TrackMania 2: Canyon is the (proper) sequel to 2004’s TrackMania developed by Nadeo and published by Ubisoft. If you’ve never played a TrackMania game before, then I’ll give you a brief explanation.
TrackMania 2: Canyon – and by extension every title in the series – is a racing game, although you’d be hard pressed to find something else like it. The main selling point is the heavy focus on community and the penchant for insanity that said community brings to the game.
The core gameplay remains simple. You have a car, and you drive that car around the track in an effort to get the lowest time possible. If you make a mistake, you can instantly restart from a checkpoint or the starting line, and try again. Also, there are no car-on-car collisions, which means that every race ends up being a time trial. So if it’s essentially a bunch of time trials, what makes it so special? The thing that sets TrackMania apart from the crowd is, as previously mentioned, the community and their involvement in the game's future. Most games have community-driven sections to them, but none quite like TrackMania. The community creates almost all of the tracks (or rather every good track), they run the servers, they make the car models, they customize the soundtracks, and they create all of the plug-ins for the game.
That’s not to say to you get an empty shell of a game for the community to build; instead, you buy a product that functions on its own and is competent in that respect, but the real fun to be had is with the fanbase and their additions to the game. Think of TrackMania 2 as a plain piece of bread. Not necessarily bad, but adding to the bread is what makes it into a wonderful sandwich. When the community contributes their handiwork, they are assembling that wonderful sandwich – filled with dubstep and fun.
With no car-on-car collisions, the only damage you incur is your fault.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like online play or have a bad Internet connection, then you may want to save your money. The game costs $25, and for that you get the launcher, about 68 tracks from the developer, and the main car model. That may seem like a fair amount of tracks, but the first 32 or so can be easily beaten in an afternoon. Plus, there isn’t much to do offline other than race for arbitrary gold medals.
TrackMania 2 doesn’t get fun until you open yourself up to the mind-boggling online section of the game. This is where you will find the intended experience of TrackMania with tracks that have literally no cohesion or logic. One moment you could be drifting around a massive corner, then you’ll be flying over hundreds of meters towards a barrier that you’ll narrowly miss and smash into wall just before the finish line. This may seem frustrating, but the instantaneous restart makes mistakes easier to tolerate, similar to Trials or Super Meat Boy. The trial and error method of TrackMania parallels these essentials to the gameplay. Track builders don’t produce courses that can be easily beaten; they add challenge because it makes the game more satisfying when you beat a track and set a good record.
And if a track either happens to be too easy or too difficult, there are no worries there. Another task that the community has taken upon themselves to create is plug-ins. Some plug-ins allow users to rate tracks, whereupon respectable server owners will delete low-rated tracks off said server, other plug-ins permit custom soundtracks that usually consist of oddly compelling dubstep, and few plug-ins keep world record times for each of the tracks. Bear in mind, none of these additions were created by the developer; the community did all of this. Fansites even host custom content.
Speaking of which, custom content for TrackMania 2 ranges from tracks to new car models to even new horns – I mean who doesn't want to hear Ride of the Valkyries spewing from the front of their vehicle as they fly through the air? This custom content adds depth to an already interesting game. The unlimited supply of tracks created daily by the users, the increasing amount of car models, and everything else make TrackMania seem fresh every time you play it.
Car differences are purely cosmetic. Each vehicle retains the same acceleration, top speed, handling, etc.
I should mention at some point that the game looks pretty, and that the explosion of cars at the beginning that spew from your car is always entertaining. Of course no game is perfect, and TrackMania is no exception.
For one, the launcher that you run to start TrackMania is terrible. If you can’t connect to the Internet reliably, then don’t buy this game. It requires an Internet connection just to boot up, even for offline play. Also, the user interface is atrocious. Because the community builds everything for the game, the UI is cluttered with boxes that dump random information on players that they may not know how to process. Instead of a variety of environments, the game only ships with the slightly disappointing, titular canyon setting. Finally, the lag that causes the ghost cars of other players to stutter can be so bad that the track is unplayable. Luckily though, ghosts can be turned off.
In conclusion, if you like racing games that throw the sensibilities of regular racing games out the window and focus on community and fun, then TrackMania 2 will win you over. Unfortunately, the single-player doesn’t hold up at all, and some fundamental problems with the launcher and the fear-inducing UI make the game feel like a hassle to play. TrackMania 2: Canyon is a great game for brief afternoon sessions, but I wouldn’t recommend it for long periods of time.
Release Date: September 14, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Single-player); Multiplayer count differs per server
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)