TrackMania United Preview - 09/02/2007

TrackMania United is the latest game in the hugely popular racing series. It seems a lot like a Hot Wheels game, instantly accessible, full of pick up and play action, and complete with all the thrills and spills of a Formula One pileup.

Developed by the relatively new studio Nadeo, the key with United is the merging of virtually every facet of the game with online and multiplayer gameplay. Through the single player, you choose a vehicle and race through the huge selection of tracks on offer, either racing, solving a puzzle, or platformer. You then get to see your times associated with everyone else in the world, and of course, you can make tracks with the built in race editor, or download other people’s.

The control of the game is so easy, it feels really responsive, and you can tell it has been designed with a keyboard firmly in mind. Even with tight corners and difficult jumps, you always feel completely in control of the vehicle and can never blame anyone except yourself for going off the track. However, as the courses get harder and harder in the single player game, or basically more and more complicated, you do begin to get frustrated with the game. While this is only from our personal experience with a preview build of the game, some of the courses are a bit frustrating. Often there are no barriers where you would expect them to be, and you can go completely off track only to find that there is no way back on except to turn round and go back the way you came.

Due to the controls and locations of the early tracks, you often feel like you’re racing miniature vehicles, but as you use some of the more sporty vehicles and travel to the exotic locations, everything becomes much more enjoyable and feels more real.

The graphics actually really surprised me, they blend really well but because everything about the game is so simple, it runs like a dream, and makes the flashy effects and lighting look even prettier when you’re racing along. The sense of speed is also superbly transmitted, with none of the over the top blur that most next-gen racers rely on. The crisp, yet smooth nature and clean cut colours, all in brilliant high definition able to push even the best graphics cards while running beautifully at the lower end, make for some truly memorable and atmospherically tense races.

While a lot of the content on offer is essentially taken from the first two games, most of it has been tarted up suitably to feel different and fresh. The huge looping roads, jumps, crossroads, and background scenery still make for some intense races, and while you can’t make contact with other cars, even in multiplayer, it just means you have to push even harder on that last straight, rather than fishtailing the enemy at the first opportunity. You really don’t miss the contact once it’s gone.

All the online stuff worked really well from this end, and it’s integrated so well into a beautiful menu system, which although is a little fiddly with a keyboard, works well otherwise. Sharing cars (you can customise vehicles in a paint shop) and tracks with other gamers works like a dream, and it actually feels more like a Xbox 360 game than a PC one, simply because of the way it’s all combined as one. Whenever you’re racing you are connected to the online world, and any mistake you make offline can harm your time and affect your online ranking. It also means that when you’re just mucking about in ‘single player’ time trials, you may beat your record, and rather than cursing that you hadn’t been connected or been racing in a multiplayer game, your time is automatically stored and uploaded to the world wide web, for all to see and marvel at. These are also separated into location, as well as under a wide range of other aspects of play, and can be seen online on the game’s website and fanbases, much like with EA’s online Xbox 360 and PC titles, although expect it to be significantly more reliable and easier to use.

Some of the user created tracks are insane, with series’ of almost impossible jumps that may take fifty goes to nail. Still, with all the frustration of flying off the course comes the sheer adulation that you get from finishing the hardest race, and shaving two hundredths of a second off your time.

If you love racing games, toy cars, Micro Machines, Flat Out, pretty much any arcade racer, then you should certainly consider TrackMania United when it launches over here on the 16th of March. Get your friends on board, and you’re bound to have online, peer-to-peer fun not even rivalled by the Xbox 360’s friends system and interactivity. Certainly one to watch, we’ll bring you more on the game nearer release, but for now, it seems that while it doesn’t do much different, TrackMania is branching in new directions, and the new frontend is almost certain to attract all manner of PC gamers to the wheel.



Ascaron/93 Games