Ubisoft Nadeo is back with a revamped version of Trackmania. It's the same good ol' game that we know and love, but with some improvements and new additions that people almost certainly won't like. Now, after playing the game for several hours, I can definitely say it has the Trackmania feel to it, but is that enough to justify a return?
Trackmania has been on one screen or another for most of my gaming life. Back when the first edition was released in 2003, I spent hour upon hour trying to improve my lap times. There was a lot of frustration, but also a great sense of accomplishment when I finally beat my own high score after playing the same track for two-hours-straight. The game has always been addictive, and this has not changed in 2020. Being honest, this review would probably have been ready a few days ago had it not been for the fact that I had to re-play every track enough times to achieve a gold medal.
But that is one of the things that Trackmania gives us. Even with a limited number of official tracks at launch (50 including training tracks), there is tons of replayability as you simply have to do better every time you pick up the controller. And if I find a friend who also is trying the same thing, well that only means that I'm stuck playing for several hours longer. Trackmania gives a feeling of speed like no other; with great traction (on asphalt at least) and turbo boosts around every second corner, there's no time to sit back and relax through the courses. Your focus needs to be on the car and the track at all times if you're to find the perfect racing line and the shortcuts that help set the best possible time.
The series started off focused on asphalt racing but, over the years, it has received new updates adding gravel rally and drifting cars. You won't find drifting cars in Trackmania 2020, but gravel and grass is present, alongside a new addition: ice. The crossover between asphalt and ice is basically like heaven and hell on wheels, and it didn't take me long to realise that I much prefer the asphalt. That being said, racing on ice gives the game a new dimension, and it takes a whole different skillset to master. Yeah, like I didn't have enough problems mastering the game already...
The audio-visual side of things doesn't differ much from previous iterations. The game looks great for what it is, with a few upgrades made to the surroundings. The sounds that come from the cars help create a sense of speed in the same way the graphics do, and the music is the same as I remember from all previous Trackmania games (for me that meant Spotify was on as quickly as possible so I could listen to my favourite tunes while hunting the quickest lap times possible).
One of the most important things about the Trackmania series is the user-created content. The number of player-made tracks is the main reason that Trackmania 2 still is alive and well in the community. With Trackmania 2020 Ubisoft Nadeo has given us a few new tools in the track editor, and I can see the top creators having a lot of fun with them. Already in the week after launch, I've seen some amazing tracks made by other players, and more will be released every day. The skin editor used to decorate your car, on the other hand, is a completely different beast; it is full of bugs and difficult to handle efficiently. I still hope to see a third-party editor in the future, but for the moment it will take a lot of patience to create a good design using the tools provided.
Even if it is a lot of fun to beat your own high scores over and over again, it is even more fun to beat those of your friends. However, unless you're willing to pay full price for the game, you'll need to manually set up a google spreadsheet (or something) in order to keep track of your best times. I had access to the 'Club' version of the game, and this allowed me to create a social area, however, our friends were on the free or standard versions, so they couldn't join my club to compare times, and this is probably the most frustrating part of the game.
Ubisoft has gone in a new direction in terms of selling its game. You can get the game for free if you just want to play the standard tracks, or you can get the standard version if you want to remove ads from the game, create advanced tracks, create and save skins for our cars, or join public club rooms. However, if you want the full experience, you will need to get the Club version, which is basically a full-price game and covers you for a three-year subscription. The prices are not outrageous, but it has created a lot of discussion in the community with the suggestion being that the devs have turned to a subscription-based format.
All in all, Trackmania 2020 is a decent racing game as we know it from the good old days. Sadly, it lacks content if you don't get the Club version, and I am curious to see if this iteration will be as long-lived as its predecessors given the subscription-style format. The editors in the game are detailed but hard to master, so it takes patience to be able to create good tracks, and good car skins are even harder to craft. Then again, who plays Trackmania and doesn't have deep reserves of patience?
Even with the lack of content in the free version, it's hard for me to be too harsh on the game for not giving us everything for free, especially when I did have fun with what was there.
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