If there's one game that's been flying under the radar since it was announced, it's Trackmania Turbo. Everyone was aware that the series – which had a sizeable fanbase on PC - would be challenging to take across to consoles, mainly due to the fact that even though it ships with a healthy supply of tracks, Trackmania is known as being a giant racing toybox. On PC, you can build your own tracks and rooms and offer them up to the world, with dozens of racers being able to take part at the same time in order to see who can set the best time for your creation. That's not to mention the fact that the game presents a style of racing that console players aren't generally used to. When Ubisoft announced a hefty delay right around the game's launch window, things didn't look good.
You can put any fears to one side however, since it seems the concerns have all been put to bed. Right from the get-go, it's clear that Nadeo have done an absolutely cracking job and as such, Trackmania Turbo on Xbox One is a compelling, exciting, time attack racer that absolutely suits its new home down to the ground, providing eye-watering speed, fantastic visuals, fun online play, controller-smashing difficulty, boatloads of pre-made content and a stack of ways for players to extend the experience via a track building tool that will let you build pretty much anything you want to…within reason.
Big words, we know, but Trackmania Turbo can back it up for us. If you're not familiar with the concept, the Trackmania series is based on time attack racing, with the notion being that as long as physics and gravity are on your side, you can drive anywhere. If you have a loop-the-loop with a gap in the middle of it, you can get across it providing you've carried enough velocity through the first section and are at the correct angle. If you have a wall that's smooth enough, you can drive up a slope and ride your way across it, through a gate that's at a 90-degree angle to the floor, and then back down to power down a straightaway, again providing you've approached it correctly. Major deviation from the optimal line and speed will leave you at the mercy of gravity, meaning that huge wallride section that you've completed five times before can be your downfall when you run at it at slightly too sharp an angle, causing you to lose speed as your tires begin to lose their grip on the wall and you start to slide.
These minor slip-ups will lead to you repeating sections of tracks time and time again as you search for that perfect lap. Such as in Ubisoft's other time-sink Trials Fusion, a skip back to the last checkpoint (which is only useful for learning purposes, due to the timer not resetting) is just a button-press away, with the option to jump back to the start of the event sitting right next to it. This means that as you're playing offline in one of the 200 events that make up the campaign mode, you'll be shouting, swearing, and almost brought to tears by the challenges that the game throws at you. You'll absolutely nail the opening section of a track, before running into a sticking point that you can't master. Eventually you'll get there, but not before you've screwed up that opening section a few times that you had down so well earlier. Some players will breeze through, of course, but the times required for the gold medal do sometimes feel as if they're absolutely impossible to beat. This will be something of a problem, given that to unlock anything past the 80th track of the 200, you have to have obtained at least silver on every track you've played so far. Fortunately, then, if you beat one of the medal levels three times, you can earn a "Joker" to use to unlock the next rank. So if you're having trouble getting silver on a course in the Down and Dirty Valley, you can "joker up" and unlock it by laying down three successful bronze attempts.
Some will undoubtedly never get to unlock the final series of events, which are reserved for those who have successfully beaten the gold time on every single track that comes before it. Some will be determined to do so, and this is where Trackmania Turbo will be wheeled out again and again for an hour or two of trying to knock down a few records. For some, the single-player campaign will provide hours of entertainment in the triple digits. If you're looking to dominate your region, country, or the world leaderboards – every track has all of these, as well as there being an overall set - you can add some more hours to that as well.
Of course, all of this is before you invite other racers into the mix. Offline, there's a multitude of options for play, including the dastardly "Double Driver" mode. This has two players driving the same car at the same time, attempting to stay in sync as the commands issued to the car are the mid-point between the two inputs. So if you're accelerating fully and your friend doesn't have the accelerator down, the car will move forward at 50% speed. The same goes for directional inputs too. Undoubtedly – given that this all takes place across the solo campaign's 200 challenges – there's plenty more challenging hours of play there if you're into it.
A more regular form of multiplayer play comes when you jump online. You can use the game's robust trackbuilder to create your own devilish challenges, or select from any of the pre-made tracks in order to create rooms and challenges for people to take on. Failing that, you can jump into somebody else's lobby to go head-to-head-to-head-to-head with up to 99 other players at a time, all sprinting around the course, trying to set the best time before the clock runs down.
So, there are plenty of options to get lost in, but they're all presented in an easy-to-use manner. The Trackbuilder for example, can be set into easy, regular, or advanced mode, depending on how detailed you want to get. Alternatively, you can just hit the "Random Track" button and watch as the game builds you something new to race on. The high presentation level continues onto the track, where a distinct air of brightness and positivity – similar to the "blue sky" racers of the 90s – is always on display. Trackside, swathes of advertising hoardings and little pointers – "AVOID THE CENTER!" – are the order of the day, giving something of a feel of Sony's WipEout to proceedings, at least to gamers of a certain age. To cap it all off, things run at a slick 60fps with the developer choosing, at times, to allow a little screen tearing as opposed to dropping the framerate out. The tearing is usually very minor and is only really noticeable on some of the off-road tracks.
Like we said, Nadeo has done a fantastic job. There are a couple of little issues that prevent it from rounding out the full complement of stars, however. Each of the four different course types plays host to a specific type of car and the one you're given control of in the off-road area is a little on the twitchy side, to say the least. You can get around it with practice, but it must be noted that there will be times when it'll go sliding or spinning with even the slightest touch of the analog stick. We'd estimate that by the time you get to about 15% of the stick's full range of motion, Trackmania Turbo thinks that you're at full lock. Like we say, you can work around It and learn to use absolutely tiny inputs, but it will put a downer on things for players who are less skilled (or less patient.)
There's also the question of the difficulty level. A game like this can't be too easy, otherwise the whole "try, try again" gameplay goes right out of the window. But it sometimes feels as if the developer actively hates the players and is trying to destroy them. You'll run through a track time and time again to try to break that silver time, get a really, REALLY good run going and swear that since you've somehow beaten the silver time by four whole seconds, a gold medal is coming your way, only to find that the gold time is another four seconds less than that. On some courses, a gold medal time is the equivalent of an absolutely flawless and robotic run through with perfect speed and perfect lines. It could have been toned down just a tad, as sometimes it crosses the border from "taxing" and into "unrealistic."
Those two points don't take away too much from what is an outstandingly well-made piece of software that is as addictive and enjoyable as you could hope for. Bright and colourful, compelling and addictive, Trackmania Turbo is the real deal.
Trackmania Turbo is a triumph. It nods back to console racers of yesteryear, provides speed, action, addictive gameplay, more than a few "wow!" moments and beyond the bundled 200 campaign courses, provides a potentially endless supply of content in the form of a robust track creation system. Should you clear the solo mode, you can take your car out into online play and you'll find a whole new world of fun and enjoyable events that all work flawlessly. Every corner has been rounded off and every surface has been polished here, and that's much to the developer's credit. Excellent stuff.