TrackMania

Fly High

TrackMania

Well, instead of only pointing you at titles you probably haven't heard about before it's about time I finally put up a review of one of them. Consequently I'll start with TrackMania, a game seemingly build for a stunt game fan like your favourite German GWJ staffer. Yesss. On with the show. In the standard singleplayer mode TrackMania offers a Racing and a
Puzzle mode. The former requires the player to master three scenarios
(Alpine, Desert, Rally), each featuring six racing tracks. After that
you'll have to play through six more tracks (set in aforementioned
environments) in the Pro mode. Your main goal is to finish each course
within a certain amount of time. You need to get at least a bronze
medal to unlock the next track. The faster you are, the more 'Coppers'
you receive.

Same goes for the Puzzle mode. Here, however, the player faces
incomplete tracks. A limited number of tile sets is available, to be
placed on the map by the player. Usually there's a more or less obvious
solution for the majority of the tracks and it's not overly difficult
to receive a bronze medal on most of them. The real challenge is to go
beyond that and get the silver or even gold awards. There are also a
few courses without track parts to be assigned, forcing you to find
efficient short cuts in order to succeed.

 

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The challenge and entertainment provided through the Puzzle mode is
actually comparable to the Bridge Builder/Pontifex games or The
Incredible Machine as the player has to solve a problem with a given
set of tools. And, like in those titles, there's often more than
solution possible for each task, promoting a creative approach on your
side. It's definitely interesting to see what other people come up and
it also motivated me to optimize my own creations or go for a
completely fresh attempt.

Overall it'll take you about 1-3 days to play through the Racing and
Puzzle modes depending on your gaming activity. You'll have to spend
some more time though to get all the Gold medals. There's definitely
that certain 'just one more attempt' aspect to this part and it kept me
glued to the screen late at night. A friend of mine tested the game at
my place and left half an hour later than planned despite having a
somewhat urgent appointment.

 

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Still, there's one element of TrackMania I've had more fun with than
the singleplayer mode: the track editor. To me it's the central part of
the game, one I've been waiting for ever since I played Stunts/4D
Sports Driving in the early 90s. If you go straight for this tool
without touching the singleplayer component you'll only be able to
construct rather short, flat courses. You need the aforementioned
'Coppers' to purchase more and new tile sets.

The editor itself is very easy to use. I recommend learning the few
keyboard commands required as the integration of the mouse isn't
'optimal'. Mouse or not, you'll have your first track built and
validated within a few minutes. You can test out your creation 'on the
fly' anytime you want, simply hit the Return key and you'll be in the
car. Track construction is quite motivating if you're on the creative
side of things and I found myself pondering ideas for courses and
stunts while sitting in the bus. It also means you'll have access to
content designed by other players. TrackMania was just released, but it
shouldn't take long until a few community sites pop up offering new
tracks, puzzles, stunt videos/replays and maybe even mods. Also, Nadeo
promised to deliver additional track elements in the future.

 

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Multiplayer-wise, TrackMania provides internet and LAN play. You'll
race against up to 9 other players, competing for the best time. It
basically is racing against ghost drivers since there's no vehicle
collision and everyone is starting on the very same spot. It's not
possible to crowd other cars off the track, which would have made choke
points more entertaining. Also, the in-game interface lacks information
on the server response time. Some matches I joined were quite smooth
whereas others suffered from lag. The only indicators provided are the
country and the city the host is located in (under the assumption that
the correct information was filled in by the server operator), but that
isn't overly helpful if the person closest to you is someone who is
convinced that a slow 56k connection is enough to host a 10-player
session.
My verdict on this part: it's nice to have multiplayer via LAN/internet
as an option in the game, but it wouldn't sell me TrackMania. The game
also features a hot seat mode though, which is quite enjoyable if you
have friends around. Up to four players can race for the best time on a
selected track.

TrackMania features three different cars as already mentioned in the interview
we posted a while ago. The pick-up can be found in the Alpine setting
and has the easiest handling out of the vehicles available. After a few
minutes you can take 90° corners at 200km/h or more without getting
into serious trouble. The car in the Desert scenario happens to be the
fastest and trickiest one, whereas the Rally car is the vehicle I found
to provide the most enjoyable experience.

 

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The driving model is rather simplistic. It's even missing a handbrake.
Such a feature would have made it more fun. The Rally car is the only
one that lets the player slide somehow, still, it doesn't come close to
manual drifts. If you only like racing games where it'll take you a
week or more until you can perfectly handle a car, you're not going to
fall in love with TrackMania's (certainly very accessible) approach.

As for the tech part, TrackMania looks nice for what it is supposed to
be. It would be difficult to compare the graphics to what other racing
games have to offer since this one was designed under a different
premise. The apparently Scotland-inspired Rally scenario also features
a few, decent water/mirror effects. The frame rate was smooth and
stable on my good old 800MHz machine. (I had the chance to test it with
a Geforce and a Radeon 9500Pro.) TrackMania occasionally crashes to the
desktop though under Win98SE on my PC, a problem that doesn't seem to
occur under WinXP. The game just came out and the official forum
neither contained a solution nor did it indicate that this is a general
problem.

 

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Overall I find TrackMania to be an entertaining experience. The game is
not likely to leave my harddisk too soon thanks to the editor and
fan-created challenges. The aforementioned friend plans to pick up the
game as well now, an aspect that surely will spark some competition. I
would have liked to see a more realistic handling of the cars, but I
enjoy the game nonetheless. If you've been a fan of oldies such as
Crash Course/Stunt Driver, Stunts or Stunt Car Racer or are looking for
a 'different' racing title there's no reason not to take a look at
TrackMania. It's fun and also the only representative the genre has to
offer until Crashday comes out. Of course, you wouldn't have to get the
product unseen since there's a demo of the game available for download.

- Spunior

Comments

I used to LOVE Stunts way back in the day, for that reason alone I'll probably pick this one up when it comes to North America.

This sounds very cool, when does it hit the states?

This sounds very cool, when does it hit the states?

No clue, I got it through Digital Jesters (UK publisher). Maybe it'll be available via GoGamer? Some NA people in the TrackMania forum apparently ordered it at Gameplay.co.uk.

Well it's being sold for £29.99 in UK! I'm loading the demo though...