In Trackmania 2: Canyon, pride definitely comes before a fall. In fact, pride also comes before a disastrous spin, a ruinous encounter with a crash barrier, an embarrassing last-minute fumble while taking off on a ramp and a brutal collision with a concrete wall. It’s not so much that Trackmania 2 goes out of its way to punish any hubris. It’s more that it gives you a multitude of ways with which you can punish yourself.
If you’re a Trackmania fan, it’s almost needless to say that the game is great. You’ve probably been playing it since it went live last week – in fact, you probably haven’t had time or energy for an awful lot else. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, however, here’s a quick introduction. From a distance, Trackmania looks like an ordinary arcade racing game in the vein of a Ridge Racer or Need for Speed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Trackmania is effectively a time trial game, where your job is to post the fastest time you can for any given track.
The thing is, Trackmania tracks aren’t like other tracks. They’re chock-full of bumps and jumps and loops and corkscrews, where you might be expected to take off from one slim ribbon of tarmac sitting hundreds of feet in the air and land on another slim ribbon of tarmac just below. Many modern racers are about getting as close as possible to real driving, but Trackminia takes the polar opposite approach. Trackmania is about doing things you can’t do in real life, for the simple reason that people would get hurt. And when we say ‘hurt’, we really mean smeared over a hard surface at the approximate consistency of a meaty bolognese sauce.
The magic of Trackmania 2 lies in three key things. Firstly, it’s challenging. The handling is closer to Ridge Racer than Gran Turismo and these cars have never rolled off a production line, but that doesn’t matter. This is a game where skill, nerve and experience always count. Whatever happens, you always want to do better; to get the next medal up or just shave a fraction of a second off your time. When you finish an attempt and see the button marked ‘Improve’, it’s the gaming equivalent of a gauntlet slap to the face. Are you really going to leave your best time at that?
Secondly, it’s a challenge you can share with other people. Even playing solo, the game has you driving alongside other player’s ghost cars, so you can see where they go wrong and – if you’re lucky – where they went right. Played in multiplayer, you’re not really racing other players, more taking part in one grand and spectacular record-setting attempt where you all happen to be trying at the same time. There’s something comforting and really quite funny about 20 cars hurling themselves off a ramp at the same postbox-shaped gap in a monstrous wall. Particularly when all of you miss.