I have a great eagerness to share with you Trackmania United Forever, or condensed to TMUF to save a mouthful. But first I have to recommend taking a quick read of our Trackmania Nations Forever (TMNF) review. TMNF, a free 500mb download, is in essence a cut down edition of the full game. Not only will this help you decide if the general feel of the game is right for you, but it will also save my poor withered fingers from doing an overkill of typing. Right then, without further ado let's find out how this, the ultimate Trackmania, manages to prove itself in the big wide world of racing games.
Say hello to pure fun
By now you should have a general feel of what the game is about. If not, either I have confused you with my TMNF review, or you just lost interest in the opening paragraph. Let's assume neither, and presume you know that Trackmania is a smart game about building and playing tracks accessibly. The single fact that you can easily take part in a race, literally within seconds of starting-up the game, separates this from the rest of the crowd. Gone is the hardcore realism you might have come to expect from racing games of today; its time to say hello to pure fun.
TMUF takes one step further from its free brother in just about every area. Actually, the six new environments and wealth of features make it feel more like a trip up the Eiffel Tower on a jet pack than a single step. Each environment is incredibly diverse, from the graphical style to the handling of the cars. "Alpine" sees you race with high traction jeeps in a snow setting, where maintaining speed is the key. "Island" on the other hand is all about high octane control and vast slides around bends, with fast reactions a useful prerequisite. "Coast" couldn't be more different, when precision handling is a must. The story for the other three environments continues, and it's this sort of variation which forms the basis of the TMUF triumph.
Accompanying the different environments is a number of game modes to suit everyone's tastes. In the solo mode there are several campaigns to delve into. The first being the regular "Race", where you race on a huge range of different tracks, with the aim of you guessed it: to set the fastest possible time. "Puzzle" meanwhile is a clever idea for the more intellectual player. All you need to do is connect the start and finish points with a given set of "blocks", with you then racing the track to set a fast time. Sounds easy? Not when there are some ingeniously cunning obstacles and problems to overcome. The "Platform" concept also sounds simple. Here the idea is not to finish as quickly as possible, but instead just trying to finish with the least amount of checkpoint restarts. Again while sounding easy on paper, a degree of superior technique and skill is required to pass these challenging tracks. The final mode, "Stunts", requires you to try and pull off stylish moves within a time limit on specifically designed tracks, with tricks and somersaults scoring points.
In the online multiplayer you will also find a range of game types. There are stunt servers which incorporate the same idea as in solo, but with dozens of real life competitors displaying their flair alongside you. Then there are two racing types to play. Time Attack is the more accessible of the two, since you just need to try and set the fastest time possible on a track, with as many restarts as you can muster within a set time limit. Rounds on the other hand involves everyone starting together at the same time, with restarting this time making you retire from the round. Finishing first will score you the most points, with the amount scored diminishing the lower down you finish. This mode, while generally used in competitions, can create a more tense and realistic kind of racing for those who want it.
If all that isn't enough to keep you occupied for months on end, then there is the easily accessible editor, with which you can create your very own accomplished tracks. There is also the "Media Tracker" feature, which is a nice little movie directing suite, which allows futher customisation. You can create an intro and outro to your tracks, and even create effects in-game to make your track a more cinematic experience. The given tutorials for this and the other more advanced features of the editor are somewhat less than helpful. At least the thriving community is on hand to help, who have created some excellent guides in light of this. It's also worth quickly noting the car skin editor, with which you can customise your in-game car models and skins for others to see online.
One of the key features to TMUF is the built-in internet structure. This primarily involves "Manialinks", which is like Trackmania's very own version of the internet. Here you can visit other players' Trackmania web pages whilst still inside the game, and discover their tracks, cars and other such creations. Unfortunately a key mistake again is that there are no easily available tutorials on how to create your own page, so your average user will have to find other alternatives with which to share their creations. The ability to create groups so you can compare each others times and scores is a nice touch, as is the automatic "peer to peer" downloading of custom made content mid-race.
Another aspect which keeps this version of Trackmania interesting and alive is the in-game currency known as "Coppers". These you mainly receive by logging into the game each day, but are also attainable by winning medals in the solo mode or online competitions, sharing your creations through Manialinks, or even by playing the lottery on certain multiplayer servers. You can spend your Coppers on new tracks, cars and music, but you will probably spend the majority on setting official times for the solo campaign, which is the only way to improve your solo mode ladder rank.
Trackmania United has also received the generous free "Forever" upgrade. In addition to being able encounter fellow TMNF players on the stadium environment, there are a range of new features, including a host of new tracks and a few new blocks to play with. Most of all is the graphical overhaul, which is most noticeable on the original three environments, Desert, Rally and Snow, which have received a whole facelift. Again there is a load of bug fixes and some other nice to have features and options thrown in. The buddy's list feature in particular has also been improved. Whilst you can't instant message them, you can now at least see who is online and instantly join their game. Bizarrely there is now the option to play the game in 3D using special glasses. I have recently been able to test this feature, and while I can say it is quite a unique experience, it is more a novelty than a ground-breaking new feature.
One final factor of the gameplay which needs to be brought up is how very frustrating this game can be. Some tracks ultimately result in trial and error, while others are incredibly hard to even finish. Frequently you will find yourself restarting the car after one slight mistake, fist slamming the desk. The restart key is even called "Give up" which creates a chuckle of irony, but at least it is actually possible to quickly have another go at the track with a press of a button.
Carries great class and polish
Some of the visuals on hand in several of the environments become quite sensational. The "Coast" enviroment in particular looks incredibly beautiful, and the real time water reflections on use are gorgeous. Everything from the menus to the editor carries great class and polish, which has become a nice forte with the Forever upgrade. While little of the games graphics quite look cutting edge, the outspoken look of a characteristic track reveals a stylish feel, which always manages to shine through.
On an audio level TMUF is also superior from its free counterpart, with each environment having its own well thought out music and sounds. While the quality is top-notch, there is a lack of quantity. While this argument goes against the long lived saying, having more than the one music track for each environment wouldn't do any harm. You can however import your own music and car sounds into the game fairly easily, which makes up for the relative lack of original content.
Keeps the fun factor marvellously high
You may have noticed a fairly positive feel to the proceedings, but that's what Trackmania manages to achieve on nearly every aspect. Battle it out online and off to get a national or world rank to be proud of. Join a team and take part in competitions, or just come across a nice bunch of like-minded players to race with. Failing that you could just as easily lose yourself for hours in the track editor, re-emerging the other side with a broad smile and an entertaining race track to share. It doesn't matter what you do, TMUF aims to please and generate enjoyable entertainment in style.
Trackmania has come a long way since the first release over four years ago, not just in terms of content, but also polish and quality. All things considered this is a game which can keep you occupied for months, if not years on end, while keeping the fun factor marvellously high. I've played United for nearly two years now, racking up over 600 hours of enjoyable gameplay time. With the Forever expansion it really could literally last forever. If you're into racing games which aren't all about hardcore realism, you will love this. If the genre doesn't normally appeal to you, there is still a high chance that you will end up falling in love with it anyway. So if you haven't already, try the free version of TMNF right away. If you liked that, you've only just touched the tip of the iceberg.
Star Edition Update Nov' 09: A new and free 140-track community solo campaign has been added to Trackmania United Forever!
Trackmania United Forever Star Edition (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
I have a great eagerness to share with you Trackmania United Forever, or condensed to TMUF to save a mouthful. But first I have to recommend taking a quick read of our Trackmania Nations Forever (TMNF) review. TMNF, a free 500mb download, is in essence a cut down edition of the full game.