Trackmania Turbo Review: Arcade Racing at its Purest

Trackmania Turbo’s strictly time-trial orientated style of racing and track building has proven popular in the past, with previous iterations of Trackmania finding success on PC, Wii and even DS. This largely asynchronous style of competitive gameplay shouldn’t be a mistaken for a limitation however, as Trackmania’s emphasis on quick restarts and track mastery allow the experience to push the racing genre to the limits of what’s possible on four wheels. 

It may be important to note that prior to Turbo, I hadn’t had any experience with the Trackmania series, or indeed any special interest in gaining any. As an outsider, the time-trial based racing experience simply didn’t make all that much sense from my perspective, why play a game almost exclusively focused on time trials, when I could engage in actual, full contact races on games like Motorstorm?

However since playing Trackmania Turbo, and it’s beta, it’s clear to me that I missed the point when looking in from the outside. Trackmania’s emphasis on time trials and track building allows players to truly push the limit of what’s possible on each individual track, with each individual car, and there’s few better feelings than nailing that perfect lap through one of the most technical tracks you’ve ever experienced.

Similar to games like Trials Fusion, Trackmania focuses itself on relatively short racing experiences, where many of the tracks only occupy around thirty seconds or so of your time. These sprint-like tracks then afford often incredibly complex track design that don’t overly punish the player when they fail, this then affords the propensity for breathtaking track design and a truly thrilling, unrivalled arcade racing experience. Like Trials, and similar titles that emphasize low-punishment yet expect perfection, failure is a crucial component of the game. Even if you make it round the track successfully on your first attempt, it’s unlikely you’ve been awarded the best time, and failure offers an opportunity to learn and perfect that racing line, even if that racing line includes driving up walls, flipping onto other components of the track, or defying gravity with magnets.

Despite its map complexity Trackmania’s level of challenge feels appropriately paced, silver times are very achievable with gold times pushing you to go a little further with a very good, although not perfect, racing line. For those seeking a higher challenge you can seek to attain the trackmaster medal on every track, these are the best times achieved by the tracks developer and require an absolutely perfect racing line in order to be achieved.

Trackmania’s modular design becomes quite handy when learning all of these track variations too, as you gradually begin to learn what to expect from each piece individual piece used to build the course. Naturally though this is only one aspect, as they all intersect seamlessly with hundreds of other pieces, making each track feel varied and complex, yet it’s enough to allow you to retain a sense that you’re learning and improving, from track to the next.

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There are a total of four themes that comprise trackmania, ranging from the drift-focus gameplay of Canyon, to the off road gameplay of valley, and gravity defying mechanics of lagoon. Each of these themes feature a distinct aesthetic, unique track features and a unique car. Even with just four themes you can create a tremendous amount of aesthetic variation, Lagoon can range from beach side off road races, to sprints through lucious jungles. There’s no short of variety in trackmania turbo.

On top of that, each vehicle within these regions features very unique handling. Stadium features a grippy F1-like car, where drifting is the last thing you want to do when attempting to retain speed, gameplay here is focused on braking points and your driving line, with incredibly precise driving required in order to attain the gold medal, while valley features much more twitchy off-road gameplay, emphasizing very cautious steering as your buggie teeters on the edge of losing control. Each one presents a unique challenge, encouraging a distinct driving emphasis and making the game feel fresh as you move consistently from one area to the next.

Some of the twitchy, off-road gameplay can however be a less consistent experience however, pushing you too far towards a sense of lost control, rather than teetering that fine line. These segments often come across as more frustrating, and overly difficult in comparison to the rest of the campaign, and I found this to be especially true for the off-road sand segments in the lagoon track. However for the most part, even these more frustrating challenges remain fair, if a little more punishing than the rest of the game and ultimately didn’t detract significantly from my sense of enjoyment and satisfaction when I finally nailed these trickier tracks.

Across these four themes there’s a crazy total of 200 tracks to complete. At the time of writing this I’ve only managed to earn the Gold medal on 75 of these events. You can unlock most of the games campaign with silver medals, although Gold’s are required for the final series, should you wish to undertake the challenge. As you can expect, the game starts off relatively easy, and gradually progresses you through more and more complex track layouts. Despite each track being built from he same pieces, none of these 200 tracks feels the same, and that’s a testament to the variety of driving experiences you can produce with trackmania’s map editor.

In terms of motivation to push forward, there’s no narrative or anything like that that contextualizes the experience, only the enjoyment you have from playing the game, and a sense of personal achievement that stems from nailing the top times and collecting gold medals. There’s also a relatively robust leaderboard feature which places you not only on your global ranking, but your ranking by region. I felt accomplished being told my times were were in the top ten racers in the South East of England, and within the top fifty in England when I nailed a good time. It’s a compelling system, and provides a much more meaningful value than merely granting you some almost arbitrary thousand or so ranking from a global leaderboard.

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Build it yourself

Beyond it’s campaign, the game features a robust and powerful track editor. This comes in three formats, beginner, normal and advanced, each of which offer varying degrees of complexity and working your way up through these, or at least starting with normal and then progressing to advanced, is a good means of learning about all the tools incrementally. It can be pretty complex at first, especially in advanced mode, but after half an hour or so you can get to grips with tools fairly well, and build decent tracks within minutes from there.

How long it takes really depends on how articulate you want to be with what you’re attempting to produce. If you want very precise jumps and technical segments, you’ll need to carefully place these, then playtest them to ensure they’re actually achievable, but if you want to build a relatively basic yet functional track, this can be achieved in under five minutes. Heck, if you’re feeling especially lazy or just want to see how it turns out, you can even randomly generate a track, and these in my experience these were always pretty enjoyable, even if it is sometimes clear they’re not as carefully crafted as those that feature in the campaign.

Sometimes though, the track creation tools can be a little fiddly, especially in advanced and normal mode. There are certain elements that simply don’t make sense. For instance, if I want my road to curve right, but the game has already placed an environmental prop (e.g. a tree) in that path, then I can’t curve my track in that direction. Logically the tracks route should take precedence, caving a path through the existing environment, but it doesn’t, forcing you to adapt the track around the pre-existing environmental object. This is more of an issue in normal mode though, where you do not have control of the terrain, but switching into advanced mode doesn’t fix this, it simply allows you to build the terrain yourself, avoiding this issue, yet consuming much more of your time.

Publishing your tracks is even more confusing, as it’s not clear how to view and rate individual tracks that people have created, instead they’re distributed as challenges or packs of tracks, and the filters for these are poor. It’s easy enough to share good tracks from your friends and even download and play decent tracks from the community, but it seems difficult to find anything specific you might want, especially as there’s no way to name your tracks or label them with your own key words. It’s possible to have fun with track building and sharing, but it just isn’t a very intuitive system and that’s bound to put some people off.

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Fun with friends

Alongside the singleplayer modes Trackmania also offers a compelling set of online and offline multiplayer modes. Though offline gameplay is often overlooked in this type of game, local multiplayer sessions of Trackmania Turbo can be a lot of fun, and there are a lot of modes in which you can do this. These range from single screen mode where the winner is the player that stayed on screen the longest, to more traditional modes where you play through the games tracks in split screen, seeing who can complete them the fastest, the most number of times. There’s even wacky variants of these modes which introduce powerups and other gimmicks, these can be fun, and in my own local multiplayer sessions we derived a lot of entertainment from the mode named ‘split screen bonus fun’, others were hit and miss.

For local play there’s also a co-operative option where two players can take command over the same vehicle. Instead of splitting functions of the car, both players take control of the vehicle as normal and the game takes an average of their inputs to determine what the vehicle does at any one time. It’s actually surprisingly enjoyable forcing you to coordinate on your strategy and racing line, adding a tactical and co-operative element to what is otherwise a rather straightforward singleplayer campaign. You need to have someone that’s on the same page though, someone of reasonably similar skill that’s willing to co-operate and discuss the driving line, else this can be something of a disaster. for instance if there’s a fork in the road, things are going to get quite messy quite quickly if the two of you can’t decide which way you’re going.

Online offers a different, and rather unique experience, with up to 99 other racers facing off on any one track for the best time. It’s visually chaotic, but easy to get to grips with as it’s always very clear which vehicle you’re driving and no contact between you and other drivers. There’s a great sense of satisfaction in surviving the trickier segments of a track, watching twenty or so other racers crash into nearby obstacles. Attempting to get the best time in these lobbies can be addictive, and the 100 player feature is significant a means in which Trackmania differentiates itself from the rest of the pack.

When each of these features are considered together, Trackmania Turbo comprises an excellent arcade racing package capable of appeasing fans of the genre from a number of perspectives. Whether you’re a die hard time trial enthusiast, track builder, or simply enjoy messing around on wacky tracks with your friends in either local, or online multiplayer, Trackmania Turbo has you covered. There’s undeniable room for improvement in the track building and publishing department, and the handling model during off-road gameplay – especially lagoon – could be a little more forgiving, but these niggles aside, Trackmania is a racer packed to the absolute brim with unique and compelling content, a must have. 

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Author: Jozef Kulik

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