by William Thompson
previewed on PC
Not all about the racing
The Trackmania series of games have always been about two things, crazy track designs and all-out-fun racing. We were luckily enough to be given access to the multiplayer beta of Trackmania 2 Canyon, the first of what is said to be a series of Trackmania releases. The first title is set, as the name implies, in a desert canyon and fans of the series will be happy to know that the latest instalment follows of the same philosophy as earlier games Ė and is all about fun racing with some track designing thrown in.
Although there are many Trackmania fans that will love the design aspect, many gamers will be playing purely for the racing portion. And for these gamers, getting into a race would be their highest priority. And the team at Nadeo have done an amazing job of making it extremely easy to navigate their way into a race. There are heaps of servers available with a massive array of tracks to race on. Getting to a race is just a matter of joining one of the servers and waiting for the race to load up.
The Fast and the Furious
Once at a race, expect the racing to be fast and furious. Races are actually time-trial type sprints that require gamers to complete the track in the quickest time within the allotted time, usually around six minutes. This means that, typically youíll get a number of attempts at a track before moving on to the next. This sort of system keeps the game fresh, not allowing gamers to get bored with one track for too long.
The tracks available are heaps of fun, although some will take a few attempts at figuring out which direction to go in the crazy circuits. Tracks have all the hallmarks of earlier Trackmania titles, complete with 360 degree loops, huge jumps, curved wall, roads and fast corners. On a few occasions though, I was left in a dead end or was completing invalid laps, due to taking what I found to be a short-cut. With these outrageous tracks, it is often better to sit back and follow the experienced racers for a few laps before going all out for your own lap record. The only problem with this strategy is that by the time you get acclimatised to the track, the time limit will have you moving on to the next. Possibly a longer time limit for longer tracks could be considered.
There is certainly no lack of experienced competition in the game. There is said to be up to 200 racers on a single track at once. Although I have barely seen above 30 in any of the races I have played, this may be due to the fact that the Australian time zone doesnít really fit in with the rest of the world. Even so, racing can get hectic enough with just that small number of competitor.
Despite the considerably large number of racers online at once, I have experienced little or no lag at all in races. The game runs fluidly and without any perceived frame rate issues. The visuals are clear and crisp, within the canyon landscape. The multiple camera angles mean that there will be a view for everyone. The behind car view was by far my preferred view, but I enjoyed the front-of car view, which with Trackmania 2 Canyon, runs with a roller coaster speed. The controls are simple too, with just the arrow keys required to race. Getting used to when to brake, when to drift, or simply when to slow down takes a bit more practice though. Getting it right through the entire course can be extremely rewarding.
Vehicles take what appears to be realistic looking damage, although the handling and speed donít really seem to be all that affected by a loss of a bonnet, mirrors, or half a wheel. So, the realism isnít entirely the selling point for Trackmania 2 Canyon. Indeed, you canít even smash into opposing drivers vehicles. Instead, you simply drive through them as if youíre time trialling against a ghost car. This does cause a minor issue at the start of races when all cars are taking off at once. With a large number of competitors vying to get the best start possible, they all sort of blur together and the visuals can seem a little jerky, even though they are not. I found the best thing to do though, was to let the others off and then quickly restart your own race.
Accompanying the races are some great fitting tunes. The mostly electronica compositions work really well with the style of racing and help to get gamers pumped for the race. The other sound effects do a standard job for a racing title, with the standard engine sounds and the oft-heard (well, with my driving) sounds of car damage and screeching tyres.
If youíre into the track designing, Trackmania 2 Canyon makes it simple enough for newcomers to design basic tracks, but has enough variations in track configurations to enable experienced designers to construct a masterpiece. Designing works like putting together a model train set, choosing the pieces before placing them together. Once the track is complete, a flyover or drive through can be carried out to see your finished product.
On your marksÖGo
With the racing being so much fun in this multiplayer beta, Iím really looking forward to the finished product. If the single player is anywhere near as enjoyable, then racing fans are in for a treat. Those who are keen on the designing aspect will certainly have some fun with the ability to imagine some outrageous tracks for everyone to have a crack at. Those who pre-order Trackmania 2 Canyon prior to release on September 14, will have early access to the multiplayer beta. So, if youíre excited by some not-so-realistic driving pleasure, you could do worse than get in early and enjoy the fun.