If there’s been one game eating up my free time for the past week or so, it’s Trackmania 2020. This high-speed racer has arcadey thrills, enough tracks to last a lifetime, and one of the purest gameplay loops I’ve come across. So, let’s dive a bit deeper into why I find this game so addictive.
Trackmania has been around for a while, with the first game releasing in 2003. The series has seen numerous releases since then, each bringing something a bit different to the table. Trackmania 2020, however, aims to be a more traditional entry, acting as a remake of sorts for the fan-favorite Trackmania Nations. The 2020 release is not my first foray into the series—I played 2006’s Trackmania United a ton when I was younger, but it is the first time I’ve successfully been able to get back into it, mainly thanks to its recency.
But this release has shown to me that yes, I will spend many hours restarting the same track over and over again for the sake of shaving milliseconds off my best times to get a gold medal. So let’s talk a bit about why Trackmania makes that so enticing, instead of the tedious slog it would be in other games.
Trackmania doesn’t beat around the bush in terms of gameplay. As soon as you enter a track, you’re thrown into the deep end figuring out how to corner turns and manage speed. The controls are very simple; this is an arcade racer after all, so it doesn’t include stuff realistic racers have like gear changes or handbrakes. You have an accelerator, a brake/reverse button, and your steering—simple enough for anyone to grasp, but it still leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Spoiler: You’re not going to do well on your first few tracks. While the controls are intuitive, a lot of the track hazards aren’t. There are numerous terrain types and modifiers that massively affect how your car controls. The standard tarmac is as grippy as you would expect, allowing you to take wide turns at high speeds without your car losing traction.
But once you get to a dirt road, the game takes on physics more akin to rally racing, requiring you to swerve around corners and carefully accelerate to not slide off the road. And with stages filled to the brim with inclines, twists, and ramps, these challenges are only made more difficult.
There are boost pads that increase your speed and “reactor boost up” pads that turn your car into a makeshift hovercraft. There are even some pads with negative effects, such as disabling your engines and steering for a period of time. All of these elements come together with the out-of-this-world stage designs to create some amazing tracks.
The actual driving physics is a happy balance between something like Forza Horizon and Mario Kart. Is it realistic? No, not really, but it’s realistic enough to be intuitive while still introducing arcadey elements to enhance the fun. This all makes Trackmania a game just about anyone can play while remaining rewarding to improve in. But of course, these mechanics would be nothing without the tracks themselves.
On the Grind
There are tons of developer-made tracks in Trackmania and hundreds created by the community (one of which gets highlighted by the developers every day). There are a lot of courses, and each developer-made course has a unique design with a hypothetically optimal route to take. It drives the community to come up with crazy shortcuts that range from simply cutting corners to launching yourself halfway across the map through some exploit in the stage design.
Each of these tracks has multiple medals available that represent various times. This introduces the core game mode of Trackmania—time attack (a.k.a., restarting tracks countless times to get a faster run). Not only does this make you better at each track, but you’ll usually come away having improved at the game’s mechanics as well.
I love games that enable me to dedicate time to mastering stages. Titles like Sonic Generations and Celeste are some of my favorite games because of this, and Trackmania taps into the same mentality. I will reset a stage hundreds of times to achieve a slightly better time, and I never feel better than when I finally get good enough to earn the gold medal.
But more importantly, Trackmania has a lot of smart design decisions to avoid this becoming tedious. You can immediately restart a stage or checkpoint from the push of a button—no menus to waste time—and you can enable a ghost of your best time to show where there’s room for improvement. And if you’re really stumped, you can always turn to the ghosts of other players or look up the fastest runs of each track online. Trackmania is a very communal game, and looking at other player’s runs to improve your own is expected, so you can easily find videos or replays to learn from.
The room for improvement is always there; there’s always a corner to take sharper, jump to land better, or straightaway to more advantage of. And if you get really good, then you can start challenging the “Author Medals”—times set by the designer of the track with near-perfect execution required.
I’ve already mentioned the mass amount of tracks on display, but one of Trackmania’s biggest selling points is that new maps are added all the time. There are daily tracks to play through, and seasonal campaigns that feature tons of courses you can master. So even if you don’t feel like sifting through the player-made content, you’re unlikely to run out of things to do.
If you want to get into the community-made stuff though, the game doesn’t do a great job at accomodating that. The menus are cluttered and difficult to navigate, and you’re more likely to just get frustrated sorting through the many amateur stages. I’d recommend checking out community hubs like the Trackmania subreddit and TrackmaniaExchange (a website that does a better job at organizing player-made content than the game itself) to find stages.
Start Your Engines
Trackmania is by no means a perfect game—the menus are a pain to navigate and accessing community content is more confusing than it should be. Regardless, the gameplay and stage-design are so incredibly solid that it keeps me and many others coming back over and over again. There is no random chance or unnecessary mechanics—it’s just pure racing fun.
I think the fanbase surrounding this series is the best representation of this. You’ll see some of the wildest stuff come of out this group, and while you may never attempt that crazy shortcut you see on Reddit, it’s cool to see and (somewhat) understand it nonetheless. (If you are interested in the community stuff, I’d recommend the YouTuber “Wirtual” who covers the community’s greatest achievements.) One of the official trailers for Trackmania was even made by Alpha Testers from the community.
And there’s even more stuff I haven’t touched on here, like the online multiplayer and stage creation because frankly, I’m still working my way through the single-player stuff. But rest assured, if you enjoy duking it out with strangers online or stage editors in games, you’ll get a lot out of both of those modes.
If anything I’ve said here piques your interest, I definitely think Trackmania is worth a shot. While it’s only available on PC, it doesn’t require a crazy gaming rig (you can view the specific hardware requirements on Ubisoft’s site), and it’s also free to download, so there’s little risk in trying it out. The free version isn’t light on content, but the “Standard” ($10 a year) and “Club” ($30 a year) subscriptions offer some more features related to community content, stage selection, and track creation. There’s even an offer right now with Amazon Prime where you can get three months of “Club” membership for free if you link your account (but that’s only going until March 30th, so act fast).
I think if you get into the game those prices are reasonable, but if you’re not a fan of subscriptions in games in general, that’s unlikely to change your mind. In that case, I’d recommend checking out the older games in the series that still have dedicated communities like Trackmania Nations Forever (which is completely free) and Trackmania Stadium.