Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A car insurer's worst nightmare - Trackmania United

I should probably start this review with a little history. Back in 1990, a company called Distinctive Software released a game called Stunts, or 4D Sports Driving . It was a very unique racing game, that saw you trying to set the best lap times in crazy, stunt filled tracks. The game was likely best known for it's easy to use track editor, that allowed people to readily make and share their own tracks.

Fast forward to 2003. Nadeo releases a game called Trackmania, a spiritual successor to Stunts, it has the same basic premis: drive on crazy, stunt filled tracks and try to set the best time, and use the built in track editor to make your own tracks to share with others. Nadeo would go on to make a whole series out of this Releasing the games Trackmania Sunrise and even a free title in the form of Trackmania Nations. Eventually these three games were combined to create Trackmania United, which then got a free expansion turning it into Trackmania United Forever. It then got another free expansion, making the game Trackmania United Forever Star Edition which is the version I'm reviewing. Though for simplicities sake I'll simply be calling it Trackmania United.

Trackmania United is an arcade racing game with a bit of a weird twist. You don't race against other drivers, at least not directly. You won't be jockeying with other cars as there are no other cars, just ghost recordings of other racers, even in multiplayer, cars will harmlessly pass right through each other. Instead your opponent is the track itself. Each track in Trackmania is an obstacle course, filled with massive jumps, corkscrews, loops and other things that have no place on a proper race course. These tracks are backed up by a solid driving model. Cars are responsive and fun to drive, and thanks to the game's arcade roots, can even brake in mid-air. this is actually important as controlling your speed is a big part of the game, so being able to slow down in mid air when you might otherwise overshoot a jump is extremely useful. When you do make a mistake, the game also has a checkpoint system, with the ability to respawn at the last checkpoint you passed at any time, so you don't have to restart a track completely if you crash or otherwise get stuck. you can respawn as many times as you need, though the clock does keep ticking while you do this, so there's still a penalty to using it.
Loops in the track, like this one here are a common sight in game.
The game is broken up into several different environments. Ranging from deserts to coastal villages to even a racing stadium. Each environment has it's own look and feel to it, having their own unique obstacles, for example, the Snow environment has patches of ice, and the stadium has dirt track segments. Each environment also has a specific vehicle for you to drive ranging from the island's Formula One car, to the snow environment's pickup truck and each car handles very differently from the rest. Unfortunately each environment only has one car and you can't mix these things. The island car can only be used on island tracks, you cant use it on a cost track. So you don't actually have any choice in what car you're going to drive on any given track.

While you don't get a say in cars, you do have a few racing modes to pick from outside of the normal racing, there's also platform, puzzle and stunt modes. platform is a lot like normal racing, except instead of time, your success is measured in attempts. Tracks are raised above ground, and your goal is to complete them while falling off, crashing, or otherwise getting stuck as few times as possible, the fewer times you need to respawn at a checkpoint, the better. Puzzle meanwhile, makes good use of the game's track editor. In puzzle mode, you're given a partially built track, and some parts you can use to finish it, hopefully in such a way as to set a good time. these modes are fun and while clearly not the main focus of the game, make for a nice bonus on top of the usual time trials.
Each environment has their own unique features, such as Stadium's dirt track sections shown here.
Then there's stunt mode which unfortunately isn't very good. Stunt mode has you race down a track, performing stunts to try and score as many points as possible before crossing the finish line there's a time limit that steadily deducts points from your total once it reaches 0. The main problem is while you can control your speed mid-air, that's all you can control. this isn't like an ATV or motorcycle game where there's commands for stunts you can actually input. All you can do is throw yourself off a ramp, hoping that you'll both land on your wheels and your randomly spiraling through the air will somehow be worth a lot of points. It just feels like everything is up to chance and there's no way to really influence the outcome.

Between all of these modes and environments, the game has maybe about 200 tracks. it's a very large number and the game would be highly replayable if that was it, but the game went as far as to include a track editor. The track editor is extremely easy to use. Each environment in game is broken up into several building block like segments, which you piece together on a grid to make your track. Each environment has it's own unique segments, but unfortunately you can't mix them together, so you can't use something like the bay environment's bridges on a desert track. Still, thanks to being so easy to use. Thousands of tracks have been made by the games players, which you can download from in game, or off websites like TMX. The game is even backwards compatible with tracks from the previous games in the series, making for even more playable tracks on top of the thousands made for this game alone.
Big jumps like this are common in game, though you have to be careful not to overshoot the landing.
Graphically, the game is overall decent, each environment in game has it's own distinct look and everything's pretty to look at. Given that the game is actually three games combined, it does suffer a little in that some of the environments from the older games, namely, the rally, snow and desert environments from the original Trackmania, can seem a little primitive compared to the rest of the game due to their age but there's nothing outright horrendous graphically in game. To a lesser extent, while the individual assets for each environment look nice, the game's building-block style of making tracks means there's only so many ways to put these pieces together, meaning all the tracks in any given environment will start to look a bit same-y after you've been playing while.

Trackmania has a workable soundtrack, the music is catchy, energetic and feels right at home in a racing game. Unfortunately, there's only one song per environment. You're going to be hearing the same music a lot, especially if you spend a lot of time racing in the same environment. Sound meanwhile, is perfectly fine. Engines roar like they should, tires squeal and when you mess up a landing, you're met with the sounds of crunching metal and shattering glass. There is a slight problem in that there's no environmental sounds. meaning There's no roaring crowds or other sort of background noise but it's nothing readily noticeable when you're busy driving.
With a little effort, you can include some nice scenery in the tracks you create.
For the most part the game does what it set out to do well enough and there's no major problems. Unlocking tracks can be difficult, but it's not a major issue when there's so many user made ones to play, and some parts of the game can feel a bit primitive. In particular, the first games physics can be a bit funny: Careful with that desert car, it tips over easily, but nothing that utterly wrecks the game. The exception to this is the coppers system. Coppers are a currency you can earn primarily by setting an official time on the game's built in tracks. You're also given a handful of them each day. You need coppers to try and set official times on tracks, or to download new tracks from the game's servers. The problem is earning coppers quickly is difficult and the coppers themselves only seem to exist to get between you and the game's content for no readily explainable reason, about the only good thing I can say is they at least don't charge real money for them.

Overall? Trackmania is great at what it does. It's a fun, unique racing game that's highly replayable thanks to an active userbase. and while things like the coppers system, or that everyone in multiplayer only plays the stadium environment can be a bit of a pain, the game is still highly worth playing.

Trackmania United was developed by Nadeo and published by Ubisoft. It is available on Steam and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a demo is available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment