Even cooler though is how the game handles transactions. Letting gamers download as they please is a fine way to approach a system like this, but Nadeo have taken it a step further and introduced a currency system, called 'coppers', which you use to buy new tracks. This isn't exactly new to the series, but it's good to see Nadeo retain this system as I quite like it. Basically, you obtain coppers by either completing stages in single player mode, or by 'selling' your own creations in the community, hence
promoting gameplay and community interaction. It's like its own little market inside the game and, I dunno, maybe it's the wannabe entrepreneur in me, but I think that's a pretty cool system. The game rounds off its online integration with full leaderboards and a ranking system, both of which can filter to your country. Overall, United Forever handles its online abilities very well.
The actual gameplay itself, i.e. racing and driving, is quite good as well. The style is definitely arcade focused - make no mistake there - but that's not to say it isn't complex in its own right. At the expense of realism (which is definitely expendable in a game like this), TrackMania introduces a few elements to racing that can really make this game challenging, such as being able to adjust your car in the air, and 'petal to the metal' racing not always being the best way to go about even if you
don't need to slow down. It's the finer subtle control movements in this game that matter and the result can be a very 'edge of your seat' experience indeed as some of the in-built tracks have no qualms demanding perfection. With that said, at times the game can get quite difficult if not borderline insanely difficult, but that's all part of the TrackMania experience, and it can be very satisfying when you land a gold medal on a tough track.
The only real issue with United Forever comes with the fact this is not a new game at all. In fact, it's just TrackMania United combined with TrackMania Nations Forever in a re-released form. There are a few new tracks and editor block pieces, as well as a graphical overhaul of some classic TrackMania environments, but ultimately the entire purpose of this release is to combine the United community with the Nations Forever community, which in case you don't
know is a free version of TrackMania featuring gameplay from the 'stadium' environment. In other words, the retail version of United Forever is only meant for gamers who don't already own United. So what does this mean for gamers who do already have United? Do they have to go out and buy this United Forever at its retail price of US$39.99 to join in on the newly combined community? Apparently not, as Nadeo target="_blank">made sure to release this game as a free download 'add-on' for those who already own United. While I'd praise Nadeo for this move, it was more or less necessary for them to achieve their goal of bridging every online TrackMania gamer together, as there is no doubt that United Forever (that's the game in review here in case you've lost track) is not worth paying for if you already own United, so it's a good thing for all involved that you don't have to.
In an attempt to spruce up the retail game for release, Nadeo have opted for what is really a rather odd addition to the game's 'Limited Edition' retail package by including a set of cardboard 3D glasses. What you can do is throw these on and put the game into '3D mode', and you'll get the full stereoscopic experience. While I'll admit this is a little cool in an 'opening a cereal box as a kid and finding a pair of 3D glasses' kinda way, the only thing these glasses achieved for me was
a headache and a significantly reduced frame rate. Ok, perhaps that is a little harsh - it did look *kinda* cool, but it's not something I'll entertain doing for more than the minute or so I gave it a try, but then I can't really tell if Nadeo were having a joke or not. In any case it's obviously not enough to make United gamers purchase the retail package instead of downloading the update freely.
TrackMania United Forever is definitely a fun and addictive arcade racer with fantastic community integration, but the retail package is a little deceptive. As it turns out, if you already own United, then United Forever is a free download, so there's no need to drop a cent on this at all. Obviously this means that United Forever as a retail product is absolutely positively strictly for those who haven't purchased a TrackMania yet, or more specifically those who haven't purchased TrackMania
United yet, but you wouldn't really know this from looking at the package alone so hopefully Nadeo aren't making too many fans out there angry when they get home and realize the $40 game they just bought is basically identical to one they already own. As a complete standalone game this is a good value package and a fantastic way to be introduced to the TrackMania series so that's how we'll score the game, but it's definitely going to confuse a few of the less informed fans out there, so just remember this - if you own TrackMania
United, download it for free, and if you don't, definitely give TrackMania United Forever a look as it's a great arcade PC racer. Or, if you're still on the fence, just download the free TrackMania Nations Forever to see if this series is for you.
Review system specifications
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600
Mobo: MSI P965 Platinum S775
RAM: Corsair PC2-5300 4GB (1GB x 4) DDR2
Video: Gigabyte 8800GTS 320MB (Thanks )
Driver: Nvidia Forceware 175.85
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Settings: 1280x1024 (if supported), 4x AA, 16x AF