Trackmania is back to basics… again. Ubisoft Nadeo is remaking TrackMania Nations, one of the classics from the racing franchise. The original Nations was developed for the Electronic Sports World Cup and released for free in 2006. For many players, it was the first they played in the series. Now, Ubisoft is revisiting Nations with a new look, a new name, and a slightly different business model.
The new game is simply "Trackmania," with no additional name or subtitle to differentiate itself from the 17 previous releases. Trackmania sports a single environment: Stadium, one of the most iconic environments, but also the most standard. And instead of being entirely free like TrackMania Nations or TrackMania Nations Forever, Trackmania now features a tiered business model.
At the low end, Trackmania is free, letting players race in solo or multiplayer across 25 tracks and compete in regional leaderboards. (Ubisoft Nadeo is promising a refresh of available tracks every three months.) Free players can try other player's tracks in a new Arcade Channel and try out the track, replay, and skins editors. Moving up to Standard Access costs $9.99 a year, giving full access to track, replay, and skins editors and a "Track of the Day" selection. Finally, there's Club Access at $29.99 a year, which lets players join online clubs for exclusive skins, tracks, and competitions, and opens participation in the Open Grand League to qualify for the Trackmania Grand League.
Most players will probably survive with the free tier, but the "sport club license" model—Ubisoft's words, not mine—means the full scope of what's available is a bit muddy. You can only get custom skins through the Club Access tier, for example. If you're not paying, you can only create a single track; to create a second track, the first has to be deleted. I understand the need to make money on Trackmania, and I applaud the lack of microtransactions, but I think Ubisoft Nadeo could've offered a cleaner business model. And perhaps one that opened the free tier to additional user created content, as that's where Trackmania thrives.
A New Model Enters the Race
I had the chance to dive into a preview build of Trackmania to find out exactly what it is. The answer isn't surprising: it's Trackmania. Dropping into the first few courses reminded me immediately of playing Trackmania Nations Forever back in the day, or the more recent Trackmania 2: Stadium. The magic of driving F1-style cars through twisting, turning tracks full of obstacles that want to eat your momentum.
Trackmania has always been like a mad cap game show rather than a real race, with massive jumps or loops that your car will magically stick to as long as you hold down the gas. The best Trackmania tracks are about finding the perfect line: where to jump, where to turn, where to tap the brakes to not send yourself screaming off the track. Trackmania (2020) hasn't changed in that regard.
Visually, Trackmania (2020) looks like a pared-down, cleaner version of TrackMania 2 Stadium. The cuts are in the tiny details: track parts don't sport the neon blue lighting or see-through edges I associate with TM2 Stadium, and the car itself doesn't seem to have the complex animated suspension. (It does have air brakes and visible jets of flames when it's in the air or defying gravity, however.) Most players will coast through without noticing these changes, and the performance was rock solid for me in the preview build.
What has changed is the addition of some new track blocks. Ice roads look to be a major hinderance, providing slick surfaces for limited traction, alongside convex road pieces, which wield an increased chance of flying off the track. There's other new special blocks—Turbo, Super Turbo, and Brake Disabling return—one of which causes the car to control like it's moving through molasses. It's an intriguing addition to the series, and I look forward to seeing what creators do with all of the available blocks.
I had a blast with the 20 tracks available in the preview build, because at the end of the day, it's still Trackmania. Every track is a wild high-speed puzzle that you need to figure out, as your car goes slamming into walls or flying off the track. The set of tracks in the preview were clearly a window into what veteran users can make with the track editor. I also spent a little time with the map editor itself, which has a tile for gamepad support even if it wasn't working in the preview. There are simple and advanced control modes, and four moods for your tracks: Sunrise, Sunset, Day, and Night. I started work on my own tracks, but they were misshapen, ugly, unfun creations that will never see the light of day.
Regardless of my own monstrous tracks, this is Trackmania's Stadium environment without all of the bells and whistles that some players have gotten used to. If you already own Trackmania Turbo or all the Trackmania 2 entries, you might find yourself pining for those other environments and options. I'm sure Ubisoft Nadeo could add them later in as a near-remake of Trackmania United, but that's not in the (officially?) cards at the moment.
Trackmania (2020) makes a certain degree of sense when you remember that Trackmania Nations Forever is still available for free on Steam, but it doesn't always work on modern platforms. I tried to load it up myself, only to run into a host of compatibility issues. Trackmania (2020) is a similar gateway into the world of Trackmania, with the simplicity of the original Nations and some of the track block additions from later entries. The lack of hooks to Maniaplanet, the full user community for Trackmania and Shootmania, also means Trackmania (2020) is a bit easier to get into. It's an onramp to the interstate highway system.
It's a game you could point someone toward as a beginning point, before moving to Trackmania 2 as a wider pond. Perhaps it's just the stepping stone to a Trackmania 3, if Ubisoft is thinking big. Either way, it's a good start toward establishing a new starting gate for the franchise. Now it just needs to come to consoles as well. Trackmania will be available on UPlay and the Epic Games Store on July 1.