Giant Bomb Review

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TrackMania² Canyon Review

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  • PC

TrackMania 2: Canyon is a weird, wonderful driving game, but everything surrounding the game itself feels like it's actively trying to discourage you from playing at all.

You can skin your cars using the in-game editor, if you like.

You drive cars in TrackMania 2: Canyon, but it's not really something that I'd call a racing game. Actually, it's sort of hard to pin down what, exactly, TrackMania is. I suppose it's a time trial, really. Rather than racing against cars, wheel-to-wheel, it's primarily about getting the best lap times you possibly can--even if you're doing it on a server filled with up to 200 players, that really just means you're connected to a chat room full of other people doing the same thing, and you can see their racing ghosts as you all try to best one another before time expires. It's also a predominantly online game with a weird, vibrant community that's pumping out so many new tracks that you might not ever see the same one twice. It's quirky and does an awful job of explaining itself to new players, which might make it practically impenetrable, but the core of it is astounding and exciting fun that's perfect for sucking up whatever free time you happen to have available at any given moment.

There's a single-player component to TrackMania 2 as well as an online side, and between them you end up with a few different (and sometimes confusing) ways to measure progression. Offline, you can race on the game's official tracks. By default, there are three different ghosts to choose from, which gives you a visual representation of the track's bronze, silver, and gold times. But you can also turn to the game's online leaderboards and download the (way faster) ghosts of the speediest strangers in the world. After beating the gold medal time, you'll be offered the chance to set an "official" time on a track. This is the one that gets sent up to the game's centralized leaderboards, and depending on how you do, you'll earn a number of "skill points," which in turn gives you an overall ranking for your offline performance. If you totally crap it up on your official run, you can try again--but you'll have to wait five minutes before you're allowed to try again. You could probably use the extra practice time, anyway. This has been a somewhat controversial change amongst the game's community, as in the previous game you could simply try your official run again right away after sending in a nominal amount of your in-game currency. Personally, I think they're sort of freaking out about nothing, but maybe that's because I don't put a lot of stock in the game's single-player side to begin with.

But if you do care about the single-player side of TrackMania, you should know that Canyon is reduced compared to TrackMania United Forever. Part of that is made obvious by the name. This is strictly a Canyon environment, and not a collection of seven different tile sets, like United was. But on top of that, many of the modes and level styles found in the previous game are simply missing. So if you liked Platform, Stunts, or Puzzle, you'll be disappointed with the solo portion of TM2. The game also seems as if it doesn't track stunts at all, yet stunts is still listed as a game mode in multiplayer. Again, this isn't something that's really dragging me down, as the Canyon environment is quite good and the time trials and online racing is the part about the game that really gives TrackMania its staying power. But it's a little odd to see a sequel cut so many features.

The default Canyon car can be skinned however you like, but they all drive the same.

That Canyon environment is probably the biggest change in TrackMania 2, since it provides both the look of the game and the way the car handles. Yeah, I said car. In TrackMania, all cars are created equal on a per-environment basis. So there are multiple skins to choose from, and you can find a handful of user-created 3D models online, but the car will always handle and drive the way it was designed to handle and drive. The Canyon look gives the game a Southwestern vibe, with plenty of plateaus and caverns surrounding the tracks. The car handling feels sort of similar to the Island environment from the previous TrackMania. The car's capable of super-fast speeds and it's very easy to kick the rear end out into a drift, in case you need some help making some corners. Figuring out when you can take a turn at full speed and when you'll need to drift around a turn is one of the keys to keeping your lap times low.

But maybe I'm beating around the bush. The best part about TrackMania is that it's weird. The block-based track editor makes it relatively easy for folks to construct their own tracks, and thousands of tracks have already been created. So if you get online and start hopping around the various servers, you'll usually be able to find a ton of tracks you've never seen before. Some are designed to be "full speed" tracks, where you never need to take your finger off of the gas once you've lined up the right angles for all the corners. Others get more technical, requiring you to think about when to drift and how to line up and handle tricky sets of curves. Some are just ridiculous, gimmicky tracks built around figuring out and exploiting some little secret. You'll start to recognize a lot of the various blocks used to make tracks almost immediately, but the best track authors are putting the blocks together in crazy ways. The amount of variety, as you might have guessed, is what gives TrackMania its replayability. But it'd sure be nice if it was easier to see all this stuff.

How'd this get here?

TrackMania's community is extremely dedicated. They'd have to be, because TrackMania 2: Canyon's cooler options and features feel hidden below the surface. You can import a lot of user-created content, from new car models and skins to tracks, horns, avatars, and so on. The game has a built-in system of user-created minisites that let users hawk their wares for an exchange of in-game currency. But this system feels buried and is poorly explained, leading to a better alternative: community websites built to distribute tracks, modes, and other in-game information. Via the server software's plugin system, users have created mods that sit on top of the server and add music players, better chat options, widgets that let you vote on if you like or hate tracks, a unified records system that tells you the fastest times on a given track, regardless of which server the time was set on, and so on. Much of these plugins were created for the previous TrackMania, and it's kind of insane that Nadeo hasn't worked to integrate more of these now-crucial features directly into the game itself. Out of the box, a TrackMania 2 server simply tells you what place you're in at that moment. It's great that the community has filled in the gaps, but in some ways it's disheartening that so little has changed.

That's the only major problem here. The main change in Canyon is the new environment and a new, higher standard for graphics. When you turn it all the way up, it's a great-looking game. But it's surrounded by an awful UI that feels like it wasn't designed to be used by actual humans and, due to a serious lack of an instruction manual for this digital-only release, it's not easy for new players to figure out what, exactly, is going on. It all holds TrackMania 2: Canyon back a little bit. A streamlined front-end and more clearly spelled-out progression would probably go a long way. But if you're up for digging around and find the idea of a driving game that's a little left-of-center exciting, TM2 is kind of incredible.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
51 Comments
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Edited by Walker_after_dark

I haven't tried any of the Trackmania games before this. I may have to check it out now.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

As always, good review Jeff. Too bad the interface stuff isn't better.

Moderator
Posted by honeycut1

Glad to see a review for this. My laptop is beat up enough that a driving game that's a little left of center sounds fun.

Posted by Donos

Dark mania: soul canyon

Posted by rcath

Didn't know he was reviewing this, cool.

Posted by Brackynews

I BELIEVE!!!!

Posted by Milkman

I REALLY DON'T THINK YOU'RE STRONG ENOUGH OH

Posted by nohthink

HAHAHAHAHAHA Jeff finally wrote a review of this game... I don't know why that's so funny

Posted by Branthog

I'm beginning to think Jeff is getting payola, here. Seriously.

And that's totally okay, with me. :)

Posted by Duffyside

I'm calling the authority and respect of this review into question. I don't believe Jeff has played nearly enough Trackmania 2 yet to make a judgment. Maybe another hundred hours.

Posted by MrGtD

The byline for this should've been 'Do you believe in life after love?'

Posted by Simplexity

I don't really get the whole deal about the interface, you click on the server browser and chose a server and go, not really rocket science.

Trackmania is badass though, easily my favorite multiplayer game of the year.

Posted by rbanke

Huh. For some reason all this time listening to you guys talk about it on the Bombcast, I thought it was a cartoony, mario kart/modnation racers type of thing. Seeing that screen shot makes me want to go check it out.

Edited by Crono

If you have never tried Trackmania out now is your chance. I would still recommend Trackmania United though if you can play games with dated graphics - as Jeff said, there are a lot more modes, different vehicles, and what is basically an infinite amount of tracks. You can't go wrong with Trackmania United and it plays nearly identical to TM2: Canyon except with so many more options.

Posted by The_Nubster

Bad interface is something I couldn`t deal with. Great review, but it seems Jeff and I like different things.

Posted by ComradeCrash

Haha Great review Jeff. I never figured you would write a review at all.

Posted by DG991

@Crono: dated graphics?

That game still looks great imo....

Also... I kind of only enjoyed the first trackmania so much because it was free.

Now that is not to say that I don't pay for games... but when a game is free I can easily make my friend download the game and then play with them. If the game costs money then my friends are less likely to buy it and I will have less friends playing.

I hope they make it free eventually, I can wait.

Posted by GalacticPunt

I don't know if I can believe in life after love...

Posted by ajamafalous

lol at Cher pic

Posted by MisterMouse

DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER LOVE

Edited by bybeach

This game is so strange. for a racing game, it seems to ooze out of a crack rather than have an anchor like Need for Speed, Forza, or even Burnout. Though I imagine you could pretend to be a crazed Asian lady while you race. Trackmania won't judge.

Without having Zip Dooda interest, I would like to check it out. I like wierd shit, especially if it has the threat of depth.

Posted by Salesmunn

i enjoyed the original Trackmania but after the novelty of the bizarre tracks wore off, I was done with it.

Posted by JusticeJanitor

Jeff trying to explain the game to the other duders on the Bombcast was hilarious. Didn't think it was actually a good game. I remember my roommate being obsessed with the first TrackMania I but never really got into it.

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Posted by jettpack

great review. gonna buy once i build my new pc.

Posted by selbie

Since driving the official Giantbomb server, I will never listen to Cher the same way again. Thank you Jeff. I now believe in life after love.

Edited by prestonhedges

So wait, are you trying to tell me that Trackmania 2: Canyon is just as good as Forza Motorsport 4?!??

I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. They're both terrific games, and I think it's a testament to how much reviewing has advanced that both games get a fair shake.

*whistles jauntily, walks away*

Posted by Zamir
Posted by CaLe

Fun game but I'm bored of everything looking the same.

Posted by Rayeth

I'm surprised Jeff feels comfortable reviewing a game that changes so drastically depending on how the community content goes. I don't disagree with anything he said, but the game makers didn't really do any of it as he notes. I guess it's kind of like reviewing little big planet, except that game feels like more of a real game than this one.

The game seems great from the bit I've played of it, but some of the people are so good at it that breaking into the top of the boards is nearly impossible.

Posted by TheHBK

I read both reviews, and both games got 4 stars from Jeff, so can someone clear it up. Which is a better racing game? Trackmania or Forza 4?

Posted by Kovski

@TheHBK said:

I read both reviews, and both games got 4 stars from Jeff, so can someone clear it up. Which is a better racing game? Trackmania or Forza 4?

Are you seriously asking this? They are completely different kind of games, so you can't compare em by just saying "which is the better racing game".

Edited by TheMasterDS

Wait, the store is in the game? Is it? I could never find it... Also I had no idea what an official run is, but that's really stupid none the less. What's the point of adding a failure punishment to a time trial game? Would Super Meat Boy be improved by lives in all levels?

Edited by NathHaw

@Milkman said:

I REALLY DON'T THINK YOU'RE STRONG ENOUGH OH

When I scrolled down and saw the picture of Cher, I laughed. One of my favorite QL moments.

Posted by PhanThomas

@TheHBK said:

I read both reviews, and both games got 4 stars from Jeff, so can someone clear it up. Which is a better racing game? Trackmania or Forza 4?

You know, I have to think of Jeff's latest "ask Jeff"-Premium-Video. He kind of addressed that "issue" with "Sorry, you fucked up!" ;) No offense, you obviously have to see that video to understand it. ^^

Posted by BisonHero

@Rayeth said:

I'm surprised Jeff feels comfortable reviewing a game that changes so drastically depending on how the community content goes. I don't disagree with anything he said, but the game makers didn't really do any of it as he notes. I guess it's kind of like reviewing little big planet, except that game feels like more of a real game than this one.

The game seems great from the bit I've played of it, but some of the people are so good at it that breaking into the top of the boards is nearly impossible.

I feel the same way about this. I mean, the game can lead to a great experience, but that's so dependent on mods and plugins Nadeo doesn't even deserve a lot of the credit, when they still can't make a decent UI, or significantly improve stat-tracking features and all that.

Nadeo gets credit for improving the graphics and changing the car handling and adding drifting, but I question them calling this a full sequel when it still has so many features that are fundamentally lacking in exactly the same way that earlier Trackmania games were lacking.

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Posted by TheHBK

@Kovski said:

@TheHBK said:

I read both reviews, and both games got 4 stars from Jeff, so can someone clear it up. Which is a better racing game? Trackmania or Forza 4?

Are you seriously asking this? They are completely different kind of games, so you can't compare em by just saying "which is the better racing game".

No, I am not seriously asking this. Ugh. I was making a joke because Jeff talked about how he was playing both games at the same time for review purposes and it was fucking him up badly when he would switch.

Posted by fishmicmuffin

@TheHBK: If you want simulation racing, then go with Forza. If you want arcade racing, go with Track Mania.

The reason it was messing him up was because (I assume) he got used to holding down the accelerator in Track Mania and then he would switch back to Forza where you have to break when you go around corners and not constantly gun it.

Posted by xMrSunshine

I dunno, this was my first Trackmania game but I didn't feel like I had problems with the UI. I guess stuff like the 5 min timer till you can set an official time is pretty weird if you aren't paying attention.

Posted by sagesebas

The 4 star review is starting to feel to safe

Posted by lamzor

i played trackmania nations. its amazing to see what can community do with a game. i bought trackmania 2 and im happy to say that it didnt change that much. drifting is nice addition. servers have same plugins and the number of maps created for this game in such short time is amazing. i played for several hours and i dont think i played same map more than once or twice.

one negative tho, there are not that many players in trackmania2 as it used to be in trackmania nations(because that one was free). when your rank is ~20 000 there are not very many good servers to play on. giantbomb server has a lot of skilled players(like top100), ranking there is pain :/ it would be cool to see 2 giantbomb servers. one for top ~1000 players and another one for more casual players.

Posted by Winsord

As much as I love Trackmania 2, I definitely think your gripes with it are right on.

Online
Posted by frostBeule

if you don't feel like buying TM2 but still wanna find out what it's all about, then download the free game Trackmania Nations Forever here: http://trackmaniaforever.com/

Posted by baladec

I think the game needs more administrative options. I haven't seen options for changing your password (it can be reset, but I haven't seen change options), changing a group password, or strong group management in general.

Posted by Circ

I bought the game last night and can confirm that the game seems to not want you to buy/play it. It's blatantly obvious that every last person who worked on this game is an engineer and has absolutely no clue how design/organize a UI or make something usable. In spite of that, it's a fun game which is what counts.

I wonder what the bail rate is after that first "Download Now" click is. I bet it's high because that button is a total lie.

Posted by Knigge

I caved yesterday and finally got the game. The UI is god awful terrible. Just SO bad. But everything else is pretty rad.

Posted by Beomoose

I like how the Trackmania car looks like a Mustang. The thought of all these crazy, Cher-loving French maniacs driving Mustangs around lunatic asylum courses just makes me happy.

Posted by Winternet

I love that this got a review. Great review Jeff.

Posted by MrJorOwe

The last two games I purchased are TrackMania 2 and Dark Souls. Is this real life?

Posted by nemesisND1derboy

Excellent review. Been really enjoying it myself.

I should join the server at some time. Or something. Maybe.

Posted by Suedehead

@MisterMouse said:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER LOVE

After love after love after love...

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