Reviewed: May 17, 2005
Released: May 6, 2005
Almost a year ago Nadeo released one of the best-kept secrets in the racing genre. TrackMania was a fun arcade racer that offered wild stunts, crazy racing, and extreme action, all with gorgeous visuals that you wouldn’t expect from what most regarded as a ‘budget game”.
As the release date for TrackMania Sunrise got close I started getting screenshots from the developer and I have to admit I was skeptical. These had to be doctored or pre-rendered or something, but after several weeks of playing the final game I’m here to tell you that this game is unrivaled in the racing genre for both visuals and arcade racing.
Once again, we have Enlight Software to thank for bringing this French title to U.S. shores and hopefully I can bring it to the attention of gamers who would otherwise not even know about its existence. Unlike the AAA titles, you won’t see huge ad campaigns or magazine ads. You might not even see it on a lot of software shelves, which is sad because this is one fine game.
TrackMania Sunrise combines everything you loved about the first and adding all new ultra-realistic graphics, more race modes, and tweaked online gameplay, you can build your own tracks or race on the numerous ones provided that will take you through three exciting environments at various times of day and night. Choose from a wide variety of cars and paint them to your own personal tastes.
Despite this title’s emphasis on track design there is a substantial game with multiple modes awaiting the casual arcade racing fan. Yes, this is arcade racing so leave your steering wheels and pedals under the desk and break out that gamepad. You can probably muddle your way through this game with a keyboard but a nice analog gamepad works wonderfully.
There are three fantastic environments to race in. The Island offers top speeds for high performance cars while the Coast offers more realism with tricky curves, massive jumps, and cliffside switchbacks requiring perfect turns and powerslides. The Bay offers an almost-Tony Hawk feel with lots of urban sprawl, natural environments, curved ramps, transfers, and crazy courses across building rooftops.
Make no mistake about it – this is an arcade racer and while Nadeo has improved the physics and handling the game still has a distinct arcade feel to it. The cars have more weight but you will still make jumps that defy logic and gravity, but that is all part of the race and learn mentality of the design. You need to memorize tracks, plan your best path, and hit that perfect speed for each track challenge.
Solo gamers will want to tackle the Campaigns where you can try to break records, earn medals, and collect “Coppers”. As you complete each race in a series the next event unlocks. You can race each event as often as you like, trying for better medals and more prize money. The included tracks get increasingly more challenging the deeper into the game, and you will need to watch your speed on critical jumps and maintain straight racing lines on elevated tracks with no barriers where one slip can knock you out of the race.
Cup Challenges are the ultimate test of endurance and require you to win ALL the events in each series of the Race and Platform modes during a single non-stop session of gaming. You cannot save and you cannot lose or you start over from the beginning. Winning Cups will earn you huge cash rewards, that you can spend in the track editor later on.
The new Crazy Challenge mode is a series of insane stunt courses that have a dozen drivers all competing for the best times across some of the most inventive and bizarre tracks you will ever race on. Your goal is to eliminate the rest of the competition by doing better than them. As each car is eliminated the car that beat it is added to your team. You earn a new medal each time you beat a third of the opponents.
Puzzle mode is quite clever and actually makes a game out of the track editor. You are given the start and finish lines and a selection of track pieces and you must connect the two ends using only those pieces available to you. There are multiple solutions to each track puzzle and once you complete the track you get to race on it. The trick is that in order to get the “best time” on a puzzle track you have to create the optimum route and drive like a pro.
Creating your own tracks is wickedly addicting and totally fun. The track editor couldn’t be easier with an intuitive interface that allows you to pan and rotate the screen and lay down sections of track. Anyone with any experience in the “roller coaster construction set” genre will feel right at home here. There are also plenty of unique track pieces (more than 2000) that you can purchase from TrackMania shop using your prize money (coppers), and some of the very rare pieces must be unlocked in the Puzzle mode.
TrackMania offers multiplayer support for up to 8 players either by taking turns (hot seat) on a single PC or playing on a LAN or over the Internet. There are Round, Time Attack, Laps, and Team race modes to choose from. You can also share your track designs and create custom challenges and share those as well. I’ve been playing the import version for a few weeks prior to the release here in the States and there is already a thriving online community that will only get better as more U.S. gamers learn about this game.
The game uses its own online interface, which works quite nicely in setting up or joining other games as well as defining your race options, downloading new content, and even maintaining a buddy list. It’s no GameSpy but it gets the job done.
The track editor is one of the big selling points for this title and Nadeo has made several improvements making it that much easier to create the track of your dreams and the nightmares of your opponents. The new camera allows for precise panning and zooming around your construction site so you can see how everything is coming together from all possible angles. The previous game only allowed you to build with the keyboard, which was problematic at best. We now get full mouse support for much smoother builds.
The screenshots don’t lie. If anything, they don’t tell the whole story because this game looks even better in motion. The only real limitation to the game design is that there are only three environments, but they do a good job of simulating night, day, and…you guessed it, sunrise, and the track designs in each environment are totally original. The draw distance is practically to the horizon, which helps you plan your path through upcoming obstacles, which in some tracks can rival a skate park.
The car models are excellent with all sorts of subtle details like a highly polished surface, working lights, and animated suspension. Regrettably, there is still no car damage. There is an excellent ghost car feature that is color-coded to match the color of the medal you are going after.
Surprisingly enough, this game can be quite demanding and bring even powerful rigs to their knees. Fortunately there are plenty of options to tweak to tailor the visual detail for your specific system, the most demanding of which seems to be the motion blur which I actually found a bit annoying anyway.
There is a good selection of music that varies in style and tempo but is always upbeat and energetic and perfectly suited for racing. You might not like it all but you enjoy most of it.
The sound effects are pretty standard and include car engines and skidding tires and that’s about it. There just isn’t that much opportunity within the game design to explore a lot of fancy or varied sounds.
I’m actually scoring the value a bit lower than the previous TrackMania game, not because there is less content – actually there is probably more and just as much potential for ongoing future content, but because of the repetitive nature of the game. Most of the content is locked and to unlock it will require hours and hour of racing the same track over and over until you shave that last 100th of a second off the clock to earn the gold. Thankfully, most races are only 2-4 minutes but when you race them 8-10 times or more each it gets a bit monotonous.
I was playing the game prior to street date and there was a steady group of fans, both in Europe and those who had imported their copy, and now that the game has released in the States that number is only growing, and along with it the number of user-created content. If you are into designing and sharing your own tracks you can find more than 200 tracks (as of this review) already available. And best of all you can play these tracks anytime without having to unlock anything, so you have something new to do when the main game has you stumped.
TrackMania Sunrise is a fantastic sequel that improves upon the original in gameplay, graphics, and overall content. If you enjoy arcade racing in short repetitive spurts then you are going to love this day at the track. There is so much to do and so many ways to play, and when you have finished those, the sandbox editor lets you create your own endless assortment of content.
The best thing about Sunrise is that it doesn’t take a huge time commitment. The load times are fast and you can keep this game on your hard drive for months and years to come and just pick up and play whenever you have some spare time. And with hundreds of people making their own quality tracks, you might never have to stop playing.