If you read Chrisí review of Trackmania 2 Stadium last week then youíll know that the second instalment of the wacky Trackmania series is split up into three parts. Canyon released back in 2011, Stadium came nearly two years later, and now Valley blasts onto the scene, err, two weeks after the release of Stadium. It brings a new car and new environments to race in, but if you havenít been drawn in by any of the Trackmania games by this point, then there is nothing here that will entice you either.
Itís not as if French developer Nadeo is immune to criticism, itís just that no one seems to care. An odd release schedule is just another thing to add to the seriesí awful user interfaces and overly complicated track editors. The general response from people who enjoy the games is: ďSo what? Itís Trackmania!Ē. And I tend to agree.
For a beginner the game is really hard to understand at first, but once you get there it all just becomes part of the charm. Not a lot of people play Trackmania compared to other racing games, and even fewer are playing Valley than Stadium at the moment. As such, you feel part of a fun, intimate little club when you start seeing familiar names online. I am not particularly good at the game, but I am already into the top one thousand players in Europe. If you are looking for plenty of opponents, then Stadium is the way to go right now.
If you are new to the Trackmania experience, then Valley might be the hardest one of the three to drop into. Each game has a different car, and Valleyís is certainly the toughest to get used to. The car here is nowhere near as quick as the other two, so you would be forgiven for thinking that it would be easier to control. The opposite is true however, as the vehicle is a lot less grippy than its counterparts. Having spent the previous week playing Stadium, making the switch to Valleyís car was tricky. This is a good thing however, as it shows that the handling models across the three games are indeed markedly different. For games that donít seem to change much between each iteration, it is nice to see that you will be rewarded with a different experience if you splash the cash on each of them.
It is a lot easier to drift this car when tapping the brake. More often than not, this will cause you to lose a lot of time. In a game which is all about shaving hundredths, or even thousandths of seconds off your time, even a slight mistake counts. Drifting here usually sends you flying sideways, meaning you will have to spend precious time getting back up to speed. This lack of control is compounded in sections where you take to the dirt rather than the road. The environments in Valley draw more parallels with those found in Canyon than in Stadium. The majority of Stadium took place in man-made arenas on proper roads. Most of the tracks in Valley will spend at least some time off road, and this is where handling takes a turn for the worse. Anything but the deftest of touches will send you off course on dirt. It does add a slightly different game mechanic, but there is a lack of precision here that makes it frustrating.
If you take your quest for the fastest time out of the equation for a second though, it is quite fun in a way that only a Trackmania game can be. I imagine Nadeo has a gameplay slider marked ďPhysicsĒ on its games, and here the slider is turned all the way up to ďWackyĒ. Since the cars are slightly harder to handle, the start of races usually sees cars flying off in all directions at the first corner. The lack of car collision just makes it all the more hilarious. The damage modelling on cars is better than in Stadium, but remains only cosmetic. Sitting back at the start line and watching the carnage in front of you unfold as vehicles pirouette through the air off barriers is a sight to behold. Overall the graphics still look really nice, but no better than any of the other games in the series. The music is generally determined by whoever owns the server you are playing on, so is a mixed bag.
Of course, there are single player tracks, but I only played a handful of them for due diligence. Fans know that multiplayer is pretty much the only option here. Driving well earns you Ladder Points, and there is nothing better than seeing your ranking across the region increase. Short tracks and instant restarts just add to the overall feeling of ďjust one more levelĒ. You can just as easily spend five minutes as five hours playing, and you always feel like you are getting better. There are hundreds of user made tracks, but the best ones come around more often. Each time you play a familiar map, you will constantly be looking for ways to improve your time. Taking that ramp at a slightly different angle, or trying to cut that corner slightly. It almost becomes more like a puzzle game than a racing game, with you analysing each track piece to see how to squeeze every fraction of a second out of it. If you are good enough, your best times will be stored on the server for everyone to see. Even if you arenít good enough though, it still feels great when you are beating your own times.
Nothing like it
I love the Trackmania games, but they are a hard sell to the uninitiated. Other games have better car handling, a story, more variety and meaningful progression. But there isnít another game quite like it, as none strike that balance between intricacy and flat out craziness that Trackmania hits. I donít think Valley is the strongest of the three games which make up Trackmania 2 but you will still have fun if you play it. I certainly did, and will continue to do so. Now, if youíll let me, Iím going to go and conquer that wall ride thatís been bugging me.
A new car to drive and new environments to race in.
Nothing to bring in new players. UI and track editor remain clunky.