TrackMania United Hands-On

Nadeo's fun racing series returns with an emphasis on online integration and challenging new tracks.

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When it comes to racing, few games out there are as simple or as addictive as those in the TrackMania series from French developer Nadeo. Both 2004's TrackMania and 2005's TrackMania Sunrise offered up a lot of fun as you raced through elaborate, challenging tracks. Now Nadeo is working on TrackMania United, which looks to unify the large TrackMania community with an extensive online system.

TrackMania United is even more challenging than previous TrackMania games, but the emphasis is still on fun.
TrackMania United is even more challenging than previous TrackMania games, but the emphasis is still on fun.

TrackMania United has a simplicity to it that's part of its charm. While other games try to incorporate realistic physics or have you worrying about the quality of your car's suspension, tires, engine, and other parts, all you have to worry about is going fast--ridiculously fast. This is a PC racing game that doesn't require a racing wheel, or even a gamepad, to play; all you need are the four arrow keys on your keyboard. Up accelerates, down brakes, and the left and right arrows steer. That's it. You don't even need to worry about hitting other cars, because there are no vehicle-to-vehicle collisions. Nadeo just wants you to focus on the track and driving.

This simplicity belies the depth of TrackMania, however. The game's challenging tracks require a mix of driving skill and puzzle-solving, even more so than in previous TrackMania games. Some of the more difficult tracks, for instance, have a new tile that will automatically kill your car's engine when you pass over it, making you coast until you get to the tile that reactivates it. This forces you to drive with little margin for error, as any bump against the rails will kill your momentum. In case you stall out, simply hit the space bar to reset to the last checkpoint (with a time penalty, of course).

The single-player modes in TrackMania United remain the same from previous games. In addition to the race mode, there's a puzzle mode that requires you to create the fastest possible track between a start and end point, as well as a platform mode that requires you to navigate through a puzzle-heavy track with as few resets as possible. TrackMania United seems to have better integration with the online leaderboards, as you can easily compare your times against the best in the world (and you'll probably wonder how those drivers managed to achieve their times).

Multiplayer seems improved in many ways. When you start the game, you identify your location and TrackMania United sorts all the player bases by region, country, and even city, so you can locate the closest players. A large community supports the game with countless user-made tracks and cars that are shared online. TrackMania United should make that sharing even easier with the new ManiaLink system, which will let you browse user-made content, including models, tracks, and skins. ManiaLink will also help keep you in touch with the community, letting you know about competitions and news. And ManiaLink can also get the latest user-made TrackMania videos, which is a popular feature of the game. United also introduces a new in-game currency system called coppers, which are used to purchase content. The nice thing about coppers is that you don't have to buy them with real money; rather, you earn coppers for simply playing the game, and you earn more by doing well or the more you play.

The new ManiaLink system integrates the far-flung TrackMania fan base nicely.
The new ManiaLink system integrates the far-flung TrackMania fan base nicely.

TrackMania United will ship with the latest version of the TrackMania track editor, which is the same one used by the developers. This tile-based editor is simple to use: Just select a tile and click to place it, or click and drag the mouse to create a line of it. While the tool is relatively simple, the complexity of the tracks that you can build with it is fairly impressive. You can easily spend hours building a single track if that's your thing. The good news is that you can also download the fruits of other people's labor, if you just want to spend your evenings racing.

When you consider the popularity of TrackMania, particularly overseas, TrackMania United is a fitting name for this new game. The online integration seems well thought out, and it should help unify the worldwide community that's grown around the series. TrackMania United is scheduled to ship this summer.

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