I’ve been addicted to a lot of games in my life, but not all that many racing games. I can name a good exception from quite a few years ago, the brilliant game 4D Stunt Racing, or Stunts as it was also known as. A lot of things made Stunts a fun game to play. It didn’t have a lot of cars, and they weren’t especially balanced either. The story-mode if you can call it that, wasn’t especially good either, but there was something about the gameplay that made it great. Oh, and it had an awesome in-game editor that let you make relatively impressive tracks in a short period of time. Using the editor you could make the weirdest levels imaginable, within a reasonable scope of course. The game also had a few rather big bugs, and using the editor you could exploit this to max.
Eventually gamers started playing newer racing games, but even all these years after 4D Stunt Racing came out, very few games managed to copy what made it work, and build something awesome upon that. But then comes Trackmania.
There isn’t any introduction movie or a storyline in this game, just a whole lot of racing. In the game you basically either race, or build levels. The single player part consists of the race mode, and the puzzle mode. In the race mode you race in three series of eight tracks. The three series have different terrain, graphical style, and a different car to master. In the first series you use pick-up truck to maneuver eight icy levels with occasional holes and jumps. In the next you use an American muscle car to finish the eight desert themed tracks. The third series takes you to what appears to be Scotland, where you race using a tiny, but very fast and maneuverable car.
It’s important to note that you won’t directly race against anyone, just whoever has the best time. However, in order to progress in the game you have to earn bronze, silver and gold medals. You need at least a bronze medal to get to the next level, but the better medal you get the more copper you get, which in turn lets you buy more and more items to use on the levels you create. By getting a whole lot of gold medals you’ll unlock a few new levels, but it’ll honestly not take a long time to see all of the normal levels. On the official website you can download a host of user-created levels, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers release map-packs. Because you see, the level editor plays an important part in the game.
So far I’ve only told you about the first of the two single player mode, and next comes Puzzle. In this mode you’re sent to the level editor with a start and a finish already placed. Your task is to use the pieces you’re given to make the most efficient route. In the Puzzle levels you’re still given deadlines to reach, but they’re usually much shorter. In the level editor you’ll find the items you have available to the bottom of the screen, and a number of buttons to the left, which let you rotate and move the selected item, change the camera, move it up and down, etc. This is all well and good, but I really do wish the developers had included more extreme things, such as loops, and such. Stunts had it, and it was released in 1990.
Make no mistake, this game doesn’t try to be a realistic racing sim, so expect big jumps, sharp turns, and a bit of path finding. The three series of levels challenge you in different way, seeing as how the cars control very differently, but also in the way the levels are designed.
Graphically the game looks quite good, as it employs good-looking shader effects on the cars, on the water, and maybe even more. I recommend using anti-aliasing, but anisotropic filtering won’t hurt either. Surprisingly the textures are very crisp. There are exceptions, such as the grass and some of the gravel, but buildings, asphalt, signs and so on all look spot-on. The car you control has a nice dynamic shadow going, but the rest of the game uses shadow maps – just in a better way than many other games do.
Again I would’ve liked to see more “meat” in Trackmania, if you can call it that. There should have been more series of the levels, maybe a way to change, or redesign cars. I would’ve liked to see more special effects, and just things that’d make the game more exciting (like Need for Speed: Underground).
Even though the game doesn’t feel as “expensive” as Need for Speed: Underground, it’s still a very addictive game. In order to get a good medal on a track you will need to drive flawlessly for the most part. It’s natural that you’ll bump into things on occasion, but by pressing the enter key you’re instantly taken back to the start of the level. This is a clever design feature, because it makes you constantly try and improve your best time. And since most of the levels can be finished in less than a minute it’s not like you get very annoyed by having to restart the level a few times.
There isn’t a whole lot of audio in Trackmania if you disregard the music and car sounds. All the audio sounds okay for the most part, but there isn’t a long list of background music, and again – not much besides that, considering how you’re racing alone on a level without anything else happening.
Multiplayer is another of the things that make Trackmania fun. Registering an account to play over the Internet is done quickly, so within minutes you’ll be racing for laptimes against a co-worker, a friend, or a perfect stranger. You can specify things like country and city when you create your account, so if you’re lucky you might find someone close to you. Lag can be a slight issue, but obviously it depends on your Internet connection.
Trackmania is a game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. My expectations may have been a little high, because I’m left wanting more. I wish the developers had implemented things like loops, and that they had added more cars, more levels, and just about more of everything. Trackmania has some excellent mechanics that make the game a fun experience, but you might find yourself being a bit bored of it after a couple of games. It all depends on whether you’re willing to experiment with online play and making levels, because if you for instance get some friends together and have them compete for the best times over some good beverages, you’ll probably have a blast.
I think I should conclude that Trackmania can provide hours of good entertainment if you’re willing to spend some time with it, but it is not perfect for those looking for a new Stunts-like game.