Naturally, with this kind of release there will be two types of potential customer. On one side, are newcomers to the series who I think are the lucky ones, and who are in for a real treat. You basically buy four years’ worth of improvements over the now classic (in my eyes, at least) TrackMania, which is in its finest shape ever and is unlikely to change unless Nadeo decide to create a next generation sequel. Experiencing a whole series in such a way doesn’t happen very often, and this, I believe, is your chance if you’ve been on the fence about the game over the years, for whatever crazy reason. This is a game in the purest, most literal sense of the word. It’s not an interactive story, it’s not art (although seeing some of the tracks makes me wonder), it’s not deep or a thinking simulator, it’s just a game, which is where the real charm lies. I can hop online for five or fifty minutes and have a great time regardless, and the seven distinct playing styles will make sure of that. This coupled with the sheer variety and number of maps out there guarantees an endless amount of play time. I say endless because I have come to the realization that there is no such thing as too much TrackMania. Playing Battlefield 2, for example, for more than two days in a row is testing my limits, and breaking for a week is not uncommon. TrackMania sets a completely different mood, one that is accessible and addicting throughout. It’s very simple in its design, so getting used to it takes no time at all; getting good at it, however, takes some skill. All environments have their own appeal and rules to learn, but all are rewarding with the same sense of awe usual for TrackMania. It’s amazing how with only a set amount of building blocks one can snap together so many great tracks and make them memorable as well.
" I can hop online for five or fifty minutes and have a great time regardless..."
On the other side are those that own at least one previous game, or the so called veterans of which I consider myself a member. The population in Sunrise and Original simply isn’t there, the exception being a number of hardcore individuals who still hang around from time to time. The rest have either moved on to Trackmania Nations or United, which is where you need to be if you wish a good selection of busy servers. It’s not as if the first two games were very popular to begin with, which is a shame, but at least thousands are enjoying Nations for free everyday, and United seems to be slowly growing lately, and it can only get better with the release over Steam.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the main reason United came to be, namely resurrecting the series by uniting the old games and letting people enjoy TrackMania in its best ever form. It actually feels like a complete game now, because I don’t have to switch programs and search for servers, or waste time if I’m in the mood for another environment, and I’ll admit that’s the probably my favorite aspect of the game. However, in typical Nadeo style, they didn’t stop there but refined and updated the online component which makes some sense considering the majority of the players ignore the solo campaign in its favor.
The in-game currency is actually a lot more useful now, because it not only allows you to create tracks, but to set official records on them, download replays and tracks, enter in tournaments and even send some to another player through a new message system, a bit like email built in the game. A whole news portal has been also added, which shows you current events, featured maps or videos, or any other bits of news related to TrackMania, and you can pretty much stay in contact with the community without ever closing the game. If you wish, you can create your own personal page, where you showcase your creations, which you can even sell for coppers to other players. These are just some of the new additions which I admit I haven’t even fully tested yet, but from what I could gather it truly feels like a community now, rather than just a game you play.
Personalization is a big part of TrackMania so make sure you accurately set up your connections or you’d miss a lot of custom images, vehicles, and sounds. The powerful map and replay editors, car painter, and media tracker are all back in action, but this is no surprise considering they are the life behind the game. Lastly, Nadeo have added a very simple but useful feature, an in-game clock. With TrackMania, time can really fly without me realizing it, and an indented fifteen minute round becomes an hour and fifteen, if I’m not careful.
Graphics / Sound
There are certainly visual improvements, if my 128MB video card runs out of memory when playing with maximum settings; however, the only obvious addition I noticed was bloom, which I disabled anyway. The game has been upgraded not only with lots of new blocks, such as water and dust tracks, but also with a new lightning system allowing for sunset and sunrise play. Other than that, I honestly did not see any difference from before, but I play without shaders anyway, so maybe I’ve just forgotten what the older games looked like. With TrackMania in particular, I need AF and AA more than shiny roads, and with my aging system I need to make sacrifices; however, the game remains crisp, clean, and smooth throughout, and after you spend some time with it you’ll come to appreciate these things over the nice effects (which are really nice, of course, and if your machine can handle them, by all means, crank up the details, the game looks amazing).
The sound seems untouched from before except for new but not too great menu music. The racing soundtracks are scarce, so I suggest you put whatever music you find stimulating to the appropriate folders, and the game will do the rest. Flying a thousand feet in the air or speeding upside down through a dozen loops gets a whole lot better with the right kind of music to back it up.
"Flying a thousand feet in the air or speeding upside down through a dozen loops gets a whole lot better with the right kind of music to back it up."
For me, TrackMania United is about the convenience of having the series as well as the community brought together, and the rest is just a bonus. This, to me, is the pinnacle of arcade racing on the PC, and I honestly don’t have the interest or will to play anything else, and I doubt I can find a finer product. I think Nadeo have done what they could with the series, and other developers should take note: this is how you make a game. Give TrackMania Nations a try – it’s free – and if you find yourself getting carried away with it, buy United at your own discretion.