Win a copy of Trackmania 2: Canyon
A major indicator of TrackMania 2’s addictive quality is that I’m still playing it. That might seem like a low barrier for this community-driven racer to ramp over, but games writers have limited time to play titles for pleasure, so anything squeezing into that personal list has to possess something rather special.
TrackMania 2 is my kind of racer. It’s competitive driving distilled to its purest, most reductive form; just be the fastest, dummy. This simple creed is reflected in the game’s controls (accelerate, break, steer … that’s it) and a fearsome dedication to meritocracy. Every car handles and performs exactly the same as every other car, while customisation is strictly limited to colour schemes (which can be as ridiculous as you like) and horn sounds (likewise). This means that if you set the quickest lap time on a course, it’s undeniable proof of your ability. Until someone else bests that time, of course.
Intentional or not, Nadeo’s philosophy seems to gently mock the more po-faced and ‘realistic’ racers out there. Sure, TrackMania 2 features absurd physics, walls of death and acceleration pads that will cheerily catapult your vehicle into the craggy face of a canyon wall, but even amidst these strange conditions it’s skill that reigns above all else. There’s no way to eek out an advantage by fiddling with tire pressures or a different engine capacity; mastery of the minimalist controls and familiarity with track layouts are the only gateways to success. The title seems to revel in uniting the utterly insane with a scrupulous sense of fair play.
This rigorous fairness is, crucially, combined with a tremendous sense of fun. Eccentric track design and an emphasis on jumps and gravity-defying stunts mean you’ll be crashing an awful lot, in an awful lot of ways. In other titles this repetition would be a source of frustration, but TrackMania 2’s instant restart button means that any annoyance (and let’s be honest, there is some annoyance about being bested by a particularly tricky section for the thirtieth time) is dissipated as effectively as possible. With peevishness kept to a minimum, many of the more over-the-top crashes can be enjoyed as hilarious spectacle; overblown tributes to your errors on the course.
That the game has a time demand akin to an eat-what-you-like buffet also helps to keep it in rotation in my library. I might find myself hopping into the game for a bite-sized go at one of the harder tracks whose gold medal still eludes me, or settle down for a banquet-length binge of multiplayer racing. Both options satisfy, thanks to the never-ending series of single player lap times to improve upon, and the equally voluminous numbers of community-created tracks present on most multiplayer servers.
While there must be a few servers out there populated entirely by serious-faced drivers dedicated to shaving another 0.001 of a second off their previous lap times and shunning anyone who dares to prat about, I’ve yet to come across them. My TrackMania 2 multiplayer experiences have been resoundingly positive, with few moments of lag and even fewer unpleasantries exchanged with other players. In fact, you’re more likely to come across people trying to be polite and helpful. During one session on the SomethingAwful server (not exactly a website known for its genteel nature), a fellow driver kept apologising that “these courses are hell for pubbies,” followed by variations on “oh god, I’m so sorry” as yet another fiendish course loaded up. It was kind of him to offer his sympathies to the newbies amongst us, but TrackMania 2 is a game where a burst of stratospheric difficulty doesn’t really matter. We all had a fine time crashing into things on a succession of ever more demented tracks.
That there is so much track variation on offer in the first place is down to Nadeo’s inclusion of an editor, and the developer’s unswerving belief in community-expanded projects. TrackMania 2 is the first spoke on a ‘ManiaPlanet’ hub that already plans to expand to ShootMania (an FPS-maker) and QuestMania (for RPGs), and it lays down a challenging template for the other titles to follow. The ease with which a huge range of tracks can be created in the game’s editor, and the longevity it provides to multiplayer, makes me both very excited and somewhat nervous for an RPG equivalent.
It may not exactly be a sequel (a cascade of other TrackMania-titled games existed before this release), but TrackMania 2 represents a sort of refinement of the form. For some, this means the galling loss of puzzle and platform modes (though it’s still perfectly possible to create bizarre puzzle-type levels), but for most others it’s a refresher of the TrackMania palette; a clean slate onto which Nadeo can expand their design philosophy. TrackMania 2, after all, still has much more to offer, not least a new Valley tile-set due next year. I can’t see anything toppling it as the PC’s finest arcade racer any time soon, and I’ll still be taking to (and falling off) its tracks in 2012.