The latest in this time-attack arcade racing franchise, TrackMania 2: Canyon is a smaller package than its predecessors, focusing on one environment compared to the previous game’s seven. According to TM2, less is actually more.
For the uninitiated, TrackMania is a series of arcade racing games focusing on a time attack format. You race around a track with a set car that behaves exactly the same as for everybody else, trying to beat other people’s times, online on a server or in solo play.
In solo play you are given a large amount of official tracks to race on. After having beaten the “gold” time of a map, every five minutes you have a chance to place an “official time” against the online leaderboards. Personally, I found this five-minute rolling timer infuriating. I would have perfect runs when it didn’t count and then not be “in the zone” at all when the game finally let me have a go. To make it worse, if you postpone the official run, you have to wait exactly one minute until you can try again. There’s no way to just “go another round” to make sure you’re ready. On the up-side, one can easily download ghost data from the best players of any map and practice against them; it’s a really nice touch.
Online play has you joining a server with its own map rotation, often comprised largely of custom-made maps, where everybody races around the track until the rotation switches. Even though you see the other players, there is no vehicle collision. Competing live with other players in this way feels highly rewarding; especially when you finally nail that corner that’s been throwing you off for the last five tries and snatch the first place right from under the nose of that cocky bastard who keeps winning every track. You can’t do official runs in online mode though, which is a bit of a shame.
One of TrackMania 2’s core features is the fully-featured track editor. Using small, pre-created stretches of track, one can make surprisingly complex tracks. Indeed, all the official maps are built using the same tools as are available to the player. Learning the basics of the editor is easy enough, and for players who like to create, the track editor can end up being as much fun as the racing, or more. The flexibility of the map editor and its popularity among the community extend TrackMania 2’s life to near infinity because you are unlikely to run into most tracks more than once unless you stick around on the same server a long time.
The car (and there is ever only one car) handles a bit differently to most racers. Even though it’s an arcade racer, it’s not mindless and shallow like most in the genre. Unlike, say, Burnout where the solution to every problem is “just power-slide it”, you have to judge each corner individually. Even though the solution often is to use a power-slide, there’s a lot of variety in how you use them. There’s a lot of depth here that isn’t immediately apparent.
TrackMania 2 handles very consistently; the only non-static factor is your driving, and unless the track you’re racing on is built by an asshole, it always feels fair. It all comes together to create a very rewarding experience where the basics are remarkably easy to learn.
Equally consistent is the presentation. Everything about TrackMania 2 looks, sounds and feels clean; the visuals may not sport a lot of graphical raw power compared to hardware-pushers like Crysis 2, but they do the job well and without clutter. Also unlike Crysis 2, it runs remarkably well on old hardware. I was able to run TrackMania 2 with a stable frame rate with pretty high settings on an old dual-core with an ATI 4870 512MB GPU. I was pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, not everything is rainbows and sunshine. Where the immediate predecessor, TrackMania United, featured seven different environments that each came with its own track pieces and car handling, TrackMania 2: Canyon only comes with the titular Canyon. Personally, I think this is the best environment in the series, but if what you liked about the previous TrackMania games were the variety of the different environments, you may come off feeling a bit disappointed.
Also missing are the less popular novelty game modes like puzzle and platform. They were never the main course of TrackMania, but a fair few people will likely miss them.
In conclusion, TrackMania 2: Canyon offers a more focused package than the previous games in the franchise. Extra features have been scrapped in favour of extra polish on the main course, to great effect. In this case, less really is more. At the remarkably low price, I would recommend TM2: Canyon to any fans of the series. For the uninitiated, I would recommend TM2’s free cousin TrackMania Nations Forever instead – it’s not as good as TM2, but it gets pretty close.
Gripes: The 5-minute cooldown timer for official races is annoying.
Get it for the: Great, consistent handling; fun, competitive multiplayer; surprisingly good performance on older machines; great track editor; sleek presentation.