A spinoff from the game TrackMania Nations Forever, TrackMania 2: Stadium, the latest title in the Mania Planet series by Nadeo, is as simplistically enjoyable as it is lacklustre. Those new to the series may find that the game, although endless in difficulty potential, is somewhat repetitive to play. Fans of the series will note that the entire game happens inside the Stadium environment from Nations Forever, and will not be disappointed at the possibilities the game offers, which has made TrackManiaan e-sport favourite for years.
Regardless of whether you play in single player or multiplayer mode, the format is the same: a time trial against ghosts where the only objective is to beat the record time, whether that record is pre-set in the single player “campaign” or by fellow drivers in real time in multiplayer. Performance in the game relies entirely on your driving ability and what you can do with your arrow keys and the handbrake (spacebar). Unlike many driving games, you can restart the course at any time (with zero loading time, might I add) whether playing in single player or multiplayer. This comes in handy if you fall off the course, flip your car, or are getting your ass kicked by the difficulty of the track.
In single player mode, the objective is to beat certain pre-set times to earn medals which in turn unlock more tracks over several difficulty levels. There are two modes in single player: training mode and official mode. In training mode the player can get to know the track and beat their own personal time. In official mode the player has one chance to do the best run they can; the results are then uploaded to TrackMania servers and “skill points” (which determine leaderboard rank) are handed out accordingly. On the track selection screen you can see the best local and global course times.
In multiplayer there is a global timer counting down on the course, and all players individually try to get the best time before the global timer expires. The players with the best times are ranked accordingly. This means that the entire experience is very individual and self-centred in nature; the only reason to care about what other people are doing is to see if maybe they’re going about the course better than you, or to beat their time to win. There is a wide choice of dedicated servers, each with their own personalized maps, to select from online, all of which showcase an incredible amount of creativity and, to a certain extent, sadism.
All of these personalized tracks are designed using the easy-to-use Map Editor, which really is the backbone of online play. This is where players can create maps from scratch or simply modify existing map data to make their own course and, as is immediately apparent when playing online, people get creative. The downside of this is that players can get bogged down trying to complete the same impossibly-hard section over and over and over, restarting the course every 20 seconds until they have seen the same stretch of track so much that they get sick of playing of the map, if not the game altogether. I personally couldn’t put more than an hour into this game without needing a break.
Visually, the game is far from impressive, but it doesn’t distract from the gameplay either. When making a racing game as outlandish as TrackMania 2, photo-realism or above-average graphics are far from a priority. The game makes good use of lighting and shading, which easily distracts from the sometimes low-res objects in the background. There is a unique flag-based paint job on the player’s car depending on your country of origin (which can be edited to your liking), and the cars look nice and slick. As far as racing games go, TrackMania 2’s music is hardly unique; hypnotizing electronica contrasts the roaring engines, and is in general more ambient than noticeable. Overall, the presentation is adequate given the type of game it is; you shouldn’t expect to be overly impressed.
Given the sheer number of tracks the game comes with and the endless possibilities offered by the Map Editor, TrackMania 2 is a lot of bang for 10 bucks. Working through the various difficulty levels of single-player mode alone could occupy you for a long time, let alone endlessly trying to beat your or someone else’s time on the course to climb the leaderboard ladder. When players feel like they have mastered the pre-made tracks, there are still hundreds and hundreds of custom maps available on the many online servers internationally. If they don’t frustrate you, they will certainly challenge you. If anything can be said about TrackMania 2: Stadium, it’s that it has exceptional value for its price.
Overall, TrackMania 2: Stadium is a good game. Its disarming simplicity, endless possibilities, and global competitiveness are definitely the selling points of the game, and it’s easy to see why TrackMania has thrived as an e-sport. It falls a bit short on presentation, and although its unique format is a selling point, it can also be a deal breaker for some. Fans of traditional racing games like Grid or Gran Turismo as well as those who enjoy the Mario Kart or Twisted Metal series need not apply. This game is entirely based on self-improvement; your only enemies are the course and the times you’re trying to beat. Overall, this is a niche hit for the TrackMania series that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.
This review is based on TrackMania 2: Stadium downloaded for the PC.