Review: Trackmania Turbo

Reset is your friend.  Reset instantaneously erases failure.  Reset makes every missed corner, badly aligned jump, spin-out, wall-grind, crash and flailing attempt at course correction ending in a dead stop as you drive nose-first into a rock disappear like it never happened.  Accelerate is nice, a quick brake-tap to instigate a slide is super-helpful, but reset is the key to surviving Trackmania Turbo.  Or at the very least it’s the key to the controller surviving, rather than getting twisted into a splintery pretzel of plastic shards and fury. Trackmania Turbo is the fourth entry into Nadeo’s long-running stunt racer and it’s not about to start taking it easy on the player at this point in its evolution.

The basics of Trackmania haven’t changed a bit since the first game in the series.  Drive a powerful car through an impossible course of ramps, jumps, loops and other surfaces that have no business hosting an automotive time-trial and get to the end as quickly as possible.  The enemy is the track, and while you can race the ghosts of friends and bronze/silver/gold medal runs, or even go head-to-head, the cars are insubstantial so you’re free to plot the best path through the hazards without worrying about what the driver ahead may be doing.  There are no stats to tweak, parts to tune, or any other feature that could give one player an edge over the other, so the only thing that’s getting you or anyone else to the finish line first is pure unfiltered skill.  Learn the track and the car’s handling and you’ll put in a respectable time.  Refine by practice and you’ll do even better.  Each track is a series of set-pieces linked together by easier sections to give you a moment to recover and gain some speed, and seeing as most courses come in under a minute it’s easy to practice, practice, and practice some more until you can put together a run at least good enough to earn a silver medal.

Trackmania Turbo is more of this, but prettier than ever and with a few new tricks in its courses.  Drifting is more useful and accessible than ever before, and the magnetic tracks allow some seriously twisty course designs.  Each of them come with their drawbacks, but on a well-designed map they can also be a lot of fun.  The magnetic tracks, for example, dump you into first-person mode and make it harder to gauge the car’s line, and while replaying the track a few times can help find the best handling through the upside-down curves it would still be nice to know what your car’s butt is doing when whipping around a corner.

Drifting, on the other hand, depends on which car you’re using for it to be helpful.  There are four environments, each with its own car, and they handle the cornering differently.  The Canyon environment has tracks that are built around drifting, so its car slides like a champ, while the Formula 1 racer of the Stadium has hardly any skid in its tires at all.  Lagoon and Dirt Valley walk the middle path, but both of them tend to have plenty of dirt tracks that are better handled by gently tweaking the gas, giving the tires a fraction of a second to dig in before flooring it again to give the car a kick in the right direction.  It makes switching from one environment to another a nice change-up, but there’s really no excuse for the heavy gating of the level progression.

Unlike previous Trackmanias, Turbo demands you do each set of ten levels in turn.  Each of the difficulty tiers of White, Green, Blue, Red, and Black have one set of ten levels in each of the four environments, making 200 levels total, and in previous games you’d be able to hop from one section to the other mostly at will.  In Trackmania Turbo, though, you’ll start at White difficulty in the Canyon area, and you don’t get to move on until all ten levels are beaten.  Old pro at the series and ready for a Red-level challenge?  That’s 120 levels you’ll need to beat before you get there.  The sheer volume of content is fantastic and the tracks are great fun to race, but taking away the freedom of player choice from the previous games isn’t so much a feature as it is an artificial restriction.

Adding to the difficulty in accessing content is that, while White and Green only need copper medals to open, Blue and Red need all previous levels to be beaten with a silver medal to unlock.  (Black needs gold medals, but that’s been a series standby forever so it gets a reluctant pass.)  Trackmania Turbo is a little forgiving with this, though, because if you beat a level three times with a lesser medal you can choose to unlock the next one up even if you didn’t actually qualify.  Can’t get the gold but earned silver three times?  Close enough, although it only effects your level unlocks and not time or overall ranking.  A tangentially-related missing feature is that, on level completion, the game tells you your time and asks if you want to challenge the ghost for the next medal, but doesn’t bother giving the time needed to beat it.  It could be a half second, it could be 5 seconds.  You can compare your best time to the medal time once you’ve loaded the track again, which isn’t particularly helpful.

If all this sounds negative, it’s because Trackmania Turbo is one of those games where you’ll be grumbling, swearing, moaning, and swearing even more while playing, but once you’ve earned that next medal it’s almost impossible to resist trying for the next one after, or going back to shave a few points off a particularly tricky course.  If you don’t like those available a track editor lets you build and share your own creations, and you can even have it build a random one if you just want a quick shot of something new.  The online modes had to go un-tested for this review, thanks to nobody ever being online when I was playing during the pre-release window, but it’s hard to imagine the ridiculous courses designed by the fan community won’t make the stunt car chaos as entertaining as usual.  There’s even a mode where two players control a single car, leading to either hilarity or homicide depending on how well the pair works together and how seriously they take their lack of communication.  There’s a ton of content in Trackmania Turbo, and if the game can be maddening (seriously, the handling on the beach racing courses is the opposite of fun) it’s usually maddening in a good way.

Closing Comments:

Trackmania Turbo is a giant, gorgeous world of arcade stunt-racing action.  Every track is half racing, half puzzle and the trick is to figure out the best approach for even the simplest sections.  A series of gently drifting turns may be easy, but it’s also a great place to work on minimizing speed loss, leading to just that extra bit of distance off the jump that comes after so you can hit landing on the following down-slope just right.  Or maybe you’ll come out of the curve at the wrong angle and the long jump sees you landing on the railing at the side of the road, completely killing that run.  One of those two, success or failure or at least a learning experience.  Trackmania Turbo is the kind of game where you can easily spend an hour or more to perfect a 45 second run, constantly looking for sections of the track to do just a tiny bit better.  If one run doesn’t work the next one will, and the only thing between you and the next attempt is the instant response of the reset.