Review: Trackmania Nations Forever

Despite how often I tend to wax on about events inside the industry or their effect on all of us as gamers, I still remember that once in a while, most may actually care to read about something more tightly related to our favorite hobbies. In this case, today you're all getting a double feature, starting with a review of Trackmania Nations Forever.

Trackmania Nations Forever
Developer: Nadeo
Type: Arcade Racing
ESRB Rating: Unrated (Prior releases rated E for Everyone)
Platform: PC
Price: Free
Similar Games: Need For Speed III, Blur
Demo Available: None Needed (Free game)
Hazards: Starforce (Excepting Steam Copies)

Trackmania Nations Forever is currently one of the two latest iterations in the long running Trackmania series. The core concept behind the game is very simple. Build an arcade-style racing game which gives the player full control over the track making tools used by the developer so that they can in turn create their own race, stunt, and time trial tracks to play and share. Effectively, Trackmania is the PC game that serves as a basis for later console titles that let players build their own content such as Little Big Planet or ModNation Racers, although Trackmania is not the first title to do such a thing. It was however, the first to so strongly encourage it. Nation Forever, as one of the latest variants of Trackmania, is a free version of the series, while remaining fully compatible with the purchase version Trackmania United. What this amounts to is that while Nations players have less tools at their disposal to build and create, they are still open to play with any United owners and will be able to play on their tracks as well, even if those tracks and environments aren't in Nations. It's quite a clever idea, one that allows casuals to enjoy the game as well as allow you to freely dip into Trackmania before you ever decide to make a purchase.

Trackmania is an arcade racer, which means that it is substantially less realistic then a majority of racers out there. For those of you who are long time racing fans, it probably works best to compare the game to one of the older Need for Speed titles, as the physics and handling of the vehicles feels very similar. More modern racers will probably be better off thinking of it as a less realistic version of blur, or a more serious looking cart racer with slightly better physics. Trackmania is not by any means a hardcore racing simulation such as Forza 3 or Gran Turismo. Still, it needs this lack of realism, as many of the tracks you will race can have loop the loops, half pipes, and all sorts of other thoroughly impractical shenanigans that racers have dreamed up. Just because they are realistically impractical however does not mean that they are not fun. If you've ever wanted a racing game where you can jump from one half pipe to another and execute a 360 flat spin along the way, Trackmania can deliver.

The racing itself is fairly straightforward and seems to fall into three categories: Race, Stunt, and Sprint Time Trial. In no of these are the players capable of interacting with each other, each racer appears as a ghost to the others, easing the player into the various online competitions. Of these options, online play seems to favor the time trial option, in which players race against the clock to see who can complete a given section of track in the quickest amount of time. These can range from simple (a few tight curves) to complex (hit a jump at an angle to land on a slanted section of track, while trying to avoid potholes) to insane (ride a half-pipe into a loop, jumping out at an upside-down angle, skipping off of this pillar to land on that boost, then a jump...). Many players seem to favor these challenges, likely because at the longest, they last no more then 40 or so seconds, and in a 3 or 4 minute round there is plenty of time to whittle away at your time.

Stunt is a mode I have yet to play, but seems to rank second in terms on online play. The goal here is to perform tricks like flips, rolls and spins in order to gain points, with the victory going to the team that amasses the largest point total.

Race is my favorite option, but least seen, likely due to the time investment it can take to make several laps around a course. While the racing area in the game isn't that large, I found myself capable of constructing a quite large course which took almost nine minutes to complete in a race.

Cars aren't capable of becoming damaged, although they are capable of becoming flipped, rolled, or just launched off of the track bounds by a wayward operator error, at which point, your only options are to reset to the last checkpoint (keeping the time tallied during the accident) or a forfeit/reset depending on the options of the server.

Controls for the game are fairly straightforward, I found no difficulty at all playing the game with just my keyboard, although alternative setups are allowed and would give one more freedom and control flexibility. Given the arcade nature of the game, Nations holds to a fairly simple control scheme of gas, handbrake, brake and left/right.

Controls of the track editor (a large draw of the game) are a bit more complex and unfortunately, not well explained to the player. You will use both a mouse an keyboard, but the interface is only intuitive if you've used older design programs from 90s era software, many of the keys are undocumented and it can be quite frustrating until you figure them out, usually either by trial and error or an online video. Placing track sections can also sometimes be confusing, with little idea of why some tracks aren't allowed in places, leaving you again with trial and error. Boundaries aren't marked, which can lead to frustration when you must rework a whole section of the track in order to make something fit. A lot of practice is needed, but after a few hours, you'll have the hang of it and start laying out some of your own creations.

Graphics and Sound
Neither the graphics nor the sound are really anything to write home about. The graphics, while nice and clean, seem to place a far larger demand on a system then you would expect, even dragging my Crysis-capable system down on some tracks. Partially this is due to the age of the engine and the work they've put it through, but it can be distressing nonetheless. However, it still does look fairly clean, tasteful yet nice, with shadows and reflections and several time settings.

The sound is also somewhat unimpressive, consisting of several looped techno songs. Although some are decent enough, their looped nature (combined with long fadeouts) gives you the impression of a CD playing in the background, not necessarily a soundtrack. Although players can insert their own tunes, it requires a fair bit of workaround, and is not for everyone, as Nations only excepts ogg files, not mp3s.

It is easy to insert custom cars, as one can just drag and drop a zip file into a special folder in their documents folder.

Trackmania Nations Forever won't win numerous awards, but on the other hand it is a free racing game with huge amounts of unlockable potential for those who stick with it. The ease of playing with other racers online and the ability to create your own tracks make this game a fairly solid download.

  • Lots of replay
  • Good amount of customization
  • Track editor
  • Free
  • Simple Physics
  • Can be difficult to use
  • Alone the thrill wears off quickly
  • Starforce Copy Protection  (Get the Steam Version, which lacks this)
  • Large online focus
Verdict: Try

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