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PC Preview - 'TrackMania Sunrise'

by Justin on April 11, 2005 @ 12:51 a.m. PDT

TrackMania Sunrise, the legitimate heir to the throne, is shifting up a gear. Sunrise moves faster, handles better and features improved air-control – vital for making the massive jumps – to ensure that gameplay never moves at anything less than fast. And it's all about the gameplay.

Genre: Racing
Publisher: Digital Jesters/Enlight
Developer: Nadeo
Release Date: May 2005

Pre-order 'TRACKMANIA: Sunrise': PC

Pre-order 'TRACKMANIA: Sunrise': PC

Trackmania first debuted in the summer of 2004, and was quite a unique little gem, all things considered. It didn't have much of a release – it was hardly well-known by even the most caring of gamers. After all, it was a PC racing game, and aside from possibly NASCAR games, the PC isn't exactly known for sporting quality racers.

But Trackmania was hardly just a racing game. True, it had racing elements, no doubt. Players could pick out cars, take a spin on some really wild tracks, and perform some crazy maneuvers with the fantastical physics the game sported. It was hardly realistic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; it certainly was a fun game. What really propelled it, though, were its cool features and gameplay modes, like the Puzzle challenges, or the ability to make your own tracks from scratch and share them with other players.

Although most players probably used their keyboards to play the game, if they even managed to come upon it, it managed to work surprisingly well. The game makers took care to make the cars sensitive to digital input, as if the cars were being controlled by a D-pad on a console controller, and it worked. There were no real issues with driving, and precision was no problem.

Thankfully, all of the good elements from the original Trackmania have carried over to this new game from Nadeo, Trackmania Sunrise. It features all of the basics: crazy driving physics, tight control even with a keyboard, insane tracks, a whole lot of customization options and a boatload of fun. Now just multiply that by ten or so, and you'll have an idea of what to expect from this game. It's quite a marked improvement, even though the original is hardly a bad game under any circumstances.

For starters, there is a much larger selection of cars. The original game had very few models, and actually offered basically only three very different vehicles with a number of paint scheme options. Sunrise goes above and beyond that by giving players not only a number of different car models, but the ability to completely customize a car however they want. Pick your own colors, apply your own designs with different brushes, or slap on some unique decals. Spend a few minutes with this feature and you're bound to come up with a car that is rather appealing (or, alternatively, it's easy to make some atrocious paint jobs as well, if that's what you're going for!). From this point, you're ready to explore the meat of the game.

Basically, progression in Trackmania Sunrise requires at least some level of skill. In order to continue from one track to the next, one has to complete a race in a certain amount of time. They might earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal, which in turn are worth so many “coppers” - currency in the game, essentially - but if they just want to see the next level they have to at least earn a bronze medal. Restarting a race is a surprisingly speedy affair – a quick tap of the Escape key and a few other button presses has you right back at the beginning of the race, sans any loading times. This is important, since the nature of the game requires sometimes perfect driving.

It's not hard to control the cars in Sunrise, exactly, but you have got to know what you're doing. Sunrise seems notably faster than its predecessor, almost seeming on the verge of F-Zero or Wipeout speeds at times; needless to say, it's not exactly down-to-earth, but it's certainly fun. But in order to keep playing you've gotta spend some time getting to know the tracks.

The level design in Sunrise is actually quite a bit better than that of the original, which was by no means bad. But this time around, Nadeo threw out any semblance of sane courses. There are huge bowls in the sky that look like alien spacecraft from a distance, intricate paths in the air that ask you to jump off ramps and land properly on each piece of the track, enormous loops (the game conveniently swaps to a first-person-viewpoint when you hit these), tunnels, and loads more. The courses will immediately seem to be on the verge of ridiculousness but as you begin to discover how fun and addictive this game can be, you won't care, and will probably even embrace all the weirdness.

And did I mention that you can make your own tracks? Using the slightly cumbersome but adequate track editor, anyone can slap together a race track that is quite a bit of fun to ride on. Experimenting in this mode can be a great time, and using the built in P2P feature should allow a great sense of community between Sunrise players.

The Puzzle mode, returning from the original and very welcome, is based around the idea of using the track editor to beat time limits. You're basically given a time limit you must pass to beat the level, and before you start you are given the option to edit the track as you see fit. Sometimes you must add pieces to a track already largely completed, or edit the track as it needs to be, or even on occasion, build a track from scratch around certain obstacles. There's always a start and a finish line that don't change, but you'll find yourself placing jumps, curves, and all other types of road in creative ways to shave off just a few seconds of your time – assuming you're competent enough to race on it, anyway! This mode is extremely addictive, unique, and will keep you glued to this game more than anything else.

One of the new modes in Sunrise is “Platform” - it's akin to some of the mini-games found in the Crazy Taxi series, or maybe the Super Monkey Ball games. You've got to guide your car across a track, but there are lots of moving bits and pieces, so your timing must be dead-on. Every time you fall off you respawn, and the goal is to complete the track with as few respawns as you possibly can. It's a fun diversion, if not quite as enthralling as Puzzle.

One of the more interesting facets in the game is how it treats collisions between cars on the track: it doesn't. At first, this is extremely weird and even somewhat discouraging. All of the cars appear to be ghosts that pass through one another without a care in the world. The more you play, though, the more you'll appreciate why Nadeo did this. At the insane speeds the game often gets to, coupled with the absurd physics system and the snappy controls, driving with other actual cars would nearly be impossible. It ends up working out this way, and as an added bonus, there can be a massive number of racers at once – dozens.

The graphics in the game are really impressive. Trackmania looked good, but Sunrise looks great, especially on a nice system. Track pieces are smoothed out and polished, cars look very nice. The lighting is excellent, ranging from daytime, sunsets, nights, and yes – sunrises – all make for very different experiences, changing the feel of the area you're in. Everything moves at a very sexy, smooth framerate, too – I don't even recall a single stutter throughout my entire play time. The audio in the game may not be terribly great, but it can be catchy at times, and certainly won't have you muting your game any time soon.

All in all, Trackmania Sunrise is looking like a very solid investment. The original was very fun, and the sequel simply amps everything up a notch or two, with loads of new tracks and pieces, new modes, new cars, a new car editor, and a general feeling of being a very satisfying, complete game. You owe it to yourself to check this game out if you have any desire for fun – it's really unique and easy to get into, but hard to master.

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