TrackMania United Forever PC Review page 1
For as long as I can remember, at any given time, I've always had a preferred arcade racer I'll fire up every so often to get my fix. Whether it was a Death Rally, a Need For Speed, a Ridge Racer, or a Burnout, no-nonsense arcade racing always seemed like a genre well attended to throughout the years. In recent times though, there doesn't seem to be quite the same sort of attention given to arcade racers, at least not in the mainstream. There are still obviously some gems
out there, but they are getting a little harder to find. Take the TrackMania series, for instance. While this series enjoys a huge following in the largely PC focused European market, throughout other locations in the world like the US and here in Australia it isn't quite as well known. French based developers Nadeo have just released a brand new addition to the series in TrackMania United Forever, although this doesn't appear to be as much a sequel as it is a 'collection' for those
yet to play the series.
For those not in the know, let me break down TrackMania for you. When you were a kid, do you remember playing around with Hot Wheels and other similar toys, building custom tracks out of pieces and letting the cars loose to see what happened? Nadeo have taken this concept and packaged it into computer game form, dubbing it TrackMania. Of course, being a computer game, there are far fewer boundaries and far more possibilities, but the same basic formula remains - you can build tracks, race
tracks, and even share tracks to other gamers worldwide, all across multiple modes of play.
The 'Race' mode is exactly as it sounds - so I won't bother delving any deeper there. The other modes are a little less self explanatory though. First you have 'Platform', and this mode tasks you with navigating a track not against the clock, but rather against the 'respawn' count. Or, in other words, you must try and finish typically 'high in the sky' tracks with falling off and requiring a respawn as few times as possible. Next up you have 'Stunts', which is actually pretty much just as self explanatory
as 'Race' now I think about it, but it's worthy of extra mention as it is a new mode in a retail TrackMania and it does expand on the gameplay some more with its jumps and tricks focused tracks. Finally you have 'Puzzle', which is a mode that gives you a starting and finishing point, along with a certain amount and type of track pieces, requiring you to build the quickest track you can as you race against three preset times, naturally represented by bronze, silver and gold medals, which represent
your performance in all the game's modes and tracks.
All these modes compliment the gameplay rather well, and all modes offer a unique approach to the game of TrackMania. In a game like this, usually you can say "Mode X is definitely the game's best mode", but in United Forever, I'm not sure any specific mode stands out, which is a good thing, as they are all enjoyable and challenging in their own ways. You'll likely have a personal favourite - I quite like Platform myself - but the game does a good job of focusing on all modes equally,
with plenty of included tracks for all four. In fact, there are 265 tracks included.
Of course, the game isn't restricted by the included tracks, as you're more than welcome to hop on in to the game's track editor and make your own. Like all the titles previously in the series, the track editor is a block-by-block editor that lets you choose a theme, and simply build a track how you like, with a few restrictions of course. The most evident restriction is the fact the blocks are limited to four directions. While it might make track building a little less user friendly, I've always believed
more control on how and where you can place your blocks would be worth exploring for TrackMania, but alas it wasn't to be in this release as outside of a few extra track blocks and other goodies, the track editor in United Forever remains mostly the same as before.
That's not really a bad thing in itself though, as the track editor has still been versatile enough to spearhead a huge community with this series based around sharing tracks, as well as car textures and the likes. Originally you needed to join an independent community to share and download user made content however, since United, Nadeo have adopted an in-game community aspect with the series and this continues with United Forever. From the main menu, you can click the 'Explorer' option
which will allow you to browse a community of creations from other users like you were on an intranet, which really makes acquiring new content easy, and even though I'm sure a lot of users will still prefer to use an independent website as their track exchange, it's nonetheless a cool feature of the game.
TrackMania United Forever PC Review page 2
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.
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