When did racing get so serious? TrackMania 2: Stadium is set to bring back the insane racers of old.
By Jamie Dalzell on March 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm
For videogaming eons the thirst for speed has been an insatiable goal, turning fingers blistered and wearing away analogue sticks at the trunks like some primitive lumberjack. Nintendo’s plumber may have a preoccupation with saving princesses, but it wasn’t long before he was climbing into a heavily armed kart to duel it out for four-wheeled supremacy. Playstation eras come and gone have played host to Gran Turismo and Polyphony’s obsession with the intricacies of tyres, during which time Forza both started and finished its multi-lap race to console racer victory.
And yet amidst it all, these old racers — if the forward-thinking developer is to be believed — are nothing more than racing duds. “Look to the future!” they say, pointing towards a technological age of authentically rendered car-seat leather and the inevitable pre-order exclusive new car smell, pumped into the rooms of every would-be race car driver.
When’d it all become so serious?
Trials and its many brethren have answered the disgruntled time-trial racer’s calls for pin-point finger masochism in the interim — almost-racers in disguise — while cars have waged virtual road wars against one another in needless battle, but now, finally, the time-trial king has returned to reclaim his throne. Trackmania, it’s been too long.
If other racing games are highly trained linguists, Trackmania has always been a plain-talking, dubstep-backed commoner standing amidst the fluro lights of its multiplayer mayhem. The Trackmania difference has always been a small change to long-held mottos. Must go faster? No — must go smarter.
Trackmania 2: Stadium is a return to the series’ nostalgic roots — the most popular and defining of its environments from its free-to-play days — and while there is little difference to be found from surface observations, the corner-shaving perfection of a Trackmania course is still just as infectious. It’s shinier, of course — as most sequels are meant to be — boasting an expanded editor and integration within Nadeo’s borderline-insane communal network that’s as confusing as it is endearing, and after its previous, somewhat bemoaned flirtation with the life of a race car drifter in TM2 Canyon, this new F1-but-not-F1 stable of vehicles are refreshingly controllable.
Low to the ground and built for precision: Trackmania’s true calling.
At the same time multiplayer is still the throbbing, pulsating nightclub of an arena as it’s ever been, with wild tracks as wild as the custom soundtracks blaring anything from hip-hop to rap, while confused drivers try and find the secret finish line that would bump them to the top of the leaderboard. For all the thrills of its multiplayer, beneath the bass, Trackmania has always been, and still is, a finger-ninja’s go-to time trial hotspot. A simplicity that flies in face of over complication and belies its masochist core of repeated retries numbering in the hundreds.
Its beta is more early-access than a bug or stress test — at the moment it’s basically feature complete and performance stable — and while familiar, perhaps at times overly-familiar, it’s a reminder that there are racers out there still willing to hedge their bets on precision simplicity. The glint of the shinier hood, the rising, or setting, sun over the stadium’s awnings – they’re all well and good – but Trackmania’s back on its game, and that’s all that matters here.