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TrackMania United Forever (PC) artwork

TrackMania United Forever (PC) review


"Last month, the TrackMania franchise premiered on Steam with their title ‘TrackMania Nations’; a freeware game that has been often described as a joy filled, causal experience that everyone should try at least once."



Last month, the TrackMania franchise premiered on Steam with their title ‘TrackMania Nations’; a freeware game that has been often described as a joy filled, causal experience that everyone should try at least once. Indeed, it is not inaccurate to call TrackMania the new virtual drug; everyone’s doing it, it certainly has addicting qualities and some of the tracks really give you a rush that would rival most extreme sports. TrackMania pushes boundaries and, for an independent set of developers and partnered publishers, does so rather effectively.

Alongside the aforementioned free of charge game, their promotion department have created small Flash diversion entitled ‘Mini TrackMania’ in order to advertise the second game of the series and have finally taken to trying out new digital distribution systems such as Steam and Metaboli to increase sales. Certainly such a company willing to embrace the technological revolution to distribute content must be given serious kudos, but how does the series itself play?

The title I had the fortune to sample was TrackMania United Forever; one often considered to be a compilation of all the previous games. Whilst being amongst the most recent additions to the series, United Forever keeps all the major elements of its predecessors, including huge areas of player customisation, a thriving developer-sponsored community portal and a friendly user interface. It appears that the developers, Nadeo, have kept all the important features of its previous incarnations whilst adding few new ones.

Again, it is difficult to condemn a game for not fixing what wasn’t broken to begin with, especially given the risk of strong community backlash, but certainly releasing a new title which barely brings anything new to the table aside from simple aesthetic changes as lighting. Nadeo have admitted to not really focusing upon new content, but rather aimed to change the engine design in United Forever: something that loyal fans will be positively charged about, yet newcomers to the series will be left wondering if the older, cheaper (and actually free) iterations are worth more than an update that only a small minority of dedicated players will choose to invest in.

That isn’t to say that United Forever isn’t worth trying out. The game is available from outlets throughout the Internet, and you can get stuck into the real depth of the game literally seconds after start up. Account creation is instant (something the Battlefield series should learn from) and thereafter you are free to pick your game type from a huge list of options. It is through this that the improvements in United Forever really shine: The interface is accessible for even the most illiterate of users, and you can freely pick whether you take part in races by yourself, locally (down to your very region) or on a global scale.

Whilst single player may seem like a valid option to warm up to the game’s design, racing around the same track by yourself repeatedly begins to get boring exceedingly quickly. It is a shame that the game does not give an option to battle against the any AI bots (even on the simpler tracks) and you have to create challenges for yourself (or download them from online); this does little more than to place emphasis on where the real action lies: Between other people.

Even on a seemingly quiet, independent title as United Forever, the online circuit is hot as a radiator on a rocket-powered, first generation Dodge Viper. Thousands of players are online simultaneously, constantly setting new records on the hundreds of servers, sponsored by their own goals or those of the many clans and gaming groups that frequent the community. There are little restrictions as to which servers you can opt to join as any new maps that require downloading take mere seconds on the slowest of connections; low ping is a universal standard, not just exclusive to your locality.

A huge amount of work has evidently been put in to reach this kind of gaming grace that puts its well-funded traditional superiors to shame. It is only during gameplay that both the real selling points of the title shine through, as well as the more disappointing side.

Firstly, the game looks awesome: Whether you’re playing on a short circuit or tackling a literal mountain of tarmac, United Forever certainly makes every moment of the game look gorgeous, from the paint on your car (which is branded with your country’s colours) to the twilight that is cast across the stadium. You hardly have time to appreciate such wonders, as all players on the server play on the track at the same time.

As well as the motivation of battling against a physical manifestation of your competitor being present, this also helps prevent against cheating, as some of the tracks can really provide some strange exploits that, on occasion, some of the more infamous side of the playerbase choose to take advantage of. Still, usually this (albeit rare) flawed design is the fault of the track’s creators, rather than United Forever’s developers who, on the whole, have gone to considerable lengths to prevent this sort of foul activity.

On the contrary, United Forever does everything to encourage players to make and play their own maps: The editor is sufficiently smooth and tracks can be thrust into existence after a matter of minutes. The exchanging of such work is also enforced by the currency given for doing so: Adding your own maps to the community allows the player to create bigger and more complex ones in return; it is a cycle of positive conditioning not unlike those found in the more mainstream online games: Get ability, use ability, get more abilities for using the first.

It works; and those players who buy into the system end up creating elaborate and downright fantastical designs that rival the greatest in Garry’s Mod architecture. Seeing a player tackle such a course is a mystical sight to behold, particularly when some of the maps resemble puzzles that challenge the likes of Portal than looking like racing courses; even so, such novelty only adds to the flamboyant originality and creativity that developers and users alike invest in this game.

The options for track design are nigh on endless, and as long as you possess the essential artistry that is being slowly been required by players across all formats of gaming, then you certainly could do a lot worse than United Forever.

That isn’t to say that the game is entirely spotless. A significant negative I noticed, as a huge fan of old racing games such as Mario Kart, was the lack of clipping between cars on the same circuit. Although the advantage of having such physics is obvious; that players don’t bash or bug into each other as they spawn in the same place at the start of a race, or to prevent unfair circumstances (as players can restart the race whenever they wish, clipping may be irrelevant altogether).

Regardless, the developers obviously focused a lot on a new physics engine for United Forever, helping aid immersion by highlighting the impact of collisions around the track; this sort of captivation is ruined, however, the moment you can drive straight through your fellow player. Think of the friendships or enemies that could be formed on Trackmania thanks to the wonders of crashing into other users. Think you’re going to beat my time by 0.03 seconds? Tough; I just sent you plunging one hundred feet to a sticky end.

I admit that such incorporation of an element would cause chaos at the busier times, yet would certainly help to aid competition and add to that all-important ‘fun factor’ which Trackmania seems to focus all of its gameplay around; even just as an optional control for servers. The community itself is also open to corruption, as the exchange is regulated mainly by players who are free to submit whatever they like. The majority of the time, the greatest of tracks are only allowed to rise to the top, although occasionally a tiny, impossible or downright atrocious design makes a break towards popularity, to the misfortune of its downloaders who were charmed into playing it.

This will always be a problem with user-created content, unless the developers find some way to thoroughly moderate all new submissions. As Trackmania grows in popularity, the familiarity between community members descends into fleeting greetings between old friends, making the loyal fans victims of their own success for promoting the game; constantly being at risk from ignorant newcomers. Again, this is a reoccurring problem across all formats and online games and often the older player base have solved such problems by themselves, thanks to the easy creation of new groups.

Overall, it is hard to be negative about TrackMania United Forever. Most readers will have an idea of what to expect from the game from their own experiences or those of their friends. Many of you will already know what to expect from this franchise which focuses mainly on custom content, rather than developing excess gameplay features. If you’re a fan of the genre, or simply looking for a causal play, then give at least one of the TrackMania series a try; although be wary of the price tag if you’re more of the latter. Any problems with United Forever would apply across the series and poking fun for the exclusion of trivial attributes is like cursing Hitman because it doesn’t include enough nukes.

Rating: 7/10

Melaisis's avatar
Freelance review by Scott Constantine (May 21, 2008)

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Felix_Arabia posted May 21, 2008:

Walls of text. I thought there was some form of editing that went on behind the scenes to make sure freelancers didn't sub such difficult to read reviews to the site?

And MartinG didn't write this.
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drella posted May 21, 2008:

Ugh. Didn't enjoy getting this one in my RSS.
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honestgamer posted May 21, 2008:

I have modified the review to break down the walls of text. This one in my opinion should have spent a lot longer in the revision process. Melaisis is a newer freelancer for the site and this isn't the illustrious start we might have hoped for, but there are extenuating circumstances that worked against him in this case.

Let's just say that we're a bit short-handed right now and working to really develop our UK team, which of course is difficult to do at the moment with EmP's computer out of commission.

In any event, I think the review communicated the important points about how the game works, even though it's a rough bit of writing (perhaps an odd choice of words, since for me the biggest flaw is that it feels over-written). We're still committed to providing the high-quality staff reviews you've come to expect and you can rest assured that we'll work diligently with Melaisis and other freelancers to ensure that their future works meet those standards whenever possible.
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drella posted May 22, 2008:

I agree with the slightly overwritten point, which does create some confusion. For example, at one point he says it's "often considered a compilation," which is a fairly strange phrasing.

Generally, a compilation is something that either "is" or "isn't," in the way we think of compilations in a gaming sense (Mario All-Stars, Taito Classics, whatever). "Often considered a compilation" might make sense if I made a game called "Mario Classics" that didn't feature any previous Mario games. It might often considered to be a compilation by people that hadn't played it (because it's a misnomer), but isn't.

I understand what this phrase means in the review -- essentially, Trackmania is a compilation of elements from prior Track games -- but it's a hiccup where I have to go back and read again to establish more context. And then I still question the wording.

I think it's especially important to encourage new writers, but putting their mistakes front and center as freelancers might not be the best idea for them or for the site (or for keeping Joe-nonfreelancer happy, because a lot of guys look up to staff as examples of what to do). But then again, circumstances aren't always ideal, and into the fire is a lot of times the best way to learn -- just be aware of potential heat.
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EmP posted May 23, 2008:

This is my fault. Mel sent me a draft of the review, but as I only have very limited 'net access, I could do no more than scan it.

This isn't the guy's first gig, and he's a talented writer who was given a difficult genre to cover in the first place. I'll make him aware of this topic, because constructive critisim is always a good thing to have.

But, all in all, if this is the only negative my absence brings, we can consider it all a minor miricle.
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Melaisis posted May 23, 2008:

Yeah, cheers for the feedback guys. I hail from a long line of long-winded writers; whilst that sort of style goes down well at fiction clubs and when it comes to in-depth features, it probably isn't the best when it comes to the lesser-known games especially. Heck, I was even impressed at myself when it came to how much I'd actually written. Trackmania is a hard subject, and someone has already pointed out about the whole 'considered a complication' point. Again, it is because it includes elements and accessibility to other games in the franchise, as well as bringing new things to the table. Its like being able to play Pokemon Blue with someone who has Pokemon Silver.

Furthermore, due to it being part of a very long series, there's a huge temptation there for me to divulge into the specifics of gameplay, which I feel I did quite successfully (albeit at length). As for formatting: I wasn't actually able to put screenshots up at the time of posting, so that will explain the whole 'wall of text' point.

Finally, EmP's computer problems have proved an annoyance, as I did send it off to be proof-read (or edited ruthlessly), yet due to technicalities, this wasn't as successful as it should have been.

All the same, I've been playing another game of late which gives me a great deal less to talk about, heh. Thanks for the comments, guys.

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honestgamer posted May 23, 2008:

Finally, EmP's computer problems have proved an annoyance, as I did send it off to be proof-read (or edited ruthlessly), yet due to technicalities, this wasn't as successful as it should have been.

EmP generally handles proofing on the UK side of things, but with his computer down for the count there's also the option of submitting to the freelance forum. The strategy there is that you submit the review, I go through and make revisions for grammar and flow and such and then post a recommended update. You look it over and say "Yeah, I'll post that" or "You changed what I meant here" and it's an easy way to polish before a draft goes live. Depending on how long EmP's computer takes to sort itself out, keep that in mind for the future until he's back in the swing of things.

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