fun PC game that’s accessible yet almost impossible to master. The reason you should stick with it is because where the game could end up is almost literally down to what you’re prepared to invest into it.
Verdict: On Target
Platforms available: PC
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