Do you also have the feeling that about ten or fifteen years ago games were so much more fun ? They looked like crap and had absolutely no realism whatsoever, but eventually you’d end up playing them for many, many months, even years. Nowadays, what kind of single player game can still offer that kind of thrill every time you play it ? That must’ve been what the French chaps over at Nadeo were thinking when they were designing Trackmania Sunrise. It’s back to the middle ages of gaming, when there were absolutely no laws of physics, no real A.I., … just fun with Dr. Trial and Mr. Error.
Last year they already showed us a piece of action with the original Trackmania, a very simple race game. And that simplicity was both its greatest asset and biggest drawback: the game was a lot of fun, but not many people seemed to bother when better-looking titles like Need for Speed Underground were only one shelve away.
But Nadeo knew they had a winner and immediately started working on Trackmania Sunrise, which is just bigger, louder and, yes, better ! But before I start praising the game, there are some issues I must talk about. First of all, the game uses the Starforce 3 copy protection. Not that I advise against the utilisation of copy protections, but this one is very, very stubborn. The game CD couldn’t be read from my DVD drive – I had to use my CD-rewriter. After installation, my computer had to be rebooted in order to play the game due to Starforce, and at every start-up my pc seems to hang for ten or twenty seconds. Personally, I can’t make out why such a hardheaded protection is necesarry, because face it: we’re talking about a budget prized game which already has some protection with an included CD key that must be unique for multiplayer play.
The other issue occurred after I completed my first two races in the game. After I gave the order to return to menu, my pc simply rebooted. I was left stunned with a thought much like “what the … ?”, but I kept my cool and restarted the game, finished another two races … and faced another spontaneous reboot. The idea came to me that something about TS wasn’t quite alright, and I made my way to the forums on the official site. There I saw some guys had the same problem, but no one seemed to know what was causing it. Some blamed Starforce, then it was the use of an onboard sound card, when eventually it turned out to be a problem with ATI’s latest Catalyst drivers. After a week of trying all sorts of new but unsuccessful configurations, throwing things at my screens and an awful lot of swearing I found some older drivers for my video card which let the game run smoothly. My days of torment were over, and at last I could peacefuly sit back and relax.
If flying through the air at 800 km/h is your idea of relaxing that is.
Trackmania Sunrise offers four single player modes. The main one is simply racing against the clock and beating predetermined times to gain medals. There are opponents on the track as well, but unfortunately they act as ghosts. You can’t hit them, and most of the time, they’re just annoying since a lot of them on-screen can pull down the framerate and distract you. Why they were even implemented in the first place remains a mistery. Then there’s a quite enjoyable platform mode, in which very daring tracks await, stewed with insane jumps, loopings, etc. Your goal is to finish each race while keeping the use of the ‘reset car to last checkpoint’-button – also referred to as ‘enter’ – to a minimum. The dream of every trial-and-error-loving gamer. The next mode is the highly acclaimed puzzle mode, in which you are given a start and finish point, some checkpoints and a couple of different pieces of road. You need to place them in such an order that you’re able to finish your track as fast as possible. And finally there’s the all-new Crazy mode where you start off on a rather small course that you need to finish as many times as you can before time runs out. Personally I found this one quite boring, but the other modes make up for it terifically.
In multiplayer you get to choose from modes as time attack, laps, rounds and team. Unfortunately, all other players serve as ghosts to you as well, so even there you’re mostly racing against yourself. All in all, the multiplayer isn’t as fun as I thought it would be. The only cool thing about it, is that you can race on tracks designed by other players.
Sunrise has three types of cars available, of which the Ferrari type is by far the coolest and extremely fast. Yes, it occassionaly runs over 1000 km/h ! Then there are touring races, which offer a more realistic approach and require you to brake before and slide in turns. Surprisingly this turns out really well and they too are a lot of fun. Sadly, the SUV races are slow and without realism, making them just boring.
The implemented Track Editor is quite neat. It’s just awesome to build your own tracks, filled with great loopings, ramps, jumps, tunnels, and many more sweet accessoires. You can do exactly what you want with the environment: turn it into a giant feast packed with insane jumps, or make a slow touring race out if it. Heck, you can even rebuild existing tracks if you want. The only drawback I encountered was that you had to unlock the different items by gaining a certain amount of coppers by winning races and other challenges.
The graphics of the game are okay. It looks great from a distance, but at close range the lack of detailed textures on certain objects takes away the illusion. Also the cars lack any form of detail, leaving Sunrise only as a mediocre looking game. But when racing at insane speeds, the lack of frame drops and the beautiful effects makes up for the lack of detail, so in the end there’s no real need for me to complain on this part.
The sound however is far from great. The effects are decent, but the music is just irritating. The tunes aren’t varied and some of them just sound bad. Overall the music seems very rushed and lacks any sign of professionalism.
So the game features a number of aspects that could have easily been done much better. Yet still, so far they have never kept me from playing – apart from the horrific reboot-bug mentioned earlier. Why ? Because Trackmania Sunrise is fun. Lots of fun. It’s that type of game that can be played on all occassions; on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or ten minutes before bedtime which in the end then turn out to be thirty minutes. It can also be played by anyone, from a hardcore gamer to an 8-year old child. However do note that the difficulty level of the game is quite high. You are required to gain gold medals from time to time to unlock new races, but earning them can be a real bitch.
In conclusion, this is a game that I can recommend to anyone, from fans of realistic racegames, to even die-hard RPG players. I don’t think there are many who wouldn’t find Trackmania Sunrise a lot of fun. Even though there are still a lot of problems with the game, they are easily outweighed by the amount of fun and the thrills I get from driving my Ferrari at top speeds. But let’s hope Nadeo and Digital Jesters realise their mistakes and take them into account in order to create an even better sequel once more. The sun has risen, I would hate to see it set already when there are some many cool things that can be done with the franchise.