Even when you get it right you’ll go back for some more. For one thing, TrackMania has a medal system. You can choose to race against ghost cars for either of the three medal times, and as you move up the ranks getting gold gets harder and harder and harder. For another thing, you’re competing against other players on the leaderboard. Cleverly, the original release of TrackMania Nations added the concept of Nations and Regions, and every time you post is compared against players globally, players from your own Nation (for me, the UK) and your own region (for me, the South-West). All this accumulated data, is then used to give you a ranking in each category. This is another big draw. Do you really want to be 32, 445th in the world for long, or 175th in Wales? Then you’d better get out there and race.
Nations Forever is great, giving you a lot of gameplay for your zero – I repeat, zero – pounds. You can even play online. It’s not quite online racing, as you’re really competing simultaneously with 30-odd other ghost cars to get the fastest time or complete a set of laps, but the fact that you’re all doing it simultaneously adds a certain magic energy to the mix. Friends and clans are supported as well, giving you further impetus to get involved.
What, however, does United Forever add to the mix? Well, TrackMania works around a number of different environments and game styles. Each environment has its own style and uses a specific range of building blocks for its courses (we’ll be coming back to this later). More importantly, each environment has its own car, and each one has its own distinct feel and handling dynamics. Game styles, meanwhile, include your basic race style, plus stunt courses (where the emphasis is on earning points through flips, rolls and spins) and platform courses (effectively turning TrackMania into an automotive Super Mario). Nations Forever gives you one environment (the vaguely Formula 1 themed Stadium) and a single game type (though you could argue that it’s a conglomeration of every game type). United Forever gives you the lot.
Now, it’s not all perfect. Arguably the Stadium-based Race challenges are the pick of the bunch. Of the other environments, Island gives you fast sports cars and fiendish corners, while Coast gives you a Ridge Racer feel with plenty of drift. Bay is more about platform-hopping in a bouncy 4×4, while the Snow levels are all about jeeps and savage inclines. Desert is the most distinctive, with roll-prone muscle cars and tracks designed to ensure they do just that. Rally is exactly what you’d expect. All have their entertaining parts, but you’re bound to get more involved with some than others. So far, I haven’t really enjoyed the Snow or Coast courses, while I’ve loved the Stadium, Rally and Island efforts. They just haven’t felt so convincing. The same goes for the game styles. For my money the platform courses get too tricky too soon to be all that entertaining, though the stunt events really are a lot of fun.