excellr8's TrackMania 2 (PC) review

A More Refined TM Experience

The TrackMania series is, by now, a well-known cult racing phenomenon that has entertained players from nearly every county in the world. Millions of users have logged countless hours racing, building, and competing online for top spots and the fastest recorded times. While vastly different from the majority of racing games, TrackMania has always featured some of the craziest over-the-top driving action and the unrealistic physics and speed is what sets it apart and makes the series so special. From the beginning, developer Nadeo recognized the fun factor in breaking away from simulations in the genre and give players a different kind of ride. In the world of TrackMania, gravity takes the back seat while velocity and inertia take center stage. Be wary of insane hang time...

With new publisher Ubisoft helping to distribute the new game TrackMania 2: Canyon, the newest addition to the series, is a step forward in the game's graphics, online community, and editing tools. This new title serves as more of an actual sequel to the first game(s) rather than revised content and is connected to ManiaPlanet, Nadeo's new family of games. Most of this is still under development but TM2 Canyon is the first game to adopt the affiliation; it's a great number one. Like it's predecessors, TM2 Canyon is fast, intense, and sometimes really frustrating--but definitely rewarding. The new car is pretty rad too, and even though it vaguely resembles a Ford Mustang it's a fresh original design and even sports damage modeling! Yup, there's still no actual driver sitting inside but the car does get smashed up (which usually indicates that you are not doing so well). The car's handling is a little stiff but once you get used to the drift mechanic it's very manageable. I'd still recommend playing with a controller though, it may be easier on the fingers.

In TrackMania 2, the core principles haven't changed, but in solo mode setting fast times is much harder. Players are now required to top the best times on all of the Nadeo courses, and also must wait several minutes before attempting to set an official time--the time that will determine your rank. This makes the process of laying down quick times more difficult because not only do you have to beat all of the times, but you only get one shot at setting an official time once the timer gets to zero. If you screw up, or fail to beat your practice time, you must wait another 4 or so minutes before attempting to rank up again. Personally, I think this new implementation is a little cruel, but it also makes nailing a perfect run so much sweeter in the end. There is also that sense of heavier pressure once your official run starts though, so having your nerves work against you is also a contributing factor in your success. Setting official times is the only way to acquire Skill Points (SP) in solo mode and will boost your rank on top of earning medals.

Multiplayer works basically the same way as in previous installments, with users being able to choose a region, language, rank etc... Skill Points are earned by winning races and directly affect your overall rank. Taking a look back at previous TM games, there should be no shortage of servers and custom content for TrackMania 2: Canyon, and the new look is sure to attract racing veterans from the previous titles. I've been playing the games from the start, and I can honestly say that TM2 is the most challenging game in the series yet. The new environment is more suitable for unique track layouts and the new car takes some skill to master, especially in the more narrow corners. Most players who adopt the new game will notice right away that the handling model is true to the series, but at the same time it will require a change in technique. The driving physics can be a bit unpredictable, but for the most part it's solid.

Overall, Nadeo has done a terrific job with TrackMania 2 thus far, and it's never been more fun to drive fast and compete for the top spots in the world. The graphics are sharper, with fancier rendering techniques and the game is optimized to run on a very wide range of machines. The low system requirements are also sure to attract more players and the low price makes it easy to recommend for just about anyone. The only downside, and this is most-likely temporary, is that there is only the one environment and car to work with but I'm sure Nadeo devs are hard at work on the next. For now though, the canyon has plenty to offer and will provide racers with hours of gameplay and editing. So, if you're a long time fan of the TrackMania series or just want to try something vastly different, then I would recommend TM2. It may just be a glamorous time trial game, but it's a hell of a lot more fun than some of the simulation racers out there and certainly rivals them with its huge online community and fan base. The new face of TrackMania is here, and the experience just got even better!!

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