Like most people around my age, I perfected my racing game techniques not in the arcade or on a home computer, but on the Scalextric track that now sits in the attic gathering dust. Never mind the winning, the real struggle was keeping cars firmly rooted to those metal grooves. But watching these micro machines run laps around a small plastic track was only half the fun, and soon I set myself the impossible task of creating the most challenging Scalextric race course known to man.
Trackmania Turbo reminds me a lot of Scalextric. Developed by Nadeo and published by Ubisoft, this arcade racing series was once a PC exclusive but after dabbling in the console market via Nintendo systems, has now been welcomed with open arms by an audience of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players. Eat, sleep, race, repeat is the mantra for this highly addictive sequel that not only puts your racing skills to the test but also your creativity.
At it’s core, Trackmania Turbo is a time attack game. Each one of the game’s two-hundred-plus tracks invite you to beat one of the pre-set lap times of varying difficulty and earn medals in the process. Of course, the real challenge is surviving these tracks altogether as each one is packed with tricky bends, narrowing roads, and death-defying jumps that can quickly ruin your record-breaking attempt in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t take long before you realise that the real challenge of Trackmania is making it across the finish line in one piece.
First impressions are fun and engaging, as you breeze through the single-player campaign just to unlock new tracks and some quirky decals for your vehicle. But a brief post-race analysis will soon reveal just how close you came to achieving gold. It’s here that your obsession begins. Mere milliseconds stand between silver and gold. You wonder how much time would have been saved if you’d just been a little tighter on that corner or if you hadn’t crashed into that barrier.
Each race may appear to be bite-sized, but there’s plenty here to feed your appetite. A quick tap of the circle button restarts the race, sending you forth to experiment with your racing technique in a bid to shave a second or two off your lap time. Learning how to drift is one thing, but reading the road to determine what angle to drift and at what speed requires an entirely different breed of horse altogether. The same goes for jumps, bends, and various other obstacles that threaten to diminish your time in each race.
It’s an approach that works surprisingly well, especially when you consider that this is not your traditional racer. Not bogged down by under-the-bonnet details or even other cars on the track, this game strips racing down to the bare bones and is quite frankly all the better for it. Of course, it may seem basic and superficial but underneath it all is a desperately advanced physics puzzle demanding your attention. Short and snappy fun it may be, but each attempt is a burst of adrenaline, the ghosts of racers past acting as your waypoint markers on the road as you desperately put the foot down in your attempts to over take them.
Tracks are spread across four different environments, each one suited to a different style of racing. This in turns gives the player four types of racing car to master throughout the game. The Formula One cars make their home in the arena-based levels, demanding close precision with every bend of every course. Meanwhile, the rally-style drift cars inhabit canyon regions that provide plenty of stunt action as you drive over gorges and through mucky puddles. While the basics remain the same, much like the dynamics of the track, each vehicle obeys the laws of physics in different ways. But while there’s plenty of variation to keep things interesting, it also means there’s plenty of room for frustration. The Baja-inspired dune buggy for example seems over-sensitive to turns and jumps while the Scalextric-esque Lagoon cars can spin out of control with even a simple graze of a barrier.
Beyond the campaign, a lesser-spotted local multiplayer mode has also been included, establishing Trackmania Turbo as your new favourite party game. A split-screen mode can put up to four players against each other for the best time or alternatively, a hot seat mode poses the same challenge for those who are perhaps lacking in the additional controller department. There’s also a rather strange double driver mode that asks two players to simultaneously control the same car which leads to moments made up of equal parts hilarity and confusion.
The fun continues online where up to a hundred players can compete on the same track for the best time slots. Upon joining a race, you’ll be thrust on a track with dozens of other cars driving with you at the same time. Much like the single player, these are ghosts of other players, albeit this time being projected in real time. Each match will give you a time limit in which your goal is to set the best lap time although to be honest, there’s just as much amusement to be gained from watching your opponents slam into barriers and drive off ramps. At least you can’t crash into them which makes things a little easier for you.
Rounding off the package is an engaging and simple track-builder. As one might expect, there are various construction options available that can be used to create devilishly tricky race tracks for sharing online or playing offline. In my youth I often tried to build Scalextric tracks that went up in loops, down stairs, and even around the cat. It was often my lack of physics knowledge that got in the way, but Trackmania keeps things simple. Connecting pieces of track and adding in elevation, bends and turbo boost pads where you see fit makes for perhaps the most user-friendly race-course designer ever seen.
In fact, everything about Trackmania Turbo is designed to entice you in and keep you there. The pick-up-and-play gameplay is complimented by some bold, colourful graphics that may be grounded in reality, but could give Mario Kart or F-Zero X a run for their money. Perhaps the only downside to the aesthetics, particularly for a game that invites customisation, is just how repetitive the audio can be. From the looping commentary to the grinding electronic soundtrack, it would have been nice to see customisation extended to these features.
Trackmania Turbo is like a Scalextric set for your console. As an arcade racer, it 's possibly the most fun you can have with the laws of physics. Some may be put off by the lack of a more competitive race mode, but for the majority, this colourful, simple and above all, addictive game is one of the most enjoyable racers to hit consoles in quite some time.