TrackMania. A racing game famous for its community and thousands of user created tracks. The game spawned numerous sequels and it's even mentioned in the Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition. The series just keeps growing and we got our hands on the latest installment, TrackMania 2 Stadium. The basis of the game hasn't changed so is the latest really the greatest? Let's find out.
TrackMania 2 is a racing game in it's purest form; pick a car, a track and race. There is no story, no cut-scenes or anything like that, just you and your car. The game relies on wacky tracks and gravity-defying racing lines as you race to the finish. The controls are fluent and you feel right at home, especially when using a gamepad. The game worked great even with a budget gamepad, which is a plus. There's also a simple physics engine in the game which adds some realism to the game without spoiling the fun of driving on the edge.
The tracks offer various surfaces which include basic tarmac with great grip, rough dirt which requires good driving lines and wet grass that makes your car spin like crazy for example. Some tracks also shuffle these surfaces together creating some interesting situations; sliding sideways on a wet grass patch into clean tarmac is always exhilarating. The tracks come in two different flavors; checkpoint and lap races, each with a set number of AI players. There is no collision detection between the cars in the game and the opponents are shown only as ghosts. The base cars in the game are identical, only the livery is different. The livery depends on the country you've chosen and it can be freely customized. This makes sense since the game is meant to be played against the clock, trying to beat other players' times.
Even though the game is meant to be played online as a competitive game and on user created tracks, there is a singleplayer game mode available. The solo play lets you choose a difficulty, each with multiple different tracks. You unlock more tracks by getting medals on the previous tracks (each medal has a different time which you have to beat). The first few tracks are easy to unlock (you only need a bronze medal) but in order to take part in the hardest races, you need to have a gold medal on each of the previous tracks. Not an easy task and it requires complete knowledge of the tracks, lightning fast reflexes and a lot of luck. Needless to say that perfectionists will spend days honing their skills trying to master the singleplayer.
The multiplayer portion has multiple different game modes; Rounds (you win by getting the most points), Time Attack, Team (same as Rounds but with teams), Laps (this one's pretty obvious, eh?), Cup (for those all-night gaming sessions with friends), Stunts and Script (when the base modes just aren't enough; you can create your own set of rules). There are enough game modes to satisfy even the most competitive gamer. For those who don't have a decent internet connection the game offers local multiplayer. You can play in either Hot Seat, Split Screen or over LAN. Split Screen proved to be very enjoyable when played with two controllers from a big monitor.
And now for the part that makes the game what it really is; modding, editing and the community. There is a track editor included that allows you to create (surprise, surprise) your own tracks. The editor has two interfaces; simple and advanced. With the simple interface you can easily create basic tracks without too much trouble. Once you get the hang of the simple interface (which shouldn't take too long) you can unleash the inner track designer within you with the advanced interface which allows you to do practically anything; you can even import your own 3D models and textures. Same goes with the cars; they can all be modified to your heart's content.
The community around the game is based off a service called ManiaPlanet. This service can easily be accessed in-game and has thousands and thousands of user created content; cars, tracks, new rules, you name it. Need a Lada 1200 in your game? Trust me, someone has already created it. The possibilities are almost limitless. You can of course upload your own masterpieces there for others to enjoy. The game also has full Steam Workshop support but the ManiaPlanet interface works so good that it's hardly needed.
Since the game can be modified in almost any way, we'll stick with reviewing the stock sounds and graphics. The car sounds in the game are rather watered-down but still good enough to tell your brain that you're driving a race car. The music sounds good but when you're zipping through a high-speed track with loads of obstacles you really don't have the time to enjoy it. The graphics on the other hand are quite impressive, yet maybe a bit too mild; there are no modern effects or filters but it doesn't really need them either. The game has enough graphical options to make it run even on a netbook. The minimum requirements make you wonder 'was this game really released THIS year?'. With a 1.5GHz CPU, 1GB RAM and a 256MB GPU with Pixel Shader 2.0 support you can get this baby up and running (and yes, it works with Windows XP).
TrackMania 2 Stadium is an enjoyable arcade racer with heavy emphasis on the online community. With more and more content uploaded each day, the game is practically never over. For players who don't really care for such things the game has little to offer. But for a low price of just 10€ ($13/£8) you get a treasure chest filled with content. Great physics and gameplay, awesome community and low requirements ensure this game is highly recommended and a must buy to anyone who enjoys creating their own content.