There’s not many racing games that will dangle you from a helicopter before dropping you down onto a ramp and sending you on your merry way. TrackMania Turbo is in a pretty exclusive club in that regard, and this way that it starts so many of the 200 tracks in the game and its arcade style time trails just sit perfectly with the bright and colourful world through which you’ll be racing.
Even the Canyon environment, with its otherwise dusty reddish-brown cliffs that are so reminiscent of Monument Valley, is gorgeously lit by the sun and features huge signs, LED screens, blimps, helicopters and more. There’s a good contrast to the green grass, fields and gravel tracks of the Valley, the tropical Rollercoaster Lagoon and its ludicrous rollercoasters, or the neon infused International Stadium. It doesn’t matter where you’re racing, TrackMania is gorgeous.
Each location features a slightly different style of driving and demands on the player as well. You’d expect the dirt racing of Valley to be slippy, but the car is a lot grippier on roads compared to that of Canyon, which you can happily send into wide, sweeping drifts. The tight barriers of the rollercoasters are a particular challenge in Lagoon, needing you to make sharp and precise adjustments even as the track twists and turns away from you in all manner of directions, and that contrasts with the wider tracks that you’ll tend to find in Stadium. Jumping back and forth can be a little tricky, but TrackMania lives by the mantra of being easy to learn but difficult to master.
That plays perfectly with the compulsive nature of the game’s time attacks. Even in the easiest of the five difficulty levels, there are a few tracks and gold medal times that can be tricky to best. There’s a little bit of common ground with another Ubisoft published series, Trials, in that getting to the end of a track is usually doable, but every little mistake that you make along the way will cost you precious time. The instant restart that lives on the circle button will be your friend, as you never get past the first 20 seconds of any of the game’s music tracks and worry about whether your trigger finger is going to go numb.
However, it’s not just your own compulsion forcing you to perfect each track, the game’s progression demands it. You unlock tracks in blocks of ten, going through each of the environments in turn at a given difficulty level, however to unlock the second set of tracks you need to have ten bronze medals. That’s simple enough, but the middle difficulty Blue Series then demands that you have silver medals for all the previous tracks, before the most difficult Black Series requires all gold medals. That’s all before you have to consider the Trackmaster medals…
The game does let you skip tracks with a joker system, if you fail to beat it three times, but this feels like an archaic workaround. Other games have gradual unlocks as well, but taking Driveclub as an example, you don’t need all 18 stars from the first six events in order to unlock the first championship. That gives you a feeling of being free to play the game how you want, but TrackMania made me feel like I have to beat that time or have the need to do so hanging over me later on.
It also means that you can’t really explore all that the game has to offer. There’s some astonishing set piece design, whether it’s a huge leap off a cliff that requires precision down to the degree, gravity defying loop-the-loops, abstract ramps and driving along walls. Nadeo have done a really nice job of keeping thing mixed up and interesting, with some devilish layouts that almost feel like puzzles to solve.
Chasing down a time, nailing an apex and coming out of a corner ahead of the ghost is core to the game’s appeal, but there’s several ways to get that particular fix. Naturally, there’s the single player’s ghosts, but you can also pit yourself against the times of your friends in the Record Centre or create and take part in specifically created Challenges, which can span several tracks.
You can also head online for the game’s quite ludicrous 100 player multiplayer mode. You simply browse a room, find a room with space that you like the look of and hop in – these are all player created rooms with bespoke tracklists hosted on dedicated servers. Nothing really prepares you for the sheer madness that is trying to race against 100 other ghosts all at the same time. As the round’s 5 minute window starts, you can barely see the track for all of the ghost cars, but it quickly calms down as people fluff their lines and restart. There’s an added satisfaction to knowing that you’re beating these people in real time, or the dismay at seeing how fast someone passed you out of a corner.
It can be just as manic in local multiplayer, but for very different reasons. This is much more of a party game, with a comprehensive set of options available to you. You can play with four player splitscreen, pass the pad in hotseat, simply set times on an arcade leaderboard, but there’s also a “secret modes” menu item. There’s a logic to it that you can figure out, or you can simply mash some of the face buttons and it will spew out game modes for you to play. There’s the possibility of collisions, simple Mario Kart-like pick ups, Micro Machines-styled single screen nonsense, and combinations of all of these.
Another unique trick that TrackMania has up its sleeves is the Double Driver mode, with two players given 50% control over every input of the car. If you both steer in opposite directions, then you go straight, but the mode engenders communication and cooperation to try and take on whatever fiendish track lies ahead of you. It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds because you’re both most likely to be giving the game similar inputs, but it’s still a lot of fun.
And there’s a potentially infinite number of tracks for you to play on as well, thanks to the Trackbuilder. On the simplest level, you can let the game generate a track for you at random, approve it and get racing, but you also have three levels of tools to let you create your own masterpiece. The beginner and normal toolsets are fairly basic, but they let you quickly bolt together your own track in a fairly intuitive fashion. The advanced tools are much more intimidating and confusing to start off with, thanks to the twin radial menus that are introduced for item selection, but once you get the hang of them, it seems as though you’ll be able to create tracks every bit as complex and mindboggling as those created by Nadeo.
Unfortunately, though you can share these online for others to play, there’s no user created track browser in game. It’s a huge oversight to send you to an oddly minimalist website – https://players.turbo.trackmania.com – and have you log in to add tracks to your favourites list. Other parts of the game, such as finding and racing against a friend’s ghost, can also feel quite obtuse, and online room load times were disappointingly slow, even if some of this can be chalked up to pre-release servers during the game’s open beta.
Some parts of the TrackMania Turbo’s structure feel restrictive or poorly thought out, but there’s little to detract from the compulsive time attacks, the outlandish track design and the gorgeously vibrant graphics.
Version tested: PlayStation 4