TrackMania 2: Canyon is an exciting arcade racer that fluctuates between the highly accessible and the extremely complex.
- Highly compulsive score chasing
- Great visuals
- Extremely customizable
- Car handling is sublime and easy to get on with
- Tracks are meticulously designed to suit the quick-fire style.
- Customization options may be daunting for some
- Majority of the multiplayer modes are currently obsolete.
Fire the engine. Cut the first corner. Pull off a smooth drift. Crash headlong into a wall. Hit the restart button. Fire the engine. This is how TrackMania 2: Canyon begins, and for a long while this is how it stays. That's not a bad thing. This isn't a game about winning; it's a game about trying. Trying to get gold, trying to beat your friends' times, trying to shave a millisecond off your own score. It's a game about restarting, and frequently at that. For existing TrackMania fans, this description is surely familiar. The series stays true to its roots with the sequel, with an emphasis on quick-fire segments of gameplay, all neatly tied together in a package for the social media age.
Getting into TrackMania 2 is a simple affair. Solo play consists of 65 tracks, the majority of which are unlocked by obtaining medals. You load up a track, start your engine, and then keep playing until you set a time you're happy with. It's great if you're interested only in score chasing, although it's far from a shallow game. Each track has been expertly designed with the leaderboards in mind. Nailing the perfect racing line to achieve the best time takes practice and experimentation as you figure out how to cut corners and start drifts earlier.
Learning the best routes around stages is never a chore. The majority of tracks last anywhere from 18 to 40 seconds; they're short A-to-B sprints that take you around hairpin bends and over dizzying jumps. Frequently you find yourself driving up walls or drifting vertically around a quarter pipe. These stages are short, but the desire to stay on a given track, chasing the best time you can, is encouraged at every point. Each track offers up a bronze, silver, and gold medal to obtain, as well as an official time to set. These times can be challenged every five minutes, with a timer in the bottom right corner counting down until your next attempt. Setting an official time awards you with skill points based on how well you performed overall and contributes to your online leaderboard ranking.
Racing around the tracks is fun and breezy, thanks in part to the superb handling and easy learning curve when it comes to drifting. There's only one car type, so the focus is on learning the tracks rather than worrying about which vehicle to use. This gives TrackMania 2 Canyon the feel of a puzzle game as much as a racer, and it's great that when a friend beats your time you know that he's driving the same car that you do. Keyboard controls are tight, with subtle manoeuvring and wide drifts being easy to pull off with the arrow keys. Using a gamepad is even better, because the full analogue controls lend themselves well to the game. You frequently make twitch adjustments to your racing line, and either control method is conducive to this.
Trying to set the best time can be frustrating, but usually in a "just one more go" way. A few of the tracks are just plain annoying, though, as some of the longer ones end with a jump or a turn that can easily blindside you. But the immediacy of restarting (hit a button and you're instantly back on the starting grid) makes even the most irritating tracks seem reasonable. Less fun are the lap races, which occur every fifth track. These five-lap affairs are decent enough, but if you're going for gold, then they can feel like a bit of a slog when you mess up towards the end of the fifth lap. The variety and length of the A-to-B tracks make them far more entertaining.
There are no physical opponents on the track. You can choose a ghost to race against from either the preset AI ghosts, your own favourite replay, or the replay of someone on your buddies list who has set a better official time than you. Usually there are three vehicles on the track: you, the ghost you chose to race against, and the ghost of your last attempt. Multiplayer is similar, in that while you can see other cars, they take the form of ghosts. The main mode is Time Attack, in which you and various opponents race on a series of tracks, with five minutes to set the best time you can. It serves as a fun competition as well as a learning tool, being able to see the racing line that a car ahead of you is taking without having to worry about overtaking it yourself. There are other modes, like Laps and Cup, which see you racing directly against opponents, but finding a server doing anything other than Time Attack is currently nigh on impossible. Luckily there's the option to create your own and invite friends. These multiplayer options are also available to play locally, either in turns or in split-screen.