TrackMania was released late last year and has since developed quite a following. Incase you aren't already one of the fans, TrackMania is a unique concept which combines the elements of tracking design, construction and racing, or as the official slogan goes, "Design it. Build it. Race it". Recently, Nadeo released an addon pack to include even more gameplay elements to the original, dubbed "Power Up! Expansion Pack", and we check out the new standalone retail version available which includes the Power Up! pack inbuilt.
Included in the Power Up! Pack is the ability to construct underground passages, a new solo mode called "survival" and 40 new blocks to be unlocked. In all, you have over 300 different blocks on hand, with the possibility to use up to 2000 on your designed tracks. However, gamers aren't given unlimited access straight off the bat, first they must complete the ingame tasks and earn new blocks as well as "coppers", the in-game currency. Eventually, after playing a significant part of the offline modes, which include "Racing", "Puzzle" and "Survival", gamers will have unlimited access to track design.
Racing mode is self explanatory, you must simply race the computer around inbuilt tracks trying to score the best times. Puzzle mode involves a little more skill however, as not only do you have to race the clock from start the finish, you also have to design the track itself. Basically, you are given a certain amount of blocks to play with for each level, and you must then use these given blocks to design the best possible track that allows you to go from the set start and finish point in the least amount of time. This mode gets tough quickly, so it will require a fair amount of design and driving skill. Finally, you have Survival, which is sort of like the classic Survival mode seen in fighting games. You are given 18 unique tracks, and you must survive by beating the clock on as many tracks in a row as you can. Finish poorly once, and the game is over. All in all, the amount of variation in TrackMania's game modes is quite impressive, and should offer as a reasonably good challenge for almost any gamer.
Probably the best characteristic of TrackMania is its ability to go into Multiplayer mode, online or over a LAN. If you think you have the skill to outwit other gamers online with your designing and building techniques then you're half way there, but of course, you also have to race them. One thing we noticed is most servers tend to be European based, which is no surprise coming from a European developer, however we found that lag was not a huge factor in the gameplay anyway, so most people world wide should be able to enjoy this online. If that doesn't work out though, you also have LAN, making for a very fun party game at home or the next public LAN party.
Another great aspect is the community friendly nature of the game. Since track building is a significant part of the gameplay, it is great to hear that importing custom tracks from online communities is possible and encouraged. One such website where tracks are available is TM-Exchange.com, which offers lots of downloadable tracks as well as a top10 list voted by the community itself. Although the replay value of the game is good enough, this factor alone makes TrackMania all that more enjoyable, the possibilities really are endless when gamers like yourself share their creations for everyone to enjoy.
Gameplay content is the main priority here so it isn't a surprise to see that the in-game graphics are nothing special, although in all honesty, there really is no need for anything overly impressive for this type of game. Basic graphics are all that is really needed to deliver the unique gameplay featured in TrackMania and although visual splendor would have been nice, it doesn't necessarily detract from the appeal of the game. Your eyes won't hurt looking at TrackMania, but you're not going to drool either, it is just a simple graphical setup here.
One aspect that could have used a little more attention however is the controls. Despite the fact the in-game racing itself is obviously more arcade orientated than sim hence making the controls less than realistic, making and designing tracks seems to be limited to the keyboard and not the mouse. It is only a minor issue, however I would have preferred the ability to use the mouse for full analog control in the designing panel, but in any case, it still works out pretty well.
For what it is, TrackMania is a very impressive game. The unique genre to which it belongs to has never really seen much attention, or atleast, it hasn't previously seen the level of attention that TrackMania brings. There is no doubt that not every gamer will consider this to be a worthy purchase as you do need to have some interest in the fine art of fantasy track building and racing to enjoy it, however for the gamers out there that appreciate the fun and excitement of unlimited possibilities when racing and building your own unique fantasy tracks, TrackMania will offer a huge amount of addictive gameplay.