I wasn't a huge fan of the original Trackmania, but I did like it, and thought the series had potential if developer Nadeo could continue refining the ideas they implemented in the original. Now we've arrived at the newest entry in the series, Trackmania Sunrise, a game not about winning races, but about doing the most insane things you can imagine on the path to the finish line, and while the title has quite a few serious flaws, Trackmania Sunrise is still a strong recommendation for PC speed enthusiasts.
Driving fast, watching huge wrecks involving metal vehicles of any kind, and blowing stuff up: These are the three staples of any entertainment product aimed at the testosterone segment of the market, and of those, Trackmania Sunrise provides one-and-a-half. The â€œdriving fastâ€ part is there in force, as the game has some of the most insane speed thrills seen on the PC in years, however there is no â€œblowing stuff upâ€ to be seen anywhere, and the â€œhuge wrecksâ€ aspect is only half there because there is no car-on-car collision or car damage. Still, you can launch yourself off a 45 degree ramp going 800kph and soar off into the wild blue should your heart desire it... just don't expect a fiery result, even if you smash headlong into a building at that speed. The main focus of the game is â€œalternativeâ€ types of races to put an automobile into, similar to (but not nearly as silly as) those found in Flatout. Loops, corkscrews, mile long jumps, half pipe gaps, and many more things that you'll have to find out for yourself make appearances, as well as more than a little breakneck speed. The races involving the â€œsupercarâ€ type are easily the best, as they involve the fastest speeds and the most insane stunts, but the â€œtouringâ€ races are good as well, and show that the Sunrise engine is capable of realistic as well as comical physics. The SUV races are just irritating, with lower speeds and far more â€œtrial and errorâ€ jumping puzzles than I needed. There is a whole game mode for this (Platform), so why bother throwing that stuff into the races?
Trackmania Sunrise improves upon its predecessor in a variety of ways, but the main improvement is in the graphics and visual presentation. The original game had visuals that bordered on utilitarian, but Sunrise adds high quality real time shadowing effects, higher resolution textures, great looking water, and some pixel shader effects. Now, these graphics are still light years away from a Need For Speed Underground 2 or a Mercedes World Racing, but they're a huge improvement. Unfortunately, the pixel shader effects must be turned off to use antialiasing, and antialiasing is essential to this game as the jaggys can get quite irritating. The environments are Trackmania Sunrise's strongest feature, with quality water, mountains, and plains. However, this is only because you rarely get close enough to see any of them. You do get close enough to see buildings and other props, and these are a low poly, low texture resolution affair, utilitarian like the original game, and not much more. The audio is forgettable, with irritating licensed elevator music, bland car engine sounds, and repetitive sound effects. I just turned off the music and supplied my own soundtrack (note the video), which helped things a great deal.
The biggest flaws with Trackmania Sunrise are, like its strengths, in its gameplay. Not being able to bump into other racers during a match is highly irritating, and with some of the insane tracks you'll come across during your playing experience this borders on criminal: These tracks were MADE for insane multi-car pileups and arrogant mid-air bump offs, but you'll never see either in this game. A gigantic opportunity lost, and easily the biggest flaw in the entire game. Racing is not, and will never be a solo affair, and putting the other racers in as non-interactive ghosts is pointless â€“ Why even add them at all? Just race against a list of times, which is essentially what you are doing anyway. Also, the lack of customization for your car is a serious drawback when there are only three cars, and basic, simple models at that. These cars wouldn't even make the grade for a serious mod project for UT2004, much less a shipping title from an established publisher, but then, I guess Trackmania Sunrise really isn't about the cars you drive, it's what you do with them. Oh, and you can paint, decal, and visually customized your car to your hearts content, IF you don't mind using the simple, generic, and â€œsafe for all agesâ€ customization set included in the game. What if you want to put pinup girls on the doors or the logo of your favourite band on the hood? Tough shit. You can't. You cannnot add any custom graphics or accessories to your ride, which is one hell of a drawback when, as I mentioned earlier, the cars are so bland and uninteresting. I understand players are making custom cars now, and so I'm sure custom graphics can't be far off, but there is no â€œbuilt inâ€ way to add these, and so I have to assume they made a conscious decision to simply not allow their customers to do this. Bad Nadeo! Baaaaad!!!
Another bad thing these guys did is include Starforce 3 copy protection, the most intrusive, unworkable, and hideous piece of copy protection devised by man. Yes, it does work better than most other copy protections, but at what cost? It wouldn't read in my DVD drive at all, forcing my to play off my roommate's computer whenever I wanted to play the game, the entire system freezes for 15 seconds every time I start the program, the game itself demanded I reboot after installing it (never acceptable no matter what game you are), and there is no way to make a backup of the game for parents with small children who break everything (thankfully not a problem for me). Starforce 3 in its current form is an unacceptable solution, and I would not have bought this game because of it had it not been sent free to me as a review copy.
What's worse, the game is insanely difficult, and to make the best tracks in the editor, you have to â€œbuyâ€ track pieces unlocked using tokens won in the game by earning medals. This can be a huge problem for those adept at building but not particularly skilled at beating the gold medal times, which were clearly culled from the records set during the beta phrase with the Nadeo playtesters, racers more skilled at getting fast times than God, Superman, and Nigel Mansell put together. The race that finally sent me off the edge was â€œLittlewalkâ€, the 5th mission on the 2nd tier of platform challenges. After realizing that beating it would involve hours of trial and error until I found the proper speed to hit each jump at, I decided, â€œScrew this, the game just became more work than play.â€ That sums up my opinion of most of the single player campaign: Great, but only until the difficulty destroys your will to live.
This brings me to the mutiplay, and though the promise of insane speed and corkscrews online or on your LAN might appeal to you (and it sure did to me), prepare yourself for disappointment. Because (once again) you can't hit your opponents or affect their run in any way, you are essentially racing against yourself. The camera features in the game are generally buggy, but worse in multiplayer mode, where often after finishing a race your car will fly off the track (as is common after finishing any race in this game) and you'll be stuck looking at the dark screen of your car underwater for a few minutes as your opponent finishes the race. Now, technically this is not supposed to happen. A television style camera is supposed to come on and show you how he's doing, but it often just doesn't kick on. Also, when you host a server, the race will almost always start before anyone joins the game, and so you'll have to hit the race restart button (complete with a 10 second countdown) once someone joins. The game assumes you'll be playing for a while by yourself, which is a fair assumption because at press time I was only able to find a scant TWO servers online, both based in the United Kingdom. When I did manage to get some LAN multiplayer going, it lasted about 15 minutes before we packed it in to play some Chaos Theory instead. I told my buddies, â€œI swear this game doesn't suck. Play the single player.â€ Needless to say, don't buy this game for its multiplayer support.
The suite of editors that are included with the game are quite good, but unfortunately not as powerful as I would have liked to see. They are also quite poorly documented and difficult to use. The manual only gives the scantest of details on things like the Replay Editor, and this results in hours of trial and error until you learn the most basic of editing functions. Some people will have patience, and will be rewarded, but most will not, and thus this game is doomed to never have anything more than a hardcore cult audience.
However, if you are a speed freak who likes a serious single player challenge, you absolutely should check out this game for its solo modes. They are unlike anything found in a PC racing title to date, and will provide you with hours of high octane thrills and spills. At its finest, when you hit every jump just right and every turn comes off clean and sweet, it's almost like a fuel injected ballet, and the replays are simply beautiful to behold. I can't recommend Trackmania Sunrise to everyone, but those who enjoy its particular brand of 800kph lunacy and enjoy a difficulty level that will drive a man to drink will come back again and again for â€œjust one more runâ€.
Check out our killer video of this game here.