Seconds don’t count. A second is an eternity. It’s the ticks in the middle that make the difference. Every corner in TrackMania, every slight twitch of the controls, can potentially drop a perfect run into a searing abyss of failure and humiliation, leaving you tearing off your clothes, smearing the blood of a freshly killed sacrificial hamster across your chest, and leaping out in front of traffic in penitence for your crime. Or maybe that’s just us.
Anyway. TrackMania United Forever is a free update and the re-release name for ordinary TrackMania United, adding a few things like 3D glasses support, updated graphics for the original tracks, and playing against TrackMania Nations players. Ultimately, it’s the same game. Why cover it now? Put simply, it’s great fun, and not enough people have played it.
Assuming you haven’t, here’s the important bit: it’s not really a racing game. It looks like one, and it plays like one. But it’s a high-score table with a racer attached. Courses tend to be short, in many cases offering only a minute or two of action, played properly. The more medals you accumulate, the more tracks you unlock, but unlocking them isn’t the point. Mastering them is. The computer will happily provide a couple of ghost cars to race against - your own performance and a pre-recorded demo of how you should be playing - but the real challenge comes from trying to beat other human players, both worldwide and in your local area, online and off, shaving those few extra milliseconds off your time to be... drumroll... the best.
In addition to vanilla racing, you get three more gimmicky modes. In Stunt, impossible courses stretch high into the air and reward you not for making it through, but for making it through within a number of lives. Puzzle is a hybrid of map-builder and racer, challenging you to complete and race a half-finished course. Platform is a borderline satanic mix of deadly ramps and ‘freewheeling’ sections you have to navigate without the benefit of an engine. There’s also a LEGO-style editor for making your own sadistic, stunt-filled maps, and a car painting mode.
In every case, it’s the push for perfection that drives the action. You’ve got to want to not only unlock maps, but be better than the 268th best player in the country. Without that, the racing isn’t anything special, and if you’re accustomed to playing more complicated racers, the cars may as well be bumper cars. With action this fast, furious, and at least one of that movie’s terrible sequels, you’re not going to care for long.
May 27, 2008