by Christopher Coke, reviewed on
A Perfect Entry Point
Trackmania, produced by the France-based Nadeo, has a long history on the PC. Since the first game released nearly a decade ago and introduced gamers to its unique blend of arcade racing and over-the-top stunts, the series has evolved exponentially while also remaining true to its roots. With eight iterations under its belt, Nadeo surprised fans by announcing the first numbered sequel, Trackmania 2, would be broken into three parts, each based on a setting: Canyon, Stadium, and Valley. Canyon brought Trackmania into the modern age with redefined visuals, tight controls, and imaginative tracks. Stadium maintains the same level of perfectionist fun but does little to earn more than its $9.99 MSRP.
For newcomers to the franchise, Trackmania2: Stadium is the perfect entry point. There is no story, no car selection, and zero attempts at simulation. Put another way, Nadeo has stripped out every contrivance to create the definitive pick-up-and-play arcade racer. Even non-gamers should find Stadium easy to enter. Players need only understand four arrow keys, backspace, and enter to control and respawn their vehicle.
Stadium features 65 single player maps and competitive online multiplayer. Tracks usually run less than a minute a run between A to B style checkpoints. Very few races are lap based but they are the exception to the rule. This creates a dynamic where each checkpoint and larger track is rooted in self-improvement. Shaving half a second from a single checkpoint can make the difference between a silver and gold ranking and climbing that extra ladder position in competitive multiplayer. There is no car collision and nothing to get in the way but one’s own skill. Stadium, like Canyon, is the embodiment of easy to play, hard to master.
Best Experienced Online
Nadeo wants Trackmania to be competitive. They want you climbing ladders and earning points. They want you to become part of their community. Taking the game online means being ranked on regional, national, and global leaderboards. Performing well earns you ladder points and “planets,” a mostly defunct RMT currency which can be donated to server operators. Online tracks boldly display top racers and announce when they have been dethroned. During races, wise players will watch and learn from competitors doing better than themselves. At the end, the top players earn ladder points to increase their ranking. Online play is rooted in forward movement. It never lingers, always pushes. Just as you review your placement, you are ushered on to the next race.
Trackmania has always been known for over the top tracks. Strangely, the best of these are almost never made by Nadeo and are instead created by the community with the built-in track editor. It is not uncommon to race hundreds of feet off the ground and soar gloriously off the edge for the smallest mistake. Even racing as designed, the experience tends towards the outlandish. The best maps often feature loop-de-loops, sheer cliff faces, curves which leave you parallel to the ground stories below. There are also speed pads which propel you forward with powerful rushes of velocity. Ramps are everywhere and usually require perfect trajectory to prevent crash landings. Vehicle damage is only cosmetic, so trying again is only a matter of hitting the retry button. Realism isn’t important in Trackmania2: Stadium, only fun, so when cars soar through the air like Hot Wheels and suffer few dents, it is easier to laugh than scowl.
Thus far, all I have described is the Trackmania experience in general. You rush through beautiful, outlandish tracks and avoid breaking at all costs. These are the foundations upon which Trackmania is built. What does Stadium itself bring to the table?
Easy to learn. Addicting racing model. Community tracks. Affordable.
Doesn’t bring much new to the table.