domstercool's TrackMania² Valley (PC) review

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TrackMania 2 Valley is a strange one to review, it's great, but lacks features.

I jumped into the TrackMania series with TrackMania Sunrise, the second entry in the franchise. Sunrise was a great-looking game for its time, coming with the three environments of Island, Bay and Coast for me to experience. Environments are a key part of TrackMania: each one has its own appearance and vehicle with unique handling. I remember hating the Coast environment’s car, because it was a heavy piece of crap with no traction. I spent ages roaring in anger over trying to beat and master those levels. Sunrise was my entry into the awesomeness and madness that is the TrackMania gameplay, and because I always want more, I loved Nadeo for releasing an “ultimate” collection with TrackMania United Forever, featuring every environment from Sunrise, the original game and TrackMania Nations. This was great for the first game, as fans could see the tracks of Rally, Snow and Desert updated with the new Sunrise engine.

Enough reminiscing. Let’s move to the present, where TrackMania 2 Valley is now available to buy from Nadeo themselves or on Steam. This new release also shows how much Nadeo’s design philosophies with content have changed since the ManiaPlanet idea surfaced a couple of years ago (I’ll explain later) for the release of TrackMania Stadium. Valley is the third entry for TrackMania 2, bringing a new environment, a vehicle with rally car handling, and 65 new levels in solo play to challenge your skills.

The new car, which looks like a deformed sports mini, handles a lot differently than the drift-based car in Canyon and the F1-inspired race car in Stadium. The car no longer drifts easily – trying to drift in the Valley car ends up slowing it down way too much to become a viable method, so tight corners need the use of heavy breaking and correct cornering to get the best times. As for the tracks, the theme is based on rallying, so it includes a small town village with tarmac tracks and trees, and muddy/dirt tracks with splashes of water thrown in for good measure. Handling on tarmac with this rally car is like glue on paper – it holds to the road well, but when thrown into the dirt sections, the car becomes a bit more slippery to control. Driving on dirt requires more control on the acceleration and brake to master its trickery, and this makes the valley environment unique compared to the two other themes Nadeo have released.

For everyone wanting to know: Yes, this is more of the brilliant TrackMania gameplay that fans love, and it still plays just as fantastic and snappy as it always has. Never played it? Then you’ll have no problems trying to grasp the concept. All you need is the arrow keys to control the car to drive through checkpoints situated on amazingly-designed courses and beat the required time to win. It’s time attack, but built around challenging and exciting tracks that will make you go “whoa! Awesome!” Getting the gold time is where the hair pulling begins, and this is the ultimate test for anyone who has the patience to learn the track and abuse the backspace key to instantly restart with a fresh clock when it all goes wrong. It’s addictive, frustrating, but most of all, it’s bloody good fun.

Multiplayer is the same idea, except rather than aiming for gold, you’re aiming to be the fastest person to finish the track from the list of players. A server can include up to 100 people at one time, and it’s crazy seeing all these ghost cars driving around the course and often suffering the same fate as yourself. It’s extremely easy to join a server with fan-made tracks, as the game will download the map from the server into your game, so you’re never left waiting long to experience the joy of not knowing what to expect on your first encounter with a new track. The life of a TrackMania game is always extended tenfold thanks to the wonders of the community, and Valley seems no different from the early levels I’ve seen people produce so far.

There are some problems I have with this release that makes me wonder what’s happening for the future of the franchise. I’m not one to involve price much in a review, but I feel I have to forValley, because of the situation the franchise finds itself in with these single-environment releases. If you look back on TrackMania 2, Canyon was first and was priced at £19.99 on day one (currently £15.99 on Steam) and came with 65 “race” tracks. Canyon received a free upgrade that added “platform” mode to the game and included 23 more tracks. It was the first entry and the price seemed appropriate for the new graphics engine and the jump into the sequel, not to forget the huge supply of content from fans, thanks to its powerful track editor (check this out).

Stadium followed over a year after Canyon, popping up as an open beta in February of this year. Now this is where things get interesting, as Stadium’s proper release only happened a few weeks before Valley arrived, but Stadium was priced at £7.99 and contains the same amount of tracks (65) as Valley. So why is Valley double that? It literally makes no sense to charge double the price. It’s not like Valley does anything different in regards to content. Both are new environments for TrackMania 2, both contain new cars and different physics, and both contain the same levels and features (online, track editor, etc.). I’m just a little baffled by the decision in the price hike.

A free update could come with more tracks (it happened to Canyon), but I can’t deny that I’m bummed that Nadeo doesn’t seem to be bringing the other modes that populated the first game. Platform made a small appearance in Canyon, but where is it in Stadium and Valley? It also doesn’t include Puzzle, another fun and intelligent mode from the original games. Nadeo seems to be leaving it to the fans to come up with more content for the game. I don’t have a problem with that; I just wish Nadeo were at the forefront in showing how it should be done within the game.

I’ll stop being Mr. Negative, because the game itself is still great, and the Steam version does come with the update of Steam Workshop, allowing fans to easily find new tracks and cars though the Steam interface. This is much better to use than the horrid UI Nadeo keeps creating. Graphics are still gorgeous, and the use of a sunset makes for some amazing light shafts and shadows on the track. They aren’t many sounds in the game, but the car engine is beefy enough to come off sounding good, and the soundtrack is very tranquil and strangely calming. I’m guessing this is a design choice to stop people getting frustrated at the many mistakes players will make while trying to aim for a good time on the clock.

TrackMania 2 Valley is a strange one to score. It makes me sad that I’m not seeing more modes added with each of these new releases, but at the same time, the gameplay remains just as great as ever. When I am playing Valley, my love for the series explodes, as I’m having so much fun blasting down a muddy road, doing a loop-de-loop, or performing a barrel roll in the air (Peppy Hare would be proud) that the problems no longer bother me. I certainly recommend it for fans; for newcomers, I’d say start with TrackMania 2 Canyon, or even pick up the great-value-for-your-money TrackMania United Forever and see if you like that. If you do, then you’ll love what is to come. I just hope there is a surprise in store for the next release in theTrackMania 2 series.

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