Trackmania Review — A Niche Experience That Delivers on the Asphalt
Trackmania has finally launched for PC and despite being the latest entry in a rather niche franchise it still manages to deliver a robust experience.
Back when I first previewed Trackmania, I found it to be a rather niche and hardcore racing sim filled with plenty of content while somehow also still feeling barebones in other areas. I was left wondering whether the full version would feature any noticeable improvements once it arrives. Playing through the final game, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that Ubisoft has managed to deliver a simple yet complete experience bursting with plenty of content.
Trackmania has always been a franchise that puts its focus on polishing the overall racing experience. The various modes it offers typically focus on enhancing its core gameplay. The game features a robust selection of tracks to play through, a huge and dedicated online community with modes to match, and track creation.
The gameplay is straightforward enough on paper as you drive your car through various tracks and aim for the fastest time. However, there are tons of track conditions put in place that you won’t find in a standard racing game such as the engines cutting off in sections, U-turns, turbo boosts, icy tracks, large gaps to jump, etc. This would normally be a setup for a deeply unenjoyable gameplay experience but between restricting these gimmicks to short bursts, including a button to instantly do over the entire course if you mess up, and a physics engine that’s fun to play with, it makes these obstacles a blast to work through.
There are tons of modes to play through, divided into several major modes — Solo, Live, Clubs, Local, and Create — with each one further divided into sub-modes. Solo includes three features: Seasonal picks, Track of the Day, and Training; both the seasonal and training modes feature 20 different tracks to race on.
The seasonal picks, which is named after the current season and year (as of this writing the current one is Summer 2020), is the general arcade/time attack mode for Trackmania. In each season, new tracks are made available for players to work through. It’s an excellent way to ensure that new content is cycled on a consistent basis and keeps regular players continuously engaged.
Track of the Day lets you race against other players on the top user-created map for a certain amount of time. You can jump in when you want and work on both your personal best time and rank on the leaderboard. After time runs out, it switches to the next day with a brand new chosen track. All previous tracks are still playable alone but are not available to race with online players. Finally, we have Training, which delivers tracks in small bits that lets players master the mechanics.
Create mode features three main categories: Track Editor, Replay Editor, and Garage. The first sub-mode is for creating and editing tracks, the second is essentially a photo mode that lets players capture footage and edit screenshots, and the third is for customizing skins for your car. Track Editor is divided into Simple and Advanced, depending on how many features are in it.
Most beginners should start off with Simple mode as it’s a great introduction to how to build your own track and obstacles. Advanced is made for veterans and features more complex options to customize your dream track in intricate detail. Although the track editor and photo mode offer some hearty options, I felt that far more could have been done with the Garage; even the name seems misleading as you can’t customize any parts for your kart and overall it feels like a missed opportunity.
The best social feature by far in Trackmania is Clubs, which is a special mode that allows players to create or join groups and interact with others in a closed and personal environment. It also allows access to unique features and activities such as skin customization, competitions, special campaigns, online rooms, and training tracks. While clubs are ideal for streamers, creators, and esports teams, anyone can create and join clubs and tailor their experience. It’s a smart feature that distills the massive and often intimidating online community into a much smaller and more manageable community that shares similar interests and goals.
Trackmania has tournaments as well that players can take part in. Hopeful competitors can practice in casual daily and weekly tournaments, as well as face pro-level players in the Open Grand League to qualify for the Trackmania Grand League, the official Trackmania competition. There’s also the Arcade channel, an hourly updated mode that showcases the best of players’ campaigns.
Graphics in the original preview build of Trackmania were not the highest priority. Though they weren’t terrible in terms of the car models and immediate environment, background details were extremely basic, almost shoddy. However, the full game has gotten quite the overhaul in visuals. Though they are nothing that would beat out other titles such as Gran Turismo or Forza, the details in the tracks, vehicles, stadium, trees, and other parts are still lovely with an almost stylized quality that matches the feel of the game. Not to mention, the gorgeous lighting effects and how much they contribute to creating a starkly atmospheric environment. Day and night cycles were solely created to flex their system, I’m absolutely convinced.
The music is another area that’s had significant improvements from the preview build. The tracks are a blend of catchy and pumping electro and techno tracks, creating an excitable atmosphere that gets you pumped and into the race. Not to mention, the soundtrack is really good on its own. Another little touch that I enjoyed immensely is that the game switches between tracks instead of simply looping the same track, keeping the music fresh and frenetic.
Meanwhile, the sound design is fantastic with a mix of both realistic and stylized sound effects that accurately emulate engines, crashing, and the screech of tires without being bogged down by trying and failing to recreate those same sounds completely realistically.
As this is a free-to-play title, there are three levels that players can choose from depending on what experience is best suited for you. The first is Starter Access, the free base game that comes with changing season tracks, solo and online modes, and the track editor. Next is Standard Access, the first paid tier, that includes some of the Club activities and events plus the ability to test your track edits online. Finally, there’s Club Access and, as its name suggests, this version features the ability to create Clubs and participate in all Club events, as well as car skin customization. If your membership expires, you’re still allowed to keep all the tracks you played and created, which is a pretty solid deal.
Trackmania features deep mechanics that put accessibility first in addition to a nice variety of online and solo modes that compliment the title to better enhance both the gameplay and community. There’s plenty of free content that will entertain casual fans for months and paid options tailored to the more devoted veterans. All in all, for being part of such a niche franchise, this is a great entry that has a lot to offer.