You could say that there are two basic kinds of racing games--simulation-style games that carefully model realistic physics and punish you for driving poorly and arcade-style games that have very easy-to-use controls and encourage you to drive like a crazy person. Nadeo's soon-to-be-released TrackMania will feature arcade-style racing, but it will also have a distinctive puzzle element as well.
The simplistic interface of TrackMania suggests that it won't be an incredibly difficult game to get started with, and from what we can tell, it isn't. The game offers two main play modes--race and puzzle. The race mode offers single races and a series of races. Series mode lets you unlock successive racetracks, which you can race on or modify as you see fit. The single-player game offers races against the clock. In these races, you simply use your arrow keys to steer and accelerate. It appears that common racing game tricks, like hugging loose corners and powersliding (which is accelerating into a turn and then braking quickly), seem to work just fine. Playing through single-player races on the game's prepackaged courses can net you copper, silver, and gold medals that you can use to buy items at the store. There are three terrain types for which you can buy various objects once you're done racing. However, these above-mentioned races aren't really all the game seems to offer.
TrackMania's puzzle mode puts more emphasis on the game's track editor, which lets you zoom, rotate, and scroll your view as you lay tracks of various types from a starting line to a finish line. The first few puzzles are easy, but they get progressively more and more challenging. In both puzzle levels and race levels, you can use the track editor to build not only straightforward start-to-finish courses but also oddities that include ramps, roadblocks, and turbo boosts, as well as multiple paths. You can also use the game's track-editing utilities to add various scenery objects to your courses.
Whether or not you want to make your track pretty, TrackMania lets you take both premade and custom-built courses online in multiplayer modes for up to six players. These include "round" mode (in which you run a series of races and attempt to come in first as many times as possible to win), "team" mode (a team-based version of round), and "time attack" mode, in which you must race against an established time.
TrackMania may not seem like the most ambitious game ever, but it does seem to feature straightforward background music and decent graphics, though it also seems to run at a very brisk frame rate. The game should run quite well, even on lower-end machines. Hopefully, the game's track editor and multiplayer options will make TrackMania a good, easy-to-pick-up diversion when it's released in the US later this month.