Tear down gorgeous racetracks and leave your opponents in the dust.
PC Release: September 14, 2011
By Ian Coppock
Video games have a way of eliciting high energy in a way that movies and television cannot. A movie about sword fighting can be exciting, but as seen in For Honor, it can’t touch the thrill of actually controlling the experience. That vivid excitement takes many forms in video games’ various genres, from the hack’n’slash gameplay of For Honor to the survival thrill of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. For some players, it comes in the form of high-speed, high-octane racing, and those are things that Trackmania 2, the subject of today’s review, has in spades.
Trackmania 2 is a glossy racing game created by Nadeo, the French driving enthusiasts behind the original Trackmania titles. In a break with pretty much every other racing game out there, Trackmania 2 was developed and released as a series of standalone episodes. Each episode features a different environment; Canyons, the first episode, was released in 2011, followed by Stadium and Valley in 2013. Much like the original Trackmania, each episode features dozens of racetracks categorized by difficulty. They’re restricted to the environments of their respective episodes, but each episode features an impressive variety of roads, terrain and difficulty.
Trackmania 2 also features something a bit less welcome than variety: lots of DRM. Each episode comes packed with Nadeo’s super-fun, extra-large, no-holds-barred Maniaplanet DRM. It’s a bit of a pain to set up and much more so if players forget their login code, but it does allow one player profile to span all three episodes. Racing fans who quake at the thought of three separate Trackmania 2 careers can breathe easy… once they sign up for Nadeo’s newsletter and ultra-awesome online ecosystem.
Once they’ve created an account, players can immediately jump into Trackmania 2‘s circuits and start tearing it up on the asphalt. Players can compete against a developer ghost for bronze, silver and gold medals. Medals grant tokens, which players can use to build their own tracks. Of course, players can also find other racers online and blaze new trails mano-a-mano. This mode is where the real fun of Trackmania 2 comes out, since human drivers are so much less predictable than robots.
Trackmania 2 has made some format deviations from its predecessor that ultimately slim down the formula. The game pulls back all of the stunt, puzzle and other modes that were present in Trackmania in favor of a focus on pure racing. Though this costs Trackmania 2 some variety, it does save players from wasting time navigating a bewildering wilderness of menus. Trackmania 2 also comes with a fantastic options menu allowing for control of anti-aliasing, field of view, draw distance, texture quality, and everything else PC gamers love. If Nadeo fell behind by slapping another layer of DRM upon players, at least they made it possible to modify every aspect of the Trackmania 2 experience for every rig.
Trackmania 2 takes hitting the racetrack into a whole new gear of fun. As previously alluded to, each of Trackmania 2‘s episodes contains some outstanding level design variety. It’s dangerous to write each episode’s tracks off as identical because of their grander environments — the backdrops may look similar, but the track arrangements do not. Players can glide between brisk canyon drives, gravity-defying loop de loops, or simple circular tracks as they see fit. The sheer amount of variety in Trackmania 2 is not only consistent between episodes, but also meshes well with the game’s gradual difficulty increase.
For a racing game to preserve its variety and difficulty curve in tandem is relatively rare for the genre. Many racing games define their tiers of difficulty by singular environments; tier 1 racetracks are circular, tier 2 racetracks are jumpy, so on and so forth. Trackmania 2 preserves many types of racetrack over many levels of difficulty, making it possible for players of all skill levels to enjoy the same level design concepts.
The beauty of Trackmania 2‘s environments also bears pointing out. Even a few years on, the game’s environments still look beautiful and draw the eye whenever the player strays away from focusing on the road. Some of the environments’ skyboxes are functionally identical, but the assortment of in-game objects is just as varied as the racetracks they orbit. Each episode’s environments pop with bright, varied colors and lots of environmental detail. Not all of these environments are realistic, especially the loop-de-loop over a wind farm, but they’re pretty.
And speaking of pretty, it’s high time to discuss the cars, the incredible machines at the heart of Trackmania 2. The original Trackmania had some car troubles of its own, not the least of which were the appallingly muddy car paint jobs. That problem has had the crap corrected out of it in Trackmania 2; vehicles’ paint jobs and decals are clearly defined and glint realistically against whatever lighting is on the circuit. As with Trackmania, players can customize their vehicles’ look to suit almost any taste. The only drawback here is that each episode of Trackmania 2 features only one kind of vehicle to drive, which is a shame. Paint jobs are all well and good, but the true source of any racing gamer’s pride is a unique set of wheels. Forcing everyone to drive the exact same kind of car, while understandable for fairness purposes, is a bit of a letdown.
Even though Trackmania 2 has slimmed down its modes and consolidated its racetracks, one mode that it (crucially) did preserve was a Trackmania crown jewel: the level editor. Using tokens earned from successful races, players can design and build their own Trackmania tracks and upload them to the Nadeo-verse for everyone to enjoy. The base episodes already pack impressive variety, but this system ensures that Trackmania 2‘s courses are as varied as its players are imaginative. There’s a lot of fun to be had in sitting down and building a track, and even more in sharing it with people. Besides, it gives players the chance to scratch that little kid Hot Wheels itch of building ridiculous jumps.
Trackmania 2 also added more multi-lap races to its base collection of circuits. Too many of the tracks in the original Trackmania were one-lap vignettes that, while fun, caused the adrenaline to die down just as it was ramping up. Trackmania 2 features that same kind of setup, but there are many more three-lap racing circuits with more intricate setups. It’s a nice way to round out the options for players and create, frankly, more interesting multiplayer experiences.
The other factor informing Trackmania 2‘s solo and multiplayer experiences is how the cars handle. The vehicles in Trackmania 2 feature near-instant acceleration (unsurprising considering how short the races are) and might as well be magnetized to the track for how well they grip the asphalt. Nadeo did add some off-road segments where the cars’ handling becomes much more slippery, but these are relatively rare. Any racing game with this many jumps should have aerodynamic cars, a checkbox that Trackmania 2 easily overtakes. The vehicles’ steering ratio feels balanced — no risk of careening into space with a tap of an arrow key.
Equally problem-free is Trackmania 2‘s PC performance. Much like the original Trackmania games, these episodes can run even on budget machines and produce no in-game lag or physics bugs. The game may lag a bit after a track’s been selected, but that’s a microscopic flaw in an otherwise flawless core. Plus, with all of the options packed into Trackmania 2‘s menus, players have good odds of tweaking their way out of any performance issues they might find. Quite the pit crew you’ve got there, Nadeo.
Trackmania 2 crosses the finish line with flying colors (or flying carpets, as Trailer Park Boys‘ Ricky might say). It runs bug-free, its cars handle well, and its diverse palette of tracks ensure hours upon hours of entertainment. Its level editor allows for further versatility, and its comprehensive options menu gives PC players the flexibility to tweak the game for their best racing experience. The thrill of racing is most intimately captured in a video game, and Trackmania 2 is a game that does that exceptionally well. Racing fans (and any gamer who’s thinking of becoming a racing fan) should look to add the Trackmania 2 series to their library as soon as possible. It’s quite the thrill ride.
You can buy Trackmania 2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.