Trackmania2: Canyon Review
By Simon Graves |
Trackmania 2 doesn't offer a sophisticated career mode, realistic tracks and dizzying array of purchasable cars like other racing titles. It has single-player content, but Nadeo's sequel isn't meant to be played alone. This is a franchise about sharing, about community, and about barreling through sky-high loops after taking a high-speed jump off a highway elevated above a canyon floor. It comes with an assortment of official tracks, but the real joy of the game is picking through the community's creations and jumping into servers to compete against others for fast times. Even so soon after launch, there's already an impressive amount of content out there.
If you only want to play alone, there are still a few things you can do. The included tracks have benchmarks built in for you to compete against for medals, and if you're not an expert racer the content will take quite a while to unlock. Even getting to the end of some of the Black-level tracks can be a significant challenge, let alone burning through at high enough speeds to earn medals. While the content can be fun to race through, the experience can feel a little lonely with only ghost cars to accompany you. Thankfully there's an option to load in the ghost cars of the replays of other players if you're connected online, which helps promote a sense of competition as well as tip you off to better lines around the tracks.
Trackmania 2: Canyon Video
Playing online can be a lot more fun, though, because you can simultaneously compete and chat with others as you progress through the server's map rotation. Multiple modes of play are available, but Time Attack is the one being played by the vast majority of those online. In it all players race across a length of track to post the best time. There's an overall time limit until the map switches, and within that limit you can restart as often as you want to record a good time and boost your overall global ranking. You can see the cars of others as they race but there's no collision, meaning you're able to try for the best line to the finish regardless of how many other players are packed onto the track.
Online games run a variety of custom interfaces that show information like local records, the current song playing, the track name and user that created it, as well as live rankings as everyone sprints from start to finish, which give a nice overview as you speed along. The track rotations for many servers already include only user-generated tracks, which can range from fairly standard, straightforward layouts where the primary challenge is to turn as efficiently as possible to more outlandish designs where you'll hit multiple speed pads and go soaring through the air for extended periods of time.
In multiplayer games you're provided with plenty of unintentional entertainment as those around you slam into barricades, fall short of massive jumps and crunch nose first into walls, or flip end-over-end around sharp turns and off the sides of loops and ramps. You'll run into the same pitfalls, the impact of which is displayed by the detailed damage modeling on the cars. Replaying tracks for better times can easily become an obsession because most tracks take between 30 seconds to a little over a minute to complete, so it never seems like one more lap will be much of a time commitment until it's four hours later and you realize you forgot to eat dinner.
This is an arcade style racer, so it's easy to pick up and quickly get a pretty good handle on how everything works whether you're using keyboard or gamepad controls. Controls are simple, just accelerate, brake and turn, but there's depth to the handling as you learn to use the drifting mechanics often important for hugging tight turns without slamming into a wall or losing too much speed to braking. If you really want to rank near the top of a server or get the best medals offline, you'll need to memorize track layout and try for the best line possible. It's no easy feat despite the simple controls, as keeping your car level with the ground over the bumps, jumps and tricky turns of many tracks can be a tricky business. Without enough speed or exactly the right angle it's all too easy to wind up rolling across the canyon floor, but because such a pervasive threat of failure exists it's supremely satisfying when all goes right.
Though every car is functionally identical in Trackmania 2, you can hop into the car editor to customize your paint job and stand out on a track. The handful of included designs are all fancy enough, but if you want something without giant Ubisoft logos all over it you might want to spend the time to create your own. You can then name and save the car and bring it into online competitions so others can marvel at your artistic skill or mock both your car's design and your finishing times.
The advanced track editor is much more robust, allowing you to fashion as insane a track as you wish with a range of included building blocks. By digging through the toybox of ramps, tunnels, S-curves and canyon pieces you can piece together some really impressive courses, as many users already have. These creations are then shared between those in the Trackmania 2 community. It takes a few extra steps if you want to pick specific tracks, but it's a simple matter of downloading files and placing them in the appropriate directories. You can then try them out yourself in a LAN game, split-screen or in hot seat modes, or ignore the whole creation aspect entirely and just enjoy the community-generated content incorporated into the track rotations on your favorite server.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Trackmania 2 looks great. The lighting effects and reflections in your car's glossy surface are especially impressive, and though the detail on the track pieces isn't quite on the same level, it hardly matters as you zoom at high speeds through turns and over jumps. A little more variety in the appearance of the tracks would have been appreciated, though the community is already hard at work creating alternate looks. What really matters is Trackmania 2 delivers a thrilling sense of speed, which adds even more excitement to the experience.