I’ve heard too many gamers misunderstand Trackmania. It’s a racing game, sure, but with more Hot Wheels blood than Road and Track. Many kids, including myself, carefully constructed a die-cast car track starting from the bed, going down to the floor for a loop-de-loop, and thereafter flinging the car into the unknown. That picture describes Trackmania far better than any other real world example. A good video game analogy might be that Trackmania is to racing games as SSX is to sports games, or Serious Sam is to first-person-shooters. Distilled with crazy.
While the official maps are nice, the driving force of Trackmania is the ability for players to create nearly any racing track imaginable with a Lego-like trackbuilding system. I have played completely flat NASCAR-esque races, crazy loop maps that lead into a dirt rally, tracks that last less than 15 seconds, and insane flip “races” where all I had to was push forward. For instance, a defined type of maddeningly frustrating tracks have popped up, inappropriately named “LoL” tracks, where racers have to hit a curb or corner at some random angle to try and get to the next stage. It feels to me like solving a Rubik’s cube by chucking it against a concrete wall, but lots of people seem to have fun with it.
The map editor has many different environments to choose from, which define the car type and interlocking map tile set. My favorite, Island, has Lamborghini-style cars, a super wide track, and the goal of the environment is absolute speed. My least favorite is Coast, which is all about control in speed and turns. The back-heavy Coast car loves to drift in a more realistic way. The Suzuki Jimny car in the Snow environment on the other hand has glue tires (a friend of mine calls it “twitch racing”). There are seven environments to choose from including the most popular, Stadium. Stadium was also the last environment included in the game, and it is the only environment available in the free-to-play Trackmania Nations. It’s also possibly the best, as it deftly straddles the lines between speed, skill, and insanity. Stadium uses modified Formula race-cars, which have had a significant portion of their DNA replaced by dune buggies. Trackmania United is the buyable game with all of the environments.
Maps can be downloaded from within the game (not suggested) or TM-Exchange (suggested), but it is a lot more fun to try new maps via online play. A few clicks in the game browser opens the server list, most of which are friendly to the free players. There, players will compete against one another in various modes and map themes. For instance a server might be filled with LoL maps, which I would suggest newer players avoid. Tech tracks will be equally frustrating as they require good knowledge of the car’s handling. I would head for “fun,” or Shorts. Shorts are usually 20-30 second maps with one or two tricks to master. They are normally done in the Time Attack mode, where players get 5 minutes to get the best time possible, and players can restart any time they want. Other modes include heats, laps, stunts, and teams.
All of this is being repackaged this September in to Trackmania 2: Canyon and Maniaplanet. Canyon is a Trackmania 2 environment, similar to Stadium or Island for Trackmania, that is simply beautiful. Nadeo, the developers, wrote on their blog recently that ”TM ² Canyon is the pleasure of riding full speed ahead, in the open spaces of the North american desert, in a car slightly heavy, and with a surprisingly fast acceleration.” The map editor, physics, and graphics have all been upgraded. A new scripting language, Maniascript, is also being added.
Trackmania 2: Canyon is the first standalone pack for Maniaplanet. Maniaplanet is more like the entryway console to open the doors to each pack. With it players should be able to more easily share maps, car skins, and find servers. Basically it’s a program to better share the user-generated content that defines the Trackmania feel. Maniaplanet is set in 2012 to also contain a pack for Shootmania, a barebones first-person-shooter, and Questmania, an RPG system, as well as another environment for Trackmania 2. Watch for “open” beta on this sometime in late-July/August.
I bought Trackmania United a few years ago, and the excitement for Trackmania 2: Canyon has definitely geared me up for that type of gameplay again. I highly suggest checking out the fantastic Trackmania Nations, which is simply free (no cash shop, etc.). For exploring all the original Trackmania environments, Trackmania United is a great value, but I would still say most of my playtime is centered around the free Stadium environment. Either way, it’s a great way to prepare for Trackmania 2: Canyon, which I believe will blow the socks off the racing genre.