Racing in games doesn't get much simpler than it is in TrackMania, or its upcoming sequel, TrackMania Sunrise. The new game, like the original, uses a highly streamlined control scheme that lets you drive your car using the keyboard's four arrow keys to accelerate, turn, and brake, leaving your other hand free for a refreshing beverage of some kind. We got our hands on an updated version of the game.
TrackMania Sunrise features both online and offline play. The offline play includes single races (which can be unlocked from the campaign mode or downloaded off the Internet from fan-created levels...or built by you) and a campaign with four major play modes: race, platform, puzzle, and "crazy," which is locked by default until you complete the previous three modes.
TrackMania Sunrise will feature seven major environmental themes for race tracks, including "holidays," "shopping," and "night life." The actual racing in the game continues to be fast and loose. Even though you'll run the racing modes against other cars (either online against other opponents or offline against computer-controlled drivers), you'll clip right through them as you drive. Your most important focus is powering forward down the track without losing any speed, which can be caused either by bumping into the environment (which can bring your car to a screeching halt, but still leaves it undamaged) or by touching the down arrow key to brake (even though the game does feature rudimentary powerslides to handle tight corners). Races take place at different times of the day on huge tracks that are broken up by checkpoints, which act as a running record of your progress. If you crash or drive your car off a rail into the great beyond, you can press your keyboard's Enter key to be immediately brought back to your last checkpoint with your saved time.
If racing a sports car on a halfpipe seems unusual to you, the game's other modes will seem even more outlandish. Platform mode requires you to make crazy jumps off of ramps that span huge gaps, and you'll often have to make hairpin turns just as you land in order to not go flying off into space. Puzzle mode has objectives that are even more over the top. This mode challenges you to try to pull off midair stunts, like turning hard to your left or right just as you go off a ramp, and continuing to turn in midair so that you perform a 180- or 360-degree spin before landing.
TrackMania Sunrise continues to have a clean, colorful look to it. The game features a few different car chassis with various color and decal schemes that appear by default, along with a car editor you can use to add your own decorations or to give any chassis a new paint job. Many of the environments have a colorful tropical theme to them (so falling off of a ledge makes your car land in sparkling seawater) and it runs at a blazingly fast frame rate on a mid- to high-end machine. TrackMania Sunrise seems like it should provide even more of the simple, fast-paced racing and puzzlelike track editing than the first game had on offer. The game is scheduled to ship in May.