TrackMania 2: Canyon – Review

Platform | Release Date
PC | September 14, 2011
Developed by Nadeo
Published by Ubisoft

The Pitch:

The TrackMania phenomenon is back! TrackMania² Canyon will give players an adrenaline-filled experience, even better than the original TrackMania game played by millions. TrackMania² goes far beyond traditional driving games with a fully customizable world of tracks generated by players themselves! With loops, wall rides, ramps, and a multitude of other stunts, you’re in for the ride of your life!

This must be what it feels like to be a drug addict. You begin with a little peer pressure, completely unsure of yourself in an unfamiliar landscape. After the initial, uneasy experience, you try again. Before you know it, you start counting the hours till your next hit. Sleep deprived, hands shaking, just once more, thenI’ll stop for real this time. Ok, maybe just one more time.

TrackMania, what have you done to me?

Firing up TrackMania 2: Canyon for the first time is fairly jarring. The initial interface for creating an overarching ManiaPlanet account is not unlike early Flash-based websites, complete with the ability to paste line-breaks into single-line input fields. Menus attempt to be intuitive, but generally don’t do a great job at all in telling you how to do things. For example, the “Connected Solo” feature requires the creation of a user group and friends in that group, all of which is done through the profile screen. Creating a user group and inviting people to it costs Planets. Sure!

Planets are a form of in-game currency specific to ManiaPlanet. You’ll start out with 5,000 and earn them for submitting official times, logging in every day, hosting games, climbing the multiplayer ladders, and more. To submit an official time, you’ve got to spend Planets. To re-download the game after a certain time, you’ve got to spend Planets. What? They really don’t make too much sense. I’m sure they do to Nadeo, but you’re gonna do a bit of head scratching to determine exactly what’s up. There’s also a monthly economy balance that means you could potentially lose Planets! I don’t even…

All the stuff surrounding the game is wack and if your head is spinning then that’s about right. There are ladder points, medals, and these Planets to earn, all of which are separate. The whole concept of ManiaPlanet, which will consist of more than just TrackMania – ShootMania and QuestMania are also planned – is certainly ambitious and could be cool in the long run. As of right now though, it’s just all over the place and in some cases downright stupid. Luckily though, the game itself is wonderful.

TrackMania’s “first” iteration didn’t really grab me. I never felt the cars were fun to control and the graphics snob in me just wasn’t into the plain Jane stadium tile-set that everyone usually raced on. It was still a great idea though and remains largely unchanged: find the perfect lines and get the fastest times. Everyone drives the same skinnable car, you can’t run into other cars, and you’re constantly fighting with yourself on the current track. Not completely unlike Demon’s Souls, mistakes are yours alone. The system isn’t broken, you just have to get better.

What TM2 does is add a much better looking engine and new handling model to the well established formula.  The Canyon setting – there will be more later – is varied, sprawling, and appealing. While it looks great if you’re not paying attention, TM2 won’t hold up to true scrutiny as it comes complete with sprite-based foliage and ugly undercarriages. Luckily, that really doesn’t matter too much because it’s more than good enough.

Handling is where TM2 really nailed it with me. It’s easy and satisfying to pull off lengthy power slides around tight turns at high speed. This is by no means a simulator, but more akin to a Burnout or a Ridge Racer with only four real buttons used to control your car.  During each course, you’ll be able to hit a restart button which throws you back to the beginning of the race instantly.  If you see that your split times aren’t great, just hit reset and try again, and again, and again. There are no load times after a track has started, just keep resetting. It’s the constant need for betterment that keeps you playing, but the social aspects and you’ll keep coming back to this relatively small, yet active community.

Nadeo’s online society has been quite welcoming and helpful to newcomers like myself. I was able to join multiplayer servers, try hard, and ask questions pertaining to strategy without being cursed out. You’ll strive to best yourself and tons of other players in the online environment five minutes at a time, and everyone has fun doing it.  Live MP servers generally play host to fifty racers, and if you don’t feel like jumping on and talking, you can pick any number of user submitted ghosts to race against. There are a lot of different ways to play, but as mentioned before, it’s fairly kludgy getting to all the stuff.

To top off the large catalog of pre-existing courses that range from simple to lunacy, TrackMania comes with its own tile-based course creator. There are two flavors to choose from, basic and advanced, but it seems that most will bypass the basic one rather quickly as it’s fairly limited.  I was able to draw out a simple track easily, though much like the rest of the game’s interface the controls could have been laid out better. If this isn’t your thing, there’s already a plethora of user created content out there to grab, and many of them are already available on the multiplayer servers, complete with a karmic rating that you can affect with your votes.

There’s a moment that transpires while playing TrackMania 2: Canyon. You’ll be sitting there getting irritated by its poorly designed menu system, frustrated when trying to figure out how to race against your friends and use other touted features. Then all the sudden, you’re having the unblinking time of your life without really knowing what changed. It may play the sound of screeching tires on dirt roads, but TrackMania 2 is the clearest example of sticking with a simple idea, making it infinitely replayable, and most importantly, supremely enjoyable.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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