Sometimes I hate being a PC gamer. Battlefield is the usual culprit - trudging through its server listings, finding decently populated servers, struggling with patches, having my daily battle with PunkBuster.
Which is why (after a bizarrely hassle-free StarForce installation), I was gobsmacked, thunderstruck and 'Cor Blimey, Mister!'-ed to find myself playing online on a downloaded map within a single solitary minute of booting up TrackMania: United. For speed, intelligence, community-thinking and sheer effortless design, Nadeo have pretty much trumped the online systems of every game I've ever played. Mr Steam, Mr EA Downloader - the French have effortlessly bettered you.
In United, you get a daily allowance of coppers, alongside those that you earn, to spend on tracks and car skins within the community - all of which can be accessed through the game's interface rather than on the traditional gallic websites. Not only this, but every single-player track you race on comes coupled with the top times that other TrackManiacs have recorded - as well as access to downloadable replays if you want to steal their race tactics. The thing's a bloody marvel.
Even more ingeniously, each player is slotted within country and regional borders - meaning that finding a UK-only server is a breeze, and that as of right now I can confidently inform you that I'm the tenth best TrackMania racer in London. Something that perhaps won't last come the game's release - but should be something to tell
the grandkids nevertheless.
Behind this superb new fašade lies the same game as ever - here spanning every game mode and every setting previously touched by Nadeo in their repeatedly successful quest to make French people not say "Bof..." and shrug, but instead twirl their little moustaches and say: "Hon-hi-hon-hi-hon" in a pleasant manner.
Race (zoomy, jumpy, against the clock), Puzzle (construct a track, connect the checkpoints, race and cheat) and Platform (adventure playgrounds for cars) are run
riot through by various cars, from high-powered, skyscraper-leaping jet cars to dirt-rally-cars and slidey, ice track trucks. I'm not going to lie though: the fast cars with the loopy, jumpy tracks are the best of the bunch.
Problems? The cinematic camera that kicks in on the more epic jumps and ramps can completely wreck your race mojo - but, in all fairness, does look pretty cool.
The track difficulty, meanwhile, has been toned down from Sunrise et al (which was anything but noob-friendly), but the game still revels in making your life difficult with tricky landings and occasional slips in signposting. Hasty restarts are, however,
as much part of the game as blinking out sweaty tears in a lengthy session. The main problem, however, is that there's no way on god's green earth that you'll be anywhere near as good as those on the leaderboard.
Put simply, this is the best package of one of the best semi-underground games available. And I normally hate banging on about graphics - but the stark beauty of TM should be clear to one and all. Every time I shut my eyes I see those shimmering blue skies and blinding flashes of colour - and, yes kids, that's because it's been burnt into my retinas. TrackMania United is officially, totally great.
Another maniac funday
- Fiercely addictive
- Super online community system
- Effortlessly easy on the eye
- Just... One... More... Go
- Some modes better than others
- More time trials than proper racing