TrackMania 2: Stadium and TrackMania 2: Valley

It’s bizarre to think that TrackMania 2: Canyon has been out for almost two years. Without a single release in 2012, it probably speaks to the success of that experience that developers Nadeo were able to wait until earlier this year to release their take on the first-person shooter, ShootMania. Now, two more TrackMania games join us this July: Stadium and Valley, each offering a specific twist on the TrackMania formula, despite really only featuring a new car type and some environmental changes.

New to TrackMania? Here’s a quick primer: it’s a time trial-based racing game where players compete with each other for the perfect run on a never-ending rotation of tracks, usually in five-to-seven minute chunks. Car collisions don’t actually exist between players, so the goal of multiplayer is to try and break into the top 16 on any given track (a quick key allows you to reset you to the beginning of a track), or just socialise with other players on the server. With (mostly) pick-up and play controls, some truly-outrageous track designs, and some hilarious custom servers (more on that in a bit), it’s the perfect sort of “play for 30 minutes” experience.

 Almost everything about TrackMania can be edited or customised

A huge part of the Mania series is the community, which developers Nadeo have always done a good job promoting and integrating into their games. Almost everything about TrackMania can be edited or customised – from the player-designed tracks produced via a friendly in-game editor, to unique car skins and horns, to servers which rotate song packs, often leading to listening experiences that can only be described as “surreal”.

Then there are the “planets”, ManiaPlanet’s in-game currency with no real-world value. These are earned by players for spending time with the games, and a karma system allows players to donate these points to their favourite servers or use them to up-vote cool tracks so that they appear more often.

Let’s take a look at Stadium, the re-birth of the TrackMania legend which boasts 12.6 million players. True to the roots of the original, the car-handling here is the most straight-forward of the series, with the F1-esque vehicles offering a forgiving amount of traction and little drift. As such, track-designers have grown fond of stuffing Stadium’s levels with as many loops, turns, speed boosters and false-starts as they can feasibly get away with. This lends an almost puzzle-like quality to the tracks, though you can still expect to find simpler excursions which encourage travelling insanely fast and attempting to shave precious seconds off of your best times. If you’re at all familiar with Canyon’s predecessor, the free TrackMania Forever, then you’ll feel right at home with Stadium.

With a handling model that relies on tight turns yet also breaks into drifts easily, it can be a real challenge for new players

Joining Stadium is the newest entry Valley, an ode to popular rally franchises like Colin McRae and DiRT. In terms of control, Valley is proving to be the most polarising addition to the series yet. With a handling model that relies on tight turns yet also breaks into drifts easily, it can be a real challenge for new players to accommodate to how much reservation is required to stick to the track and finish a lap, especially given TrackMania’s penchant for crazy loops and big jumps.

This is further compounded by the fact that, in these early-days, track designers haven’t quite figured out if they prefer deceptive dirt-tracks, wider over-passes, or a volatile mix of the two. It is, at least, an interesting mix, though one that dilutes the fundamental accessibility of the series somewhat.

The controls are accompanied by some lovely visuals that also shift towards the realistic, with the grassy knolls and industrial roads mixing nicely. You’re not exactly going to mistake it for a DiRT or GRID game, but it fits together nicely. Likewise, the bright, almost cartoony aesthetics of Stadium suit the gameplay perfectly, offering a sharp update on the classic TrackMania United/Forever-era look that long-time players will appreciate.

TrackMania 2: Stadium and Valley are still, fundamentally, two excellent time trial-based racers, but I’m beginning to question the wisdom of Nadeo splitting up the experience so aggressively. Although it’s handy to have to have the games all under one roof – my copies of Canyon, ShootMania, Stadium, and Valley can be launched from a single launcher and account – having to completely quit out of one game type and back to the main menu really breaks the flow of things. A playlist feature that dynamically switches between tracks on the games you own, for example, would be most welcome.

The value proposition also needs to be addressed. Stadium makes a lot of sense at its £7.99 price point; it’s easy to pick up, it’s based on the fan-favourite from the previous generation of TrackMania games, and it has an appealing mix of more puzzle-like tracks and simpler laps that promote repeat runs. Valley is a little more confusing. At £19.99, it launches at the same price as Canyon did two years ago. But I’d also argue that Canyon achieved the best balance of arcade-like and realistic driving models of the new Mania series, with Valley veering a little too into precision territory. That said, if you’re already deep into TrackMania and have exhausted what Canyon and Stadium have to offer, Valley might be exactly the kind of challenge that you’re looking for.


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