Right, I’ve had enough. Joe never tells you about racing games, so I’m hijacking this space and there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s not around, right? Good. Trackmania then, or to give the version I’m going to be talking about its full title - Trackmania Nations Forever.
You’ve probably heard about it before - it had a few words
thrown at it here a while back, but Joe didn’t do it justice. Trackmania is massive - it’s some people's Counter-Strike or Quake 3 – and, what with it being free, it’s about time Bit-Gamer gave it the attention it deserves.
Technically, it’s a racing game, but it’s a racing game in which everyone drives the same un-customisable car and there’s no collision detection, never mind damage modelling. The only mode you can play is Time Trial too. But wait! Don’t go anywhere, because these Time Trials run on ridiculous tracks with everyone driving at the same time and no restrictions on how many people can be on a server.
Each race in Trackmania is more of a fight against the track than other people. Loops, wall rides, corkscrews, jumps and the occasional flip are the staples on the thousands upon thousands of available Trackmania tracks. Often they’re impossibly difficult, relying on you committing sections of track to muscle memory before you manage to progress. Sometimes they focus around one gimmick, trick or section that needs mastering completely to post decent times. What's more, they very regularly feature jumps towards the end of course, which can only be cleared if you haven’t let off the accelerator throughout.
To do all this, Trackmania's cars have to be physically impossible. They look just like F1 cars, but they behave nothing at all like them – they're much, much faster. They go from 0-300mph in 10 seconds unaided, while boosters can push you from 0-800mph in the same time. I tried to find the top speed, but couldn’t. It’s incredibly fast - Wipeout fast, Podracer fast - but that’s not to say it isn’t precise.
The Tracks are also insanely intricate. They require split-second turns and optimised racing lines, but the cars are so responsive that they can handle whatever you throw at them. They never skid out, the brakes never lock up, they never wheelspin - gentle turning is replaced by key-hammering – BRAKE, LEFT, RIGHT
. This means that it's perfectly fine to play with the keyboard rather than a pad, if not preferred. So, while Trackmania can feel very arcadey, don’t be fooled into thinking it is anything like Mario Kart or F-Zero; it’s fast but it’s controlled.
After a while, you’ll inevitably wander into the track editor, possibly just out of curiosity. You might as well say goodbye to an evening or three at that point. It has two modes - Basic and Advanced, but I think of them as Lego and Meccano, respectively. Both are easy to get along with, but the Advanced mode is far more involved, and this is the one to which you should devote your time. It won’t take long before you’re shoving loops into bridges, then throwing potential riders into a wall-ride after a half-pipe jump and catapulting them to a finish line over a lake.
Trackmania is just so very, very simple to play. The arrow keys are all you need, but each track is its own challenge. Bastardised pieces of architecture are put together in a nightmarish landscape that will test each racer down to the millisecond. Honestly, I’ve seen the time difference of a 30 second lap between 1st and 5th be 0.03 seconds at the end of a five minute session before.
Mix this in with the overall world rankings, per-track world rankings, country rankings, region rankings, healthy competition between friends, plus the fact that it still looks good even now, and it’s easy to see why this is some people's Counter-Strike. The bursts of intense competition that Trackmania tends to breed make it not just one of the best free racers on the PC, but one of the best racers full stop.
Grab it for free from... Oh. Hey Joe. Trackmania? It’s, ummm... an FPS/RPG. It’s set in the future, yeah. Of course it’s indie! What? No, that was a different Trackmania. Heh, no, I don’t know how there isn’t a lawsuit either. Nah, you don’t need to look over this. It’s fine. Just publish it...
...Psst: It’s on Steam.