Trackmania, a soft reboot of the long running franchise, is a minimalistic yet surprisingly deep racing sim that offers plenty of features to longtime fans.
Ubisoft Nadeo‘s Trackmania (releasing on July 1 for PC) is a remake of Trackmania Nations, which first launched in 2006 as a freeware title. The franchise itself, which has been around since 2003, is a niche one that doesn’t see much publicity from Ubisoft, yet has a dedicated fanbase.
This time around Trackmania will be using a tier system to determine accessible content, with the first tier being free and the next two being paid versions with options to either pay for one year or three years of access.
The title in question, rather than focus on polishing graphics to their limits, takes a minimalist approach to the racing sim genre by focusing their efforts on track design, physics, and the time trial mechanic. There are several basic modes — Solo, Live, Clubs, Local, and Create — with this preview allowing me to test out Solo, Local, and Create.
Solo includes three features: Summer 2020, Track of the Day, and Training. Summer 2020 is the general arcade/time attack mode for the game. The category that’s known right now as Summer 2020 is where all the seasonal content is located. Every season, new tracks will become available to players to work through, meaning even more free content. Track of the Day lets you race against other players on user-created maps.
Both the seasonal and Training modes feature 20 different tracks to race on, in which you can collect medals and aim for the best record time. There’s no pressure to be immediately perfect; Trackmania promotes gradual mastery of racing techniques and skill. Players have the power to restart the track at any time if you turn over, go off the track, get off to a slow start, or any other reason.
Each track is comprised of a unique challenge that players must circumvent to reach the finish line. Some feature obstacles such as bumps, ice paths, or jumps that you must figure out how to navigate. Other tracks may have an acceleration or cut engine pad that either drastically speeds your vehicle up or completely stops the engine. In this case, you need to learn how to brake to slow down on curves or make turns while avoiding losing too much speed before hitting a ramp.
There are no other cars, no music, and the graphics are extremely minimal (environments look like cardboard cutouts). It’s just you, the roar of the engine, and a single track to conquer. But the simplicity of it all is actually to Trackmania’s benefit, as it allows the player to focus on first completing the track and then shaving precious seconds off their best time. It’s an addictive mode that isn’t distracted by unnecessary bells and whistles but instead features an incredibly detailed and well-developed physics system.
Next, I tried out Local, which is the local multiplayer. The online multiplayer scene is one of the most important aspects of the franchise, as players form long-lasting communities and race each other to improve both their times and their skills. There are four categories under Local: Local Multiplayer, Play a Map, Against Replay, and Local Network.
Another popular mode among hardcore fans is Create, which lets players create, edit, or customize something of their own from scratch. Map Editor, separated into Simple and Advanced, is how you create a map of your own. Paired with that is the Map Editor which is used to test out said maps. Mouse and keyboard or gamepad are available to edit with (though the latter wasn’t an option during the preview). There’s also an interesting mode called Replay Editor, which is essentially a way to race against your own ghost data (labeled Red and Green) that continuously updates. Finally, Garage is how players will most likely customize their car.
The map creation is easy to use for novice players with plenty of depth for the more experienced fan. I had no issues jumping right in and making my own tracks, though naturally, Simple was much easier to work compared to the features-heavy Advanced version.
When you first start Trackmania, it’s almost surreal how barebones it seems, especially with how simple the startup is with no introduction to controls. That said, the gameplay more than makes up for the negatives. The controls are easy to figure out, silky smooth, with a physics engine realistic enough to simulate how cars will drive through a variety of obstacles and track conditions.
Hearing the engine purr, mastering a new course, and shaving off that half-second from your best time is such an immensely satisfying feeling. And it will keep feeding you those endorphins, possibly for months or even years to come depending on the future downloadable content.
Trackmania is a game that’s devoted to a single goal, with its multitude of modes made to cater to that goal. But the parts it chooses to polish shine brightly and could turn into a game that hardcore fans of both the series and the racing sim genre are sure to love.