"Pausing to write a review between tracks"
Hello. My handle is Subversionbyintroversion, and I have a Trackmania problem.
It started off like most addictions - with a free little hit, courtesy of the demo on the PS store, but after about two months of deliberation and repeatedly coming back to the demo, I finally picked up Trackmania Turbo. This was sometime in late 2016, and now, about a year and a half or so later, I’m finally giving it a review, because Trackmania Turbo is to date, my most played and most loved game on the PS4.
On paper, Trackmania Turbo should be a very dull experience indeed: you drive across often short tracks in non-specific cars in order to attain the fastest time possible - there are no other drivers, there is no real customisation, there is no story and no real objective other than “go fast”... oh yes, and you will fail constantly.
Enter the two core gameplay elements that combine to make Trackmania Turbo so much fun: First of all, Turbo manages to avoid the lonely or boring feeling you get with so many other racing games by constantly giving you a ghost opponent to race against.
Early on in the game, seasoned arcade racing fans should be able to beat the gold time with a little luck and moderate effort, but as you go on, the tracks all become more fiendishly difficult, and the gold time seems ever more like a fantasy run performed by a skynet-esque AI, and so the bronze and silver times go from an easy target to blaze past, to practice opponents that show you the lines and, crucially, the pitfalls of the track to avoid.
Further improving on the ghosts, Turbo also shows your previous run as a ghost as well, (assuming you’ve finished the track at least once) allowing you to essentially choose between the gold/silver/bronze time and your previous time at any point while you’re driving, so you can follow your own ghost if you did a particularly good run, only to mess up horribly at the very end, or follow the set ghost time and ignore your last run.
Overall though, the ghost cars make the whole thing feel like a duel, and racing against them never feels like you’re just against AI opponents, because one of those opponents is presumably one of the developers, and the other opponent is YOU. And if that’s not enough, every time you improve your time, the game gives you a screen telling you exactly how fast you were in relation to every last person who ever played that track, with information going down to local region, so you can either settle for being number seven in your region, or hit retry and drive yourself mad for another few hours chasing down the extra milliseconds needed to beat your own time.
And then there’s the other element that makes Turbo so incredibly addictive. The physics in Trackmania Turbo are the work of lunatics and sorcerers, and the cars you drive are all at their mercy, yet, as completely and utterly insane as the physics are, they are also incredibly consistent and deceptively nuanced.
But most importantly, they’re just so much fun.
You see, Turbo fully expects you to just roll with its utterly ludicrous handling and physics, and it is this attitude of “leave realistic physics at the door” that enables its two hundred different tracks to work.
It’s a gameplay design that seems entirely paradoxical: the game wants you to be incredibly precise and methodical, in an environment where cars can jump for literal kilometres, drift infinitely and even bounce off water, all while going at speeds that would vaporise real cars if they so much as grazed an obstacle in real life.
Make no mistake, Trackmania Turbo demands that you pour every last gram of your concentration into navigating every last one of its tracks, which range from relatively simple affairs, to fiendishly difficult labyrinths of spaghetti-like twists and turns and loops and jumps designed by sadists for use by masochists. Because of course, the tracks are also an exercise in crazy, though surely that should come as no surprise in a game called Trackmania Turbo.
Turbo gleefully mixes it up by having its many races take place over four distinct environments, and with those environments comes a different car and a whole different handling model to get used to.
There’s Canyon Grand Drift, which puts you in some kind of souped-up muscle car which goes blisteringly fast, but truly wallows its way around corners until you so much as breathe on L2, whereupon it will gleefully stick its back end out on just about any surface and glide round corners in a drift that feels both thrilling and infectious, then there’s Down-’n’-Dirty Valley, which puts you in a dinky little buggy that flicks its way around dirt corners and slides merrily over grass, but holds fast on the tarmac.
Next, there’s Rollercoaster Lagoon, which gives you a car that handles like a skateboard and goes like stink off a shovel, but floats over dirt, sand and varnished surfaces (yes, that’s something you’ll have to deal with, and it’s as much of a nightmare as it sounds) and also has the unique ability to stick to magnetised track that well and truly ties itself in knots, forcing you to either totally memorise the twists and turns, or otherwise simply forget that gravity exists.
There is no up or down. There is only track.
Finally, there’s International Stadium, where you drive an F1-style car that goes at staggering speeds and grips the track like a limpet, but absolutely hates any rough surfaces and resolutely refuses to drift under normal circumstances.
But just as each car is different, the tracks are all made to suit: Canyon gives you lots of big jumps, wall-rides, wide turns and opportunities to go fast, but later makes it more challenging by introducing off-road sections and tight turns, while Valley gives you huge sections of incredibly technical jungle to go through, adding in things like complex jumps, engine-off sections and drifts on tarmac, which the squirrely little buggy can easily take far too aggressively.
Similarly, Lagoon starts you off with the gravity-defying magnetic track and later decides to give you entire races where you have to navigate shallow jumps, beaches, loops tied up in knots and even bounce off water to finish, and you’d better believe that International Stadium throws up just about everything that your precious little F1 car doesn’t like.
As an aside, apparently this game has VR support. Maybe I’ll hit it up in VR mode next time I’ve swallowed something iffy, that should help bring it right back up again.
As well as the tracks and the physics, there’s an extra layer of quirky presentation at work here as well, which not only makes the whole thing just that bit more fun, but also makes the game an even more memorable experience than it otherwise would be. For instance, Turbo is the only game I know that counts down in about seven different languages. Why? Because.
Likewise, the tracks are all decorated with a variety of cartoony little distractions, ranging from little signs to huge inflatable pigs with grinning faces and massive screens telling you to “try hard” with what looks like a smirking snooker ball, or “preserve nature” illustrated with an adorable red panda.
Even the numbers on your screen are in on it, with big numbers coming up on the bottom left corner to tell you how far you jumped or how long you held that sick drift for, and the speed number changes colour, even catching fire when you go over a boost pad, though it never bores you with such pesky details as an actual unit of speed, because all you need to know is that you’re going at four hundred and twenty three arcane fastness units.
In fact, Turbo doesn’t even believe in invisible walls: in just about all of the tracks, you can send your car careening off the track and into the great unknown, be that the impossibly voluminous international stadium or the deserts of Canyon Grand Drift, which is particularly odd, owing to the frankly absurd amount of world you can drive on outside of the track.
It took me about twelve minutes of continuous driving to reach the end of the world, and if that doesn’t strike you as bizarre, then I don’t know what does.
Topping it off, the game features some fantastic sound design, from roaring engines to tweeting birds and a well-curated soundtrack of drum-’n’-bass, electro, house and the like, though you can just as easily mute it and put on your own music.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to speak of the game’s performance and what little of the multiplayer experience I’ve played. For the most part, even on a base PS4, Trackmania Turbo runs like a dream at what feels like a good and consistent 60fps, though occasionally, the game throws up some quite noticeable framerate discrepancies in the form of some gnarly screen tearing.
These are very infrequent, but they are repeatable, and a cursory look to DigitalFoundry would suggest these issues come from the GPU, so I can only assume that performance is noticeably worse on XB1, though PS4 Pro and XB1X should have absolutely no trouble running the game, and anybody in PC land with a Ryzen 3 or i3 paired with about a GTX 1050TI or RX560 should be able to expect rock-solid performance, if the PS4 version is any indication.
That said, it’s a good looker too, with some nice lighting and great car details, though on PS4 some antialiasing wouldn’t go amiss, water seems less impressive than it could be, and foliage leaves something to be desired.
Again, this is the kind of thing I’d expect to see improved with XB1X, if not PS4 Pro, and any PC player with greater than an RX580 at their disposal should be able to just hit ultra on everything and forget about it at anything less than 4K.
Online multiplayer is something I’ve yet to experience - mostly because I am loathe to touch uplay - but the offline multiplayer offerings are more than sufficient to add to the experience, with a surprisingly in-depth trackbuilder, a hot-seat mode, and arcade mode on offer, as well as the truly bonkers “Double Driver” mode, where two players control the same car simultaneously, and the game averages out the inputs to make the car go.
Naturally, this leads to hilarity.
There are also a couple of hidden modes which I won’t spoil, but which I will say are going to go down great at parties.
In closing, though, I’d like to relate an anecdote from when I had a friend over and got him to play the game: My friend had never played the game before, and after my telling him repeatedly to try it, he finally asked what it was about, whereupon I gave him the description and he told me “that sounds like a terrible game”, but nonetheless, he gave it a go and messed up on the track I put him on fairly quickly.
Then he tried again, and again, and again. Within a mere five minutes of play time, he’d well and truly caught the bug.
Turns out Trackmania is a very addictive drug indeed, now if you’ll excuse me, I have a time to beat, and a controller to strangle.
Community review by Flobknocker (January 31, 2018)
Flobknocker is the nonsensical nom-de-plume of a British guy who occasionally writes about videogames, and who belongs to a mysterious cult that all gather round a helmet every weekend to perform rituals in the hope of bringing about a new Motorstorm game
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