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Trackmania Review

We go manic as we hit the track!


Review by Dave Shaw
Published 14th February 2005

Trackmania

  • Developer: Nadeo
  • Publisher: Digital Jesters
  • Release Date: 28th April 2004

Whilst it purports to offer us a ‘brand new concept’ in videogame racing, this French offering can in fact be summed up by way of a useful formula: Micro Machines + prettier trousers + Super Monkey Ball + the internet = Trackmania. As my calculation suggests, the appeal of the title rests largely upon an individual’s like or dislike of having their sexuality questioned by adolescent American schoolboys (a.k.a. online play). The rest of the sum, however, will require further explanation.

Firstly, ‘Micro Machines’. Trackmania is the closest the PC has yet come to the madcap ‘racing round the breakfast table’ action of Codemasters’ time-honoured classic, only this time the motorsport takes place in lush, three-dimensional worlds, (which accounts for the ‘prettier trousers’ theory) and, crucially, does away with a top-down perspective, pointing the camera firmly in the direction of motion. Nevertheless, the utterly responsive controls, toy car visuals and modular tracks obviously have Micro Machines to thank for a telling influence.

It is true that the process of track editing is built into the fabric of Trackmania to a greater degree than other racers, arguably becoming the game’s object, as single player progress is ultimately only used to unlock new and unusual sections of road in the game’s track editor. This fresh approach to the driving genre creates a challenge that requires a little more than quick reflexes. As each course is composed of many individual interchangeable blocks, the game requires players to pass through a set number of checkpoints per track, to prevent unsporting play. The order in which these checkpoints are passed, however, does not matter a jot. On about a quarter of Trackmania’s pre-set single player courses, this condition forces players to approach races in a more tactical fashion, in order to deduce which of the available routes is the quickest. This innovation in level design is laudable and dispisable in equal measure, sadly, resulting in far too many complete restarts due to getting lost, or miscalculation of route. The comparison with Super Monkey Ball, though abstract, is relevant, as drivers are (unusually) forced to think before they leap.

The three one-player modes are formulaic in structure. In race mode, players must simply reach the goal at each track’s conclusion before certain allotted times, in order to win a bronze, silver or gold medal (and, of course, money). Eight of these challenges will see a level completed, at which point the scenery rotates (through a verdant rally around castle ruins, the American plains and frozen mountains), and another level starts. In puzzle mode, the partly-constructed tracks must be finished, using a limited inventory of track pieces, before racing against the clock in the above manner. Unfortunately, the inherent simplicity of many of puzzle mode’s challenges renders the experience sterile, which is a shame, taking into account the wonderfully user-friendly track editing interface. Survival mode takes the unusual step of actually pitting you against three ghost opponents. After choosing between two of the game’s pre-set tracks, themselves chosen at random, it’s a race to the finish. Beating all adversaries allows the player to skip two races, coming in second is rewarded with a single skipped race, third just scrapes progression. The object is, predictably, to repeat the process, lasting as long as possible without finishing at the bottom of the pile.

Moving onto ‘the Internet’, Trackmania has enormous potential, with support for up to ten racers at a time, online or over a LAN, as well as the facility to swap a theoretically endless number of unique tracks, created from scratch using the game’s editor, with a worldwide community of users. Nadeo, the game’s developers, seem to be pinning a lot of their hopes on Trackmania’s community elements, placing their trust in fans of the series to come up with new car skins, tracks and mods to keep the game alive. A cursory glance over the game’s website suggests that this seems to be what is happening.

So, the formula stands true. It has to be said, however, that were it not for the internet, Trackmania would be bargain bin-bound, feeling, as it does, like a cheap game. There is also a very pertinent problem regarding the suitability of the genre to the PC, on a more general level. A group of three or four close friends huddled round a fourteen inch portable television, battling away on a game such as this could while away many a joyful hour. The physical separation of human opponents makes every multiplayer contest a little less worthwhile, whilst the one-player game’s mission to collect track parts seems pointless if you then cannot share the resulting new tracks easily with close friends.

Review Score: 6.2/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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