24 March 2016
The first time you start the game on the first course encapsulates exactly what the Trackmania series is all about. Your car is dangling mid-air, being carried by a helicopter. As the multi-lingual countdown goes off you’re dropped into what at a glance seems to be the easy introductory track. Should be easy right? Wrong. As soon as you’re dropped, there’s a chicane, forcing some quick reflexes to dodge and weave as fast as possible. And the track goes on with a quick right turn, a massive jump, followed by a sharp U-turn to a series of wider chicanes that leads to an uphill slope to the finish line.
All in less than 30 seconds.
In other words: crazy, quick, deceptively simple, but has tons of depth if you look at it closely.
Trackmania is a long-running PC series of arcade racing by French developers Nadeo. With a lesser focus on the cars but more to the tracks, especially the ability to create one, this cult-hit series is best described as playing with Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Now owned by Ubisoft, Trackmania Turbo is the first to debut on the new consoles. With that comes a slew of changes that will grab the attention of casual fans and new players at the cost of losing the quirks and intricacies that made the online community on the PC to thrive in the first place.
That said, it is still a Trackmania game, and that means Trackmania Turbo is still a very well put together arcade racer that’s easy to play but difficult to master.
Graphics & Audio
The major change introduced in Turbo is the overall aesthetic and vibe they are going for. There’s a lot of visual flair, with poppy colours and fonts, reminiscent of the 80’s and 90’s (hence the “Turbo” subtitle). The presentation embraces the quirkiness Trackmania has always been. From the menu interface to the decorations littered around the tracks, (either official, player-made, or randomly generated tracks) there’s a sense of style oozing all over the game. The lengthy load times (around 30-ish seconds) are made bearable with quotes from Henry Ford, Napoleon and.. Homer Simpson. Sometimes tongue-in-cheek pro tips appear instead like enabling Hard mode by playing with the controllers upside-down.
Visually, it’s gorgeous. Lighting in particular is on point, producing nicely lit areas and shadows. The cars are amazingly detailed as well, with the suspensions animating as you take a hard turn, some limited damage modelling, and the variety of paint jobs available, including the national flag liveries used for Stadium cars. All of this are rendered in blistering 60 fps, with rarely a performance dip. However, some areas can be seen to have very low textures, but most of the campaign tracks did a good job of hiding them.
There is a list of licensed songs, mostly techno in nature with some hints from many other genres- from hip-hop to indie chillwave to bossanova. The selection, despite mostly techno in nature, is pretty eclectic, well-suited for a Trackmania game, and dynamically arranged to suit the current situation. More instruments kick in as you speed goes up and up. The audio fades a bit as you float in air from a huge jump, and rises back in volume as you land. The touchpad on the PS4 can toggle the music on and off, or increase its intensity. Plus, you can customise the music mix- if you happen to dislike certain songs you can remove them. Worth pointing out as some games nowadays skimped on such a useful feature. (*cough* Need For Speed 2015 *cough*)
It is noted however that my experience involves listening to certain songs alternating between two loops and songs changing its loops way too fast. So the dynamic audio can be a bit of a hit or miss, just like the voicework- I love the multi-lingual countdown and the announcer, but not a fan of the team radio talk whilst racing. It can be toggled completely off if you’re not into them though, so it’s not a big issue.
If you’ve played any of Trackmania games beforehand- you’ll probably familiar with Trackmania Turbo. It’s just you against the clock. It’s purely a time trial affair in single-player. You can have ghosts of faster times played for reference or go blind and figure out the tracks for yourself. And these are not just standard racing tracks, it’s akin to wild Hot Wheels tracks, with turbo pads, loop the loops, huge jumps, wide corners for drifting, off-road portions, walls for wallriding and more. The tracks are crazy. Hence, Trackmania.
You are racing for medals, with higher level series of the 200 track campaign gated by the number of silver or gold medals to collect. If you’re planning to play through all of it, you have to score all gold, or even better, get the elusive Trackmaster medal. The time for the Trackmaster medals are intentionally hidden for a good reason, so you would try and try again, doing multiple runs, shaving off milliseconds each time.
Handling is arcadey. Tap brake to drift. Cars go blazing fast up to 500 km/h. But again, don’t be deceived by its first looks. Go play the 5 level demo to get a feeling of it. Despite its seemingly simple concept, it has tons of depth that comes from the 4 themes, or tilesets, each presenting different quirks to the tracks and cars. Canyon, Valley and Stadium returns from Trackmania 2, joining in the new Rollercoaster Lagoon theme, with magnetic track pieces in a tropical setting.
Controls are tight, too tight it seems. Canyon- the loosest of controls among the tilesets- is playable on the analog sticks but if you want to get the best times on the others, consider using the d-pad. The stick is not perfectly tuned for the twitchy controls that comes from the other tilesets.
And while loading to new tracks takes some time, restarting another run is an instant touch of the circle button, making the whole ordeal of repeating your runs after each mistake or an inevitable slow run all the more smoother. You can also restart on checkpoints, but it won’t be useful for getting the best time, but useful when you’re learning the tracks, especially the crazy ones people have start making and available online.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the online racing. This is where Trackmania shines most brightly in previous instalments on the PC. Nadeo was pretty open with supporting the community, even letting them run their own custom servers and run mods and custom tracks. This is where things get crazier. Custom servers were filled with odd remix music, custom tracks , and even custom features like a GPS system that shows a replay of a run through the track, and even custom camera angles on certain portion of the tracks.
Well say goodbye to all of those unfortunately. Of course custom servers would be too much to ask for on the console versions, but even the PC version seems to not support it anymore. Plus all the online portions of the game, the lobbies (called rooms) and the leaderboards are segregated into the three platforms separately. With all the talks of cross-platform online play it would be interesting to see whether Trackmania Turbo will support this one day.
The idea of online racing here is that it’s you against hundreds of others trying to set the best time. No collisions of course, otherwise it would be way too chaotic, but the fun here is to see how everyone is doing. People overshooting a jump. People went to other directions while others following them blindly. People just driving in circles when the countdown to the end of the session is just seconds to go. No chat options though, but you can ‘ping’ when a certain event happens. Just started a new track? Ping to wish good luck to all. A person just joined in? Ping to say hello. Session about to end? Ping to wish GG to all. It’s not much, but at least there’s some way to communicate.
While a lot of what made online racing interesting has gone, it’s still a solid experience. Placing high in each session nets you some experience to level up. Yes, there’s an online rank/level as well. Worth nothing is that online experience nets heavily when it comes to the online leaderboards. Sadly, there’s no way to see the full leaderboards in-game. You need to visit an external website- which they do show the link in the main menu, but even then on the website there are enough information to make it a useful resource. No way to see the map rankings and times, for instance. A more in-depth leaderboards system would encourage people to climb the ranks and play more competitively. Trackmania is an e-sport, if you don’t know.
So at a glance, the gameplay’s solid, but the online experience could have been better. But thankfully, the servers are running and I have yet to see them needing to take it down for maintenance too much.
Content & Longevity
In terms of content, it’s plentiful. 200 official campaign tracks may not seem much, but it takes a around 7 hours to finish 40-50 of them, and they ramp up the difficulty for each track, so it will take a while. Plus the last 40 tracks needed all the previous 160 tracks to be finished with gold to be unlocked (good thing there’s a joker function that lets you get a medal higher of what you have been getting over and over). Also, you can bring a friend and play the campaign in co-op. Wait, a co-op racing mode? Yes, there’s a Double Driver mode where you can have two drivers driving one car, and the car takes a medium of both your inputs.
Then there’s Arcade mode, where you can just play all the campaign tracks (all unlocked), custom tracks made by you or other players, or play a randomly generated one. And this can be also played in local multiplayer as well. There’s splitscreen mode up to 4 players. Or just share the one screen and play it like Micro Machines, with collision turned on. You can do stunt runs, where you can jump by flicking the right stick, spin and rotate while in mid-air and gain boost ala SSX. There’s Smash, where you have to constantly mash the gas pedal- now on the square button- to keep accelerating. Have only one controller? You can play by hotseat, passing the controllers around.
Best of all, all of the modes mentioned can be mixed and match as well. Hotseat Double Driver Stunt? Sure. Monoscreen Smash? Check. There’s one caveat though: These modes are hidden in a secret menu. Hitting the secret button then allows you to input a combination of three face buttons that will result in a combination of said modes.
Also, lastly there’s the track builder. As mentioned, you can let the game randomly generate one based on a few presets, or opt for the three different modes- beginner, normal and advanced. Each tier of mode gives more and more tools to mess around, with the advanced mode allowing you to morph and shape the terrain. It’s very in-depth and you could see how the community have done with it online. Judging by the current variety of crazy tracks, there’s gong to be a lot in the future. Also, the tracks can be categorised into many fixed categories, most of them fit with what the community has made, like fullspeed tracks (don’t pull the gas at all), and full throttle (the push forward maps, just hit the gas and enjoy the ride!).
There’s also some collectibles to unlock by performing well, which opens up new paint customisation options. There’s also talks of a VR feature in the works, but no word on when it’ll eventually come at the moment.
Verdict- Trackmania Turbo
So is Trackmania Turbo worth picking up? It depends on what kind of a player you are. Trackmania vets may be bummed out with losing the custom servers, and three of the tilesets are not entirely new (they appear in Trackmania 2). It may not be worth it picking up at full price as you’re not getting anything huge or game-changing from this.
But more casual fans and those just recently heard of the series, it’s a decent time trial-based racing game all in all. But if you get a kick in mastering the nuances of each track and have some friends who come over often to enjoy some multiplayer action, this would fit your alley. The easy to pick up and hard to master hook of Trackmania Turbo is strong, and the new presentation is a welcome change.
Plus, it’s a budget release. That’s always a good thing to support.
Trackmania Turbo is available on PS4, Xbox One, and the PC. Review is based on the PS4 version bought digitally by the reviewer.
Easy to pick up, hard to master
In-depth track builder
Plenitude of local multiplayer modes
More polished and vibrant presentation
Custom servers (on PC) are not a thing anymore
Only one brand new theme/tileset
Online leaderboards lack features