Trackmania is a series that… christ, look at this mess. I’m not going to lay out the whole history of the series. They stretch back to 2003, over a dozen or so games on almost as many platforms. They’re mostly about time trial races on outlandish, stunt-filled tracks.
This latest one is a remake of Trackmania Nations, a free online spin-off released in 2006. It’s called Trackmania, because clarity is unfashionable I guess. After some understandable delays, it’s out now, and although it has a subscription model, there’s a pretty generous free version too.
It features the usual unlikely courses full of loops and jumps and tilty bits, with a heavy focus on online leaderboards. As you race around trying to beat your best times, you’re accompanied by ghosts of other players. But rather than demoralise you by having the best players in the world instantly jet off to somehow finish a three minute lap in 24 seconds, you’re pitted against people with similar results to you, encouraging you to improve by degrees. It’s kinda neat just seeing so many racers at once, even if they’re not really there.
The basic spine of it is free. That’s called “starter access”, and lets you race on 25 official tracks, as well as player-made tracks, and “solo and online progression”. There’ll be “a new season every 3 months”, so it should be worth checking back in later in the year. Paid subscriptions come in two flavours, with “Standard Access” opening up online events and track editing, and “Club Access” offering “further customisation opportunities” and in-game social options. Players who stump up for either subscription will retain access to the official and daily tracks they paid for, as well as the track editor, after their payments stop. So that’s nice.
In any case, 25 courses plus whatever paying players are willing to make isn’t too shabby at all for a free game. If you’re prone to dabbling rather than playing regularly enough for online events or track editing to matter, it’s a pretty hard deal to be cynical about.
It looks rather smooth in motion, too. I’m personally not a fan of time trials in games. I want to race (by which I mean “barge people off the road and take corners by powering into them at full speed and ricocheting off sensible drivers”), not fret about doing the same thing 0.3 seconds faster. But the series’ over the top tracks combined with the dozens of phantom cars make for an impressive sight, and I could see myself enjoying a few casual circuits. Look out for the ghost that tries to park at the edge of the ramps and set up a hot dog stand.