Tristan Kalogeropoulos
22 Dec, 2006

TrackMania United Review

PC Review | Keeping the series on track.
Online gaming does not necessarily have to involve vast sprawling worlds in which to quest, or the even more traditional first-person shooter style gameplay. More and more titles are coming up with new and interesting ways for players to interact with friends and opponents all over the globe. The TrackMania series had previously included some online elements, however these were relatively rudimentary. In the game’s most recent iteration the team behind the series has attempted to get us further involved in playing alongside with others over the internet. With a bunch of new features, and a lot of the old ones still there, TrackMania United aims to bring us all together as we play with the little virtual tracks and cars provided to us.

In recent times it seems that racing games have become more and more complicated. Don’t get us wrong, games that let you change the ride height, suspension and the growing list of other modifications are offering a genuinely compelling experience. TrackMania offers something that is equally compelling but takes a different tact than the more realistic driving games that almost verge on simulations. The series has always been more about 'out-there' action and insane tracks than true-to-life racing. Many have had a great deal of fun acting as if the were sitting in the cockpit of one of the slot cars that they put so many hours of play into as kids. It's not only simple racing that TrackMania United offers either, there are 3 main single player modes in the game which are: simple 'race' mode, 'puzzle' mode and 'platform' mode, so there is certainly no brevity in styles of play.

In 'simple' race mode there are different areas to play, all of which must be unlocked. As varied as deserts, snow-capped tundras, and cityscapes, these tracks offer some very diverse racing experiences. As you progress through each of the game's locations you are presented with new vehicles in which to race with corresponding to the specific setting you are in. Each of these handles extremely differently and it is most likely that you will enjoy racing with some more than others. For example there is the typical race car – low, fast and sporty for rode racing - in the desert levels however, you will be put behind the wheel of a tall mini bus type vehicle which tips as you round corners giving you a very different driving experience. Also, instead of racing against solid cars, your opponents will all be 'ghosts' meaning there's no chance of a demolition derby type of comp here.

Dirty, dusty and dangerous (well not really dangerous but still fun regardless).

Dirty, dusty and dangerous (well not really dangerous but still fun regardless).
There is something about every race, possibly the shortness of them, that keeps you clicking on retry to attain that elusive gold medal, meaning that you may end up spending a lot of times restarting the same race over and over again to attain racing perfection. TrackMania allows for you to begin the race again with an instant restart feature that can be used at any time in the race, a welcome addition indeed. Along with the regular race mode you are able to pay, from your precious coppers (TrackMania's unit of currency), of which you begin with 250, to compete against set official times. Once these are beaten you earn more coppers to spend however you see fitting.

Platform Mode is a surprisingly appealing experience and shows off exactly what TrackMania is all about. With its unrealistic, yet extremely enjoyable, portrayal of what a car could accomplish, you must leap your way over jumps as you hurtle towards the finish line. It's actually a lot of fun to learn through mistakes which way you must head to get to the finish line, and you will find yourself falling to the ground many a time before you’ve mastered each level.

In puzzle mode you are charged with the task of building a track to get from point a to point b and through the various checkpoints in between. The game gives you a set amount of building blocks and you set to building your track to make it as fast as possible. This mode is probably the weakest and slowest moving of the TrackMania modes however does offer some reasonably interesting challenges.

These cars defy gravity.

These cars defy gravity.
ManiaLink is where United is really supposed to stand apart from its predecessors. In this mode you are able to race against fellow players, connect and share tracks and chat. Coppers are earned from beating times in official mode, and can even be used to purchase user created skins and tracks. You can also upload your best times, for a price, in coppers of course, and be counted amongst the TrackMania greats. All in all ManiaLink offers a small amount of incentive to upgrade to United, but is not that essential for your enjoyment of the game unless you're a hardcore online scoreboard/competitive junky.

A major part of the TrackMania United experience is designing your own tracks and sharing them around with other players. A simple yet robust track editor is available, offering a tremendous variety of building blocks from which you are able to put together a track that rivals the official ones already included in the game. The addition of ManiaLink for sharing these adds to the incentive although you're probably only going to be uploading your creations if you're already someone who's inclined to build their own levels in games already.

Graphically TrackMania United is reasonably good but not amazing. The cars move well, although feel a bit floaty and disconnected from the tracks themselves. There are some irritating moments in the game where the view is transported to a filmic 3rd person view for a couple of seconds which are not only disconcerting but can also be the difference between winning or losing which is, quite frankly, not good enough. To be fair though this only occurred a few times of our total playtime. There are also a series of views to choose from as per most racing games. Above the car inside the car and from the rear of the car are all vantage points from which to attack the courses ahead of you. There is also a cinematic view for replays (which can be switched to in normal mode if you like your games confusing or you accidentally hit the button).

Yeah... Ummm... The tracks don't always fit within the realms of possibility, but that's where the fun lies.

Yeah... Ummm... The tracks don't always fit within the realms of possibility, but that's where the fun lies.
The game maintains the series’ simple, yet effective look. Cars take on a style more akin to that of those of your childhood toy box, rather than the more realistic models that we are seeing in many racing games lately; in fact there is something decidedly 'yesteryear' about more than just the aesthetics of TrackMania United. The entire gameplay is very reminiscent of many early PC racing games and should impress many retro gamers.

For those that are concerned about Starforce copy protection, it is worth noting that TrackMania United, as with previous TrackManias, comes with the software tool, which must be installed to play the game. Whilst we've not experienced any issues with it, there are many out there that are concerned about this form of copy protection and we feel that many of you would like to be informed of its presence before selecting the game for yourselves.

TrackMania has always been a blast and United continues the trend of providing some excellent pick up and play gaming. Considering there is very little out there that provides a similar experience at comparable level of quality, TrackMania shines especially brightly. That said this version of the game doesn’t make the huge technical leaps that previous versions in the series have and ManiaLink, touted as a major drawcard for the game, will not appeal to everyone as it doesn't offer much for those not heavily into the game. That said, TrackMania United is worth a look if you're pining for a bit of not too serious racing that is nevertheless a heck of a lot of fun.
The Score
Whilst not for everyone, TrackMania United dishes up some reasonably fun casualish gaming. Whilst not a giant leap from its predessesors the game does offer some new online options that may add to its appeal for some.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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1 Comment
7 years ago
Love trackmania, believe it or not the challenges in hotseat actually me & my friends playing.

icon_sad.gif I just sold my graphics card no new PC games for me anytime soon.
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
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  Focus Home Interactive

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