TrackMania United ReviewCain Dornan
The Trackmania series is quite an interesting one: its one of the last surviving over-the-top, completely unrealistic racing titles currently on the market. Im not talking about those free flash games that fill the Internet; Trackmania is one of the last commercial micro machines-like racers available, offering gamers that chance to play a refreshing title that carries a certain level of nostalgia; a certain level of old-school gaming that will be seen differently by two different crowds. Some will see it as an awesome, thoroughly entertaining franchise that provides a great alternative to the far too restrictive racing simulators, while others will see it as a childish and unvaried experience that lacks any sense of necessary depth.
The Trackmania series is one that divides gamers into two distinct audiences: those who love it, and those who hate it. You either love or hate the insane jumps, lighthearted controls, wacky track designs and its all-round childish appeal that helps it to be set apart from every other racer on the market. Its this uniqueness and willingness to stray away from the limitations of reality that has caused it to establish a solid following, particularly throughout Europe.
With Trackmania United being the latest addition to the series, the game sees the same type of gameplay and wacky track designs that youd come to expect from the series. Youve still got the racing, puzzle and platform game modes available for play, each seeing you race through a level, construct a track with limited pieces, or strategically jump from floating piece-to-piece against a time limit. The game does, however, see a significant new inclusion, that being its integration with a strong online community through its various online features.
As well as being able to take each of the games three gameplay modes online to verse gamers from around the world, the game incorporates quite a number of community-building features that helps to build on the depth and interactivity on offer. Through the games online connection known as ManiaLink, players can construct their own friends list, upload their track creations to be shared with other players, upload their best scores for each track, and share their replays with other community members.
All this is organized using the games currency, coppers. Coppers are earned by getting good scores on the games tracks. These can then be used to download new tracks that other players have created, a well as for uploading your best scores to the network to show off your skill as opposed to other players in your country or around the world.
The games great online functionality helps to improve the level of depth that the game offers, as it opens the gate to having access to a virtually unlimited collection of fan-made tracks and challenges, as well as comparing your game skill against other games in your country or worldwide. Youre basically always connected to the games online network, allowing you to immediately see the best times and scores for each individual track as you attempt it.
With that said, the game ships with a fair collection of official tracks, all of which are divided into themed stages that see you racing through deserts, tropical island paradises, through rural dusty landscapes in rally, in cold snow or in a large, crowd-screaming stadium. Each of the stages introduce a new vehicle to use, which changes the gameplay slightly as each controls differently. The tracks are comprised of favourites from previous Trackmania games, including the free-to-download Trackmania Nations. Theres a fair level of variety in the tracks offered, with tracks being divided into different difficulty classes that indicate the challenge that they pose. Those found in the easy difficulty can usually be beaten first time through, however, the harder difficulties do begin to pose a real challenge, often requiring plenty of trial and error and retries, particularly in the Platform mode, where the best way to make a jump to another platform isnt always immediately clear.
The games visuals and audio are kept to the basics. Although some nice vehicle detail is evident, most of the tracks offer basic detail. Dont get me wrong the game certainly isnt ugly, and does look quite pretty and refreshing with its colourful and lighthearted approach. The same can be said for the games soundtrack, which offers a collection of old-school sounding music that is likely to put a smile on the face of any retro gamer.
The Trackmania series has a clear and defined market niche that theyre after. Its certainly not everyones cup of tea, and really depends on your interest in playing a simple, straightforward and retro-like game that is very different to the racers that fill todays market. Trackmania United doesnt really do anything different from previous titles in terms of gameplay, rather, it simply offers more simplistic and yet surprisingly addictive gameplay coupled with some great new online play and community features. Its far from perfect, but is a worthwhile purchase for the gamer who is looking for something a little different.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.