Impressions: Trackmania 2

By Alec Meer on September 21st, 2011 at 7:39 pm.

WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

I’ve spent three or four hours playing Nadeo’s latest slice of science-defying racing absurdity – nowhere near enough to tell you conclusively Wot I Think, but plenty to witter about what I’m starting to think.

If there’s one factor that’s bedevilled the ever-joyous Trackmania series, it’s that naming conventions and cross-pollinated content has made it ever harder to work out exactly which one’s which. While the 2 here marks a chance to start with a clean slate, the series’ latter day focus on being a service rather than a self-contained entity means the confusion doesn’t quite go away. Initially, as a relatively casual player of Nadeo’s driving fantasy games, I struggled to quite appreciate that I was playing a different Trackmania to whichever the last one I played was. Be it product or be it service, Trackmania is also a state of mind, and 2 took me right back there. I knew how to play, and knew it well.


Of course, things are different in all manner of ways of you could dryly list on a webpage somewhere. The point is that it’s an evolution of what the community has made and demanded, but it’s sticking closely both to the spirit of the previous games and, in a way, to our mental conception of what they are/were. If I went back to Trackmania United now, I suspect it’d look weirdly small and low-key. In my mind, though, it looks like Trackmania 2 does: vast, sweeping landscapes, tracks composed of impossible architecture stretching to absurd heights, cars plunging to their incredibly short-lived doom in graceful metal cascades. Earlier Trackmanias only seemed to look like that. Trackmania 2 actually does look like that.

It’s a glorious sight, and it’s not purely aesthetic show-offery: it’s about realising the fantasy at the heart of this car game. This is about the dream of being a race driver, not the bland, cyclic, fussy reality of it. The laughably vast, mountain-high, man-made plateaus, the epic jumps from ramps that would cost millions to build, the science-breaking plunges through tiny holes in the sides of cliffs… What if anything could be built, no-one could die and cars could be replaced infinitely? That’s Trackmania’s world, and that’s because it is laser-focused on fun first, simulation second. Not even second, to be honest. More like 117th.

That said, the handling has changed from the skittish, almost weightless vehicles of yore, into something heavier, more focused on dramatic corner-slides and, unfortunately, unchanging. The game-as-service thing has me strongly suspecting new types of vehicle (and indeed of landscape – they’re not kidding when they call it ‘Canyon’. That’s all you’re getting, but the track types they build within this impressively John Waynian setting are reliably varied enough to keep this problem at bay) will be introduced and charged for in some way later, but right now you’re just there with a racecar you can repaint endlessly but not change model or tuning thereof.

This does mean that, in its current state, it seems to be far more a perfectionist’s game rather than a tinkerer’s game. That was always in the brain of Trackmania anyway, of course – shave off milliseconds in order to see your online rank go up – but now it really is all about mastering specific tracks rather than specific car types or varied challenges. Gone too are the absurdist puzzle modes, platforming with cars – players can create something in that vein with the Editor (something I haven’t looked at yet) but without an official mode, as it were, it does feel like the game’s had a major organ removed.

Despite its back-to-basics, almost puritanical approach, TM2 somehow manages to be incredibly confusing too. There’s a virtual currency system in there that it never bothers to explain, but before too long it’ll start talking about how many Planets you need even though you’ve not seen hide nor hair of even one. I’ve steered clear of that element so far, happy just to make my way through the 60-odd singleplayer challenges without worrying about my ranking, but the long-term meat of the game is in attempting to do these with ever-better times for ever-better rankings.

I stuck my nose into a few multiplayer bouts too, where the game’s no-collision, instant-restart philosophies instantly made themselves adorable. Tracks made of gigantic loops and deathly plunges could be filled with cars without anyone actually getting in the way of each other, but what they did do is try to follow each other, convinced that the guy ahead must know the best route around it. If he didn’t… well, then you’ve got a whole lot of cars plunging to their doom at once. In my wishful dreams, I will become amazing at TM2, then become a Pied Piper within it. The cars will follow me in their droves, in awe at my skill and desperate to ape it. Then I’ll drive into the sea, and they’ll come tumbling straight after me, and I will laugh at their cursing.

Of course, disaster in Trackmania is incredibly short-lived. The series’ single best feature has forever been the instant restarts, and that’s all present and correct. It becomes a reflexive, compulsive action to hit Backspace at even the hint of error, so quick it is to set you back at the start with a clean slate. Like I say, this is a perfectionist’s game: even I, as clumsy a man as you could ever meet, find it hard to brook any error, when I know I can immediately try again.

So, I will definitely be playing more: I’m overwhelmed in all the right ways by its tarmac-coated architecture, though I’m a little underwhelmed by how incremental an update it feels in some ways, especially as it’s actually removed a whole bunch of stuff in the process. It feels a little too modular, like there’s a lot still to be plugged in yet also like it’s been built for an existing community first and a more relaxed audience second, but at the same time it’s got that out-and-out joyful Trackmania magic in abundance. What if everything about driving a car was a giddy rush of speed and wonder, with none of the risk? That’s Trackmania.

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49 Comments »

  1. Insanity says:

    I have bought the game and am thoroughly enjoying it so far. I only really dabbled in nations but remembering how fun it was I took the plunge with Canyon and have become addicted.

    Being able to edit skins in photoshop is great as well and I’ve already made one and have some great ideas for some others.

  2. Pike says:

    I’ve bought all the previous Trackmanias but I’m not interested in buying a version without the puzzle mode, I hope it’s not gone for good.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m kind of saddened that Trackmania seems to have lost its “bombing around a puzzle in a toy car” direction since that very first release.

    • Was Neurotic says:

      Agreed. I’ve got the original, boxed, on my shelf, and I loved it for the puzzle mode. I haven’t touched any TM since then, because Nations refused to work on my machine all those years ago, and I subsequently gave up/forgot about it. Might give TM2 a lookee though. Is there/will there be a demo?

  3. Aerothorn says:

    Honestly, the crazy-car-platforming was my favorite part. Hope puzzle mode doesn’t cost too much as DLC.

    Man, Sunrise really was pre-DLC age.

  4. Linfosoma says:

    I’ve had my share of issues with user interfaces this year (the absolutely horrible, confusing and unhelpful NFS Shift 2 UI comes to mind), but I think the mention of the lack of explanation of how planets work is something that really needs to be highlighted.

    I first became aware of the concept when I tried to create a group and it asked me to pay 500 planets (without telling me how many I had in total). Then I noticed that at the end of the race you get a +(random number) next to your name. Are those the planets you earn? What else can you buy with them (and where), and most important, where the hell can I see how many planets I have?

    TM2 is a slick game, even if it doesnt really bring anything new other than satisfying drifting mechanics (and some really bad wall riding/loop physic that make cars undriveable), but seriously, the interface sucks so much.

    • RoboGeek says:

      no the points you receive at the end of the race are points that go towards your multiplayer ranking. from what i have gathered, you get planets after certain milestones like getting to a certain position in the rankings and similar stuff like that

    • Merkoth says:

      It’s a complete mess. Solo races give you “Medals” which increase your medal ranking. This seems to depend on the wether you get a bronze, silver, gold or “green medal”. If you get at least a gold medal in any track and you keep playing for 5 minutes in said track, you can race an “official” race, where you have only one shot at beating the bronze, silver and gold times (dunno if green exists here) and you get “planets” for each medal aquired: bronze -> 10 planets, silver -> 20 planets, -> gold -> 30 planets. If you fail the official race, you get another chance every 5 minutes of practice. You also get “skill points” for a skill ranking of sorts.

      Multiplayer races give you “Ladder Points”, which increase your multiplayer ladder rank. I received something like 500 planets for earning 1000 ladder points. The ladder points you receive when you finish the race seems to be related not only to your final position, but also your current ladder rank and, I think, your lap time.

      Planets can in theory be used for a number of things: Creating groups, as someone already said, the silly “lotto” game (which awards you a different set of “points” for yet another ranking) and to purchase user-generated content like tracks and stuff.

      I have the game, purchased on day 1 and I really like it. But this whole point and ranking stuff is a complete mess.

      Edit: Please not that this is me guessing, the game doesn’t even try to explain all this, so I might be awfully wrong in my assumptions.

    • techno-core says:

      The ladder points you receive when you finish the race are related to your current ladder rank and the ladder rank of the drivers you left behind you, and not: your lap time or your position.

      Beating drivers with more LPs gives you more LPs than beating some with lower LPs. You get more points the “better” the players are. One more thing to add here, is that LPs don’t only tell the player’s real skill, but mostly the time they invest in playing MP.

      ^^

    • nakke says:

      “One more thing to add here, is that LPs don’t only tell the player’s real skill, but mostly the time they invest in playing MP.”
      Yep. Sunrise had negative ladder points. No idea why they removed that feature.

  5. Aluschaaf says:

    Really loving it so far. To gain planets, simply make a retry after winning gold on any of the singleplayer tracks. It counts as an “official” race, for which you get Skillpoints and planets.
    EDIT: It’s explained in detail here: http://forum.maniaplanet.com/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=3126

    The idea behind planets is to have them as some kind of stake for competitions and official races.

    • pragmatick says:

      Thank you, Aluschaaf! As the article said, that part is explained nowhere and as much as I like the gameplay I feel the whole interface and presentation is tailored too much to hardcore players who know Nations and Forever and makes people like me (who played the first Trackmania years ago) scratch their head in wonder while trying to figure out what these LP and planets that are shown actually are and how to get them.

      Also I’d thought there’d be an interface to download and play new maps directly in the game. I had to ask in the forums to find out where to get maps.

      And in multiplayer there really should be some filter so I can find races that consist of the “official” maps because I hate competing on maps that I’ve never played before.

    • Aluschaaf says:

      There is a filter, just go to one of the official Ubisoft servers, they only have official maps ;).

      Concerning LP, those are Ladderpoints. You win these by scoring in multiplayer.

      Also, Planets can be gained by having your maps / car skins downloaded by other players.

      Edit: The best place to find all custom maps is http://tm.mania-exchange.com/

    • mrwonko says:

      Actually, I don’t think you have to win gold. There’s a 5 minute timer on the right while you race and once you’ve played a map for 5 minutes, you can do an official race. The first one’s free, from then on I believe you have to pay some planets to repeat it. You have one try and gain planets for medals. Your total planets are displayed in the middle of the top bar, you start with 5000.

    • Aluschaaf says:

      I’m pretty sure the timer only starts after scoring gold.

    • DeathCarrot says:

      @mrwonko: The official runs don’t cost anything anything other than time, thankfully.

  6. Hodge says:

    I loved the first one but I think I’m going to pass on this. As far as I can tell this is basically the first game again but with all of the crazy absurd stuff stripped out to focus on the ‘serious’ racing. I can understand why they’re doing it but I can’t bring myself to come along for the ride.

    • Wendelius says:

      Serious might be too strong a word: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPjbxgJP7nY

      I’ve never played the original, so I can’t miss the old modes. But while it’s true it’s all racing, I’ve found the going quite friendly and very entertaining (it’s also easier to strive for better times when you can observe fast players).

      It doesn’t feel like serious racing considering the crazy tracks, but it’s true that that’s what you will be doing.

      Wendelius

    • Hodge says:

      Yeah, serious isn’t the right word for what I meant, competitive is more like it. The new game seems pretty much centred around around getting the fastest time and little else, whereas the older games had that at their core but draped a whole layer of craziness around it. Like the castle levels where you drive around in a tiny 4×4 with a permanent case of the death wobbles. Or the island levels where, if you drive off the track, your car will for some unfathomable reason skim off the water and bounce back up.

      I’ve seen nothing like that in the new one (yet – I might have just missed it so far). Even in that video you posted, all those humps seem to be there only to slow players down, not to increase the wackiness quotient.

      With the new one they seem to have decided not to make a silly racing game and make a proper competitive one instead, which disappoints me only because the earlier games were convincing arguments that you could do both.

    • Wendelius says:

      Like the castle levels where you drive around in a tiny 4×4 with a permanent case of the death wobbles. Or the island levels where, if you drive off the track, your car will for some unfathomable reason skim off the water and bounce back up.

      I’ve seen nothing like that in the new one (yet – I might have just missed it so far). Even in that video you posted, all those humps seem to be there only to slow players down, not to increase the wackiness quotient.

      I don’t know much about that, but I believe that the plan is to let players create their own blocks and script their behaviour to build maps with. I believe that should allow the kind of quirky, less about racing, maps you might be thinking of. But I might be wrong. Certainly, it might be too early for you to jump in until that’s released.

  7. Wendelius says:

    The game doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself. You can find the user manual here: http://wiki.maniaplanet.com/en/User_manual

    And the glossary explains what planets and skill points are: http://wiki.maniaplanet.com/en/Glossary

    Planets: This is the official currency of TrackMania. At each connection, the player wins Planets. He/she is also able to receive them by winning races in the official campaign (whilst winning medals), by taking part in championships or by selling content thanks to the ManiaLinks and ManiaCodes.

    Skill Points: Players’ world rankings based on their time in the official race on a map. The number of SkillPoints is proportional to the rank of the player in the rankings.

  8. wazups2x says:

    I hope it comes to Steam eventually.

    • Gnoupi says:

      That’s not in priorities, according to developers, mostly because their “Maniaplanet” is thought as a service provider. So it would be redundant, and potentially cause problems with Steam TOS.

      So you won’t see it on Steam, most likely.

  9. alm says:

    I’m being a pedant but it should be “God’s own scalextric set” unless you are trying to avoid some sort of copyright…

  10. Demiath says:

    I was gone from proper computer gaming for a few years, and now that I’m back I have no idea where this weird “Trackmania” thing came from and why it is that such a relatively niche arcade racer has somehow becoming one of the quintessential PC games on the market (at least in some circles).

    • Oreb says:

      I recommend at least trying “TrackMania Nations Forever” (the free one, available on Steam). There have been 7 million accounts created over the years. In terms of game mechanics it is very similar to “TrackMania 2: Canyons”, but it runs on an older game engine, and has a different car/environment.
      http://trackmaniaforever.com/

  11. elmuerte says:

    It’s still ubisoft, the company that hates PC. Not spending money on this.

    • Aluschaaf says:

      Actually, it’s Nadeo. Ubisoft’s just publishing this one.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      It only requires an online registration once to install and play. No always-online DRM bullshit. Still though, Ubisoft makes me cringe. I’ll wait and buy it on super sale, whereas if they’d gone with another publisher, I’d likely own a copy by now.

    • Cerzi says:

      Yeah, Ubisoft’s presence here seems minimal. There’s offline play and even LAN options, and so a grumpy Ubisoft decided the best it could do was to spam the maps with its logo. Still pretty annoying.

    • Matt says:

      Ubisoft owns Nadeo, so it’s exceedingly unlikely that they would have gone with another publisher.

    • Dozer says:

      Nadeo are just as bad – they have this terrible DRM that requires the computer to be turned on at all times when you want to play the game!

  12. Jac says:

    Took the plunge on this the other day and havn’t even thought about playing another game since. Not played the previous ones but the handling in this is spot on and the multiplayer is absolutely excellent.

    Only played through the first set of levels on singleplayer and cant say i’ve even noticed these planet things.

    Nadeo’s other two games shootmania and questmania have now piqued my curiosity – anyone know much about them? Hoping shootmania wil be a q3 like.

  13. nomilarac says:

    I LOVED the original Trackmania and its 3 original environments/cars handling, I played it to death.

    They lost me when the emphasis went onto racing at absurdly high speeds in similarly absurd and bizzare race tracks (yep original game ones were somewhat “absurd”, yet still kind of plausible).

    Here’s hoping they go back to something like the 3 original enviroments and car handling, someday.

  14. pupsikaso says:

    Wait, when did this game come out? Did I miss a news blurt on RPS that it’s out?
    Also, I can’t find it on Steam. Where can I buy it?

  15. Killybilly says:

    Seems that on every thread or forum on Trackmania 2 someone always says they won’t buy the game unless it’s on Steam. Are you kidding me? You won’t buy a great game unless Steam has it??? Personally, I’m glad to not have to open Steam and wait until it updates itself and every game you have that needs it, before you can play your game without huge downloads going on. As it is, you can get into TM2 in a matter of seconds. Fast, just like the racing!

  16. Devrey says:

    With only one environment and only time attack, you’re essentially just playing a paid version of the free Trackmania Nations. I’d recommend everybody to just download that instead and decide afterwards if you want to spend the money on Canyon or on United Forver (7 environments AND the puzzle and platform mode).

    As for now, you don’t get a lot for your money. And compared to the other paid versions of Trackmania (original, sunrise, united) it’s impossible to recommend it.

    • Vexing Vision says:

      United is lovely and a whole lot of fun. But TM2′s gorgeous graphic, interesting pricing (it’s not that expensive) and way, way more appealing driving feeling is much appreciated.

      I just like drifting, I suppose.

    • Devrey says:

      Oh, I agree. The driving model of TM2 is big fun. But if I look at value for buck, Canyon simply doesn’t shine.

    • ZephyrSB says:

      This is the main reason I’m staying away right now. Paying for a single environment doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, it’s inexpensive right now – but what happens when it gets to 7 environments, and I’ve had to pay that price for each one? That’s my worry right now. I’ll be all over it if I’m shown to be wrong, but right now I’m being cautious.

      Which is a shame, because the handling in Canyon looks fun…

    • Thermal Ions says:

      @Devrey
      The wiki (http://wiki.maniaplanet.com/en/Party_play#In_a_local_area_network) would seem to indicate that it has multiple modes, not just time attack (although puzzle is missing).

      The different game modes:
      Rounds (Per round):
      Time Attack (against the clock):
      Team:
      Laps:
      Cup:
      Stunt:
      Script:

    • Devrey says:

      @Thermal Ions

      Those are all variations on time attack and multi-player only. I’m really missing the puzzle and platform mode. For somebody like me who isn’t all that interested in multi-player, this game has a lot less to offer then it predecessors did. Simply not worth the €20, however cheap it may be.

    • Shadowcat says:

      I feel exactly the same way. One environment and Race modes only makes this a new version of Nations, not a sequel to Trackmania.

      I would actually forgive the single environment, but not without my beloved Platform mode. I’ll consider buying it once they bring that back, and demonstrate some proper attention to offline play.

  17. PoulWrist says:

    I was thinking about buying it at our LAN party this weekend, and getting everyone else who wanted to throw money at it to buy it, but it was impossible to find out how multiplayer worked from the information on the website. Just says 200 players at once, and that sounded more like you just download ghost information or something.

    So, from the article here, does it have regular multiplayer; as in, you join with your friends, or others, and drive on a track in competition?

    • Snakejuice says:

      Yes it has regular multiplayer, you can easily start a server from within the game, I recommend rounds mode, that way you don’t do time trial but all drive at the same time and get points for placement.

  18. Grinnbarr says:

    I bought it on day 1 and have spent literally days on the track editor. I can’t get to sleep at night because as soon as my head hits the pillow I have an amazing idea for a track and have to plan it all out. And that’s ignoring the completely batshit multiplayer.

  19. D says:

    @killybilly: Afaik Steam still (and as always) auto-pauses downloads when you start a game. Say what you will about the waiting/games as a service/drm opinion thing, but their technical implementation is solid.

  20. Mehall says:

    THe best description I have for the Trackmania multiplayer, for the uninitiated, is that it’s the racing equivalent of Super Meat Boy, a game I have now bought 3 times (damned retail edition with t-shirt).

    It’s crazy fun, more tracks are always being made and everyone has an equal fotting, because the cars are identical.

  21. dellphukof says:

    Basically really cool game i am loving it the bit i have played (only a few hours), but generally you can get a feel for a game within a few minutes if its bad or good.
    I am loving it so far but will need more playtime to give a full reveiw on it, graphics are great loving the fact of damage to your car bodywork.
    Really is something to get use to, only time will tellthoi trang giay