Trackmania 2 Canyon hands on preview

Ubisoft Racing Previews PC News

Trackmania 2 Canyon is the latest title from Ubisoft owned Nadeo games. It’s a massively popular racing series, with nearly 10 million registered players. Despite no new releases from the franchise since 2008, there were still 700,000 people who connected in December 2010 – a huge credit to the developers emphasis on allowing players to create their own tracks and upload them to the world.

The full game is released on September 14, and has an updated game engine, better graphics and improved support for the online community. Players who pre-purchase it can get access to the beta, instantly opening up online multiplayer, the track and car editors, and the worldwide ranking system.

Gameplay

Online multiplayer is the only mode available in the beta, but it’s a whole heap of distraction until the full title hits! There are a couple of modes available, so players can either race head to head or jump into a lap time challenge. The servers at the moment are mostly lap time, and that’s where I have spent almost all of my play hours.

The set up is simple, race through a series of tracks and set your best lap time on each. Every track gets an allocated time slot depending on its length (usually 3-5 minutes) where you are free to restart and race as you see fit.

The driving feels fantastic, and damn it’s quick! I spent a lot of my first hour just flinging the car around corners and testing out the in game physics – which are perfect. The cars have a good weight to them and the handling is spot on – realistic without sacrificing playability. For all the simplicity of the controls (accelerate, brake, honk General Lee style horn) there is still a lot depth to the gameplay, getting the hang of drifting will do wonders for your times but there’s no way it will guarantee you a win. Some of the players here have been with Trackmania since 2003, and they are insanely good. There is an in game chat which so far is spam and troll free if you want to take a breather from the action, although it usually gets most use at the end of a session when the results appear.

The leaderboards are updated in real time, allowing you to keep track of in game times as well as overall world records. It’s brilliantly integrated and provides a great motivator to shave off that extra few tenths of a second (or in my case, lets you know that being last in a competition full of guys setting close to world record times isn’t so bad). Even without the competition element it’s just rewarding in itself – the gameplay is so fun it really doesn’t matter if you’re losing.

What may disappoint some is that there are no collisions between cars, but I think it’s a very wise choice given the style of the gameplay. With so many on track simultaneously, challenge would quickly turn to frustration as a dozen cars try to hit the same apex, or land one of the many jumps. Sure it would be fun to have a massive pile up, but no one would ever get anywhere. It keeps the focus on your driving skills rather than smashing stuff up. Saying that, smashing your own car is possible, and it’s pretty cool to see your bonnet go flying off as you barrel through a jump.

There are plenty of awesome moments to be had with this game, like a simple drift made sublime when you manage to slide through the tiny archway slap in the middle of it, or the huge leaps, requiring absolute perfection in the run up cornering so you have the speed to make it to the other side. Picky levels can be frustrating but there are spectacular crashes to be had as you come screaming round a corner and clip a well placed pillar, sending you spinning off track and into the canyon below.

The user made content is definitely Trackmania’s biggest selling point, and a clever way to ensure the longevity of the game. Every track is made from the included level editor, and the creativity on display already is pretty amazing. There are all sorts of combinations out there, sporting tunnels, high speed jumps, anti gravity wall runs and even a bit of platforming for good measure. Whilst it can be difficult to figure out where the heck you’re supposed to go, for the most part the published tracks are challenging and fun. Fortunately there is a level rating system which combines with the in race chat to make sure any dud tracks don’t last long in the listings.

The in game track editor is included in the beta. The full game will have a simplified version for the track building newbies, which left me with the advanced one for the moment. It’s only when you go into this and try it for yourself that you begin to understand the level of work that goes into building these tracks. I couldn’t even build a proper bridge, yet there are levels out there so complex and imaginative that it can sometimes take a minute to figure out what the heck just happened when you flew off that jump. Hopefully the basic editor will help get the uninitiated into Trackmania’s massive create and share community when the full game is released.

Also in the editing mix is the Car Painter, which allows you to do anything you like to the base car of the game. The stickers and brushes at first seem a bit basic, but if you put your mind to it you can manipulate them into anything you want using the scaling and rotation tools – there’s a full colour palette to play with too. There is currently only the one car model in the game, so it’s a nice touch that gives you a bit more ownership over your racer.

Presentation

The game looks stunning, and is easily one of the best looking racers I have ever seen. The realistic style adds to the sense of immersion, already pretty high thanks to the tight controls and great physics. Nadeo have always said that they try and keep their games optimised for everyone, and I had no trouble with graphical display or lag.

Other players are visible on track although they will disappear when a certain number is reached, and from what I’ve seen you can have around 20 players racing before this happens. A high number of vehicles can be a bit distracting, especially at the beginning of a session when all of the cars are in the same spot – you can lose sight of your own racer for a few precious seconds.

In terms of sound there is nothing particularly spectacular going on, cars crunch convincingly when they slam into barriers and the background music is fairly unobtrusive. There only seems to be one backing track, so hopefully there will be a bit more variation when the full game is released. Menus are clear and easy to navigate, and in race displays manage to handle a huge amount of information without ever getting in the way. Happily the rankings system is fully up and running, with Ladder Points that improve your overall standing awarded at the end of each course. You can see any track records you hold in-race and your worldwide ranking will show up at the end of level screens. From the game homepage you can see how you fare against other players from your country and state and there’s even a ranking table for countries- Poland rocks at this game!

Closing Comments

Trackmania 2 Canyon is fantastic fun. For a beta there are surprisingly few hiccups and the graphics and gameplay are incredibly well done. The editing tools are a great selling point which combined with the already enormous fanbase should ensure a huge amount of fresh and creative content . Nadeo also have a shooter and an RPG coming to join the ‘Maniaplanet’ and I for one can’t wait to try them out.

Roll on September 14!

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