When TrackMania was released, and the addon pack that shortly followed, PC gamers worldwide were freed from their repetitive gaming genres that typically dominate the PC market and really embraced the series. It wasn't long before fan sites and community sites popped up everywhere, further fueling the game's appeal with custom track and campaign downloads. This is why, when TrackMania Sunrise was announced, Nadeo and Digital Jesters had far more attention directed towards the series, and this is also why, when TrackMania Sunrise was recently released, they had far higher expectations directed towards the series.
TrackMania Sunrise features four distinct game modes that vary significantly - the first is Race, which is self explanatory, although competing cars are treated as ghosts so it is really more of a time trial mode. The second is Platform, which basically presents oddly designed levels which you must navigate through without falling off - for a gold medal you'll need to go from start to finish without falling at all. Then you have Puzzle mode, which forces the gamer to design tracks with limited blocks - the game provides the start and finish line as well as any checkpoints, and you must build a track capable of completion within the set time limits. Finally, there is Crazy mode, which is basically a race on difficult tracks requiring 3 successful victory's in a row for the gold medal. For online play, you are basically limited to the Race mode, but there are options to change this mode to include laps or teams etc.
Once again the game's official campaign mode revolves around "coppers" - the in game currency. The more medals you win, the more you get, where as gold medals give you 10, silver 8 and bronze 6. These coppers, again like the original, are basically only used for track design - the more you have, the more objects you can place in your custom tracks. What this does is force gamers to concentrate on the game's official campaign mode so they can create bigger and better tracks, which is a good thing, because it makes certain the gamer is getting his or her money's worth.
There is no doubt that TrackMania Sunrise, like its original, is a very addictive game. Whether it be the single player modes or the online play, or the track editor, there is always something to do and always something to try. A major factor contributing to the addictive nature of Sunrise is its very challenging gameplay - this is not a game you will breeze through over night, it will take a lot of practice and when you do pull off a Gold medal ranking on a track, it always proves to be a very satisfying experience. The best part is, if you're stuck on a particular event, you can more than likely put it aside for a while and try something else, and this is why the challenging gameplay can become addictive - you always "just want to finish this next one".
But "challenging" is a two way street. While Sunrise will give even the most avid fan of the series some seriously tough gameplay, at times this simply translates over to almost impossible gameplay for the more casual gamer, and it doesn't take long to come into affect either. After the first series or so for every game mode, you'll find yourself up against some very tough tracks and times, usually requiring countless restarts to even get close to completion. At times, if you commit even just the slightest mistake anywhere on the track you're whole event is ruined. It's a good thing there is a button for both re-spawning and restarting a level instantly, because you'll be doing plenty of both. While I can appreciate a challenge as much as the next gamer, Sunrise really does test your patience and sanity. Sure, you could stick to "Beginner", but if that becomes a little too easy, the transition to "Normal" let alone "Expert" is very steep.
Luckily, even if you find the official campaigns overly difficult, the game can live on with community made campaigns and tracks. Without the community support TrackMania would be an incomplete game, so it is very fortunate for Nadeo and DJ that a striving community of track and skin authors exist, and on the other hand, it is very fortunate for the community that Nadeo and DJ acknowledge and treat to the creation side of the game. Basically, TrackMania Sunrise is a class example of what can be achieved by a less than mammoth developer/publisher when community interaction is encouraged.
However, the community content relies on the in-game editors, and unfortunately, I'm not as impressed as I I'd hoped. The track editor in Sunrise, for instance, is basically the same as the original's - you'll certainly see some new and improved blocks, but the same 4 direction limitations and rather harsh block interaction still exists. Creative designers will get around the editor's limitations, but it is still a little disappointing to see the same basic editing engine again - it would have been fantastic to see an editor with far less placement and movement restrictions, perhaps even one with full 360 degree object placement capabilities.
On top of this, the skin editor for the cars, a new feature in Sunrise, is not as advanced as I had hoped. Basically, you can change colors, apply stencils and use a few basic Paint Shop tools - reasonably decent, but you must do these in real time on your 3D model, making exact placement almost impossible. I think the best strategy here would have been giving more emphasis to external graphic editors - for example, being able to export a template allowing gamers to customize their car's skin in an advanced 3rd party graphics application.
The original TrackMania was nothing spectacular to look at, but Nadeo have changed that for Sunrise, certainly making it one of the PC's current best looking game's. One area worthy of note is the environments - whilst there is little detail beyond the track itself, the lighting and design bring out the best of the surroundings. Control wise, being a PC game, Sunrise is capable of being played on a keyboard however it is highly recommended you utilize an analog gamepad. Sunrise is a game of perfection - if you slip up even once, you will likely not finish 1st, so absolute precision is a must, and the keyboard's digital controls just can't deliver in this regard. As soon as we jumped to an analog control pad, the difference was notable - it didn't only feel better, but the results were certainly better.
TrackMania Sunrise is the latest in a one of a kind genre for the PC, and while some elements could certainly have seen more improvement from the original such as the editors, it manages to further establish the series as one of the PC's most playable games to date. If you liked the original then you will love Sunrise, and if you haven't played TrackMania before, well, you really should start.