Trackmania has always been a bit of a mess. It's something as hard-baked into the series' DNA as lightning quick reaction times and the instantaneous restart, and Trackmania Turbo - the accessible console-focussed compendium of all that's great and good about Nadeo's series and that was the last we saw of it - increasingly feels like something of a blip. If you're a veteran, though, you might be pleased to know the new Trackmania is a return to the old ways; this is fussy, frustrating and frequently brilliant, too.
Trackmania - as this new entry is simply known - is a remake of sorts of Trackmania Nations, the popular 2006 entry which helped make the series' name. Essentially it's a return to basics, stripping away most of the excess gained over the years. There's a single car, and essentially a single track type - different surfaces are now folded into the same environment, with smooth tarmac joined by outrageously cambered road, slippery terracotta dirt and oh-my-god-this-is-impossible ice - and the objective is the same as it's always been. Get from one point of a tortuously twisted track to the other. Then do it again, but faster. And again, but faster still.
It's as simple as it ever was, and devilishly addictive. A decent Trackmania course takes no longer than 30 seconds to complete, but a decent Trackmania course will also hold your attention for hours as you shave off millisecond by millisecond of your time until you get somewhere close to perfection. That's as true here as it ever was, and the streamlining of it all to one car type just makes it quicker to get to the core of Trackmania's appeal. There's some of that same weight introduced in Trackmania 2 to its handling, making picking out perfect parabolas and maintaining momentum both satisfying and precise whether you're playing on a gamepad or, in traditional Trackmania style, on a keyboard. It takes something special to impart that feeling on a control system so primitive, and Trackmania's handling is pretty special indeed.
At the heart of Trackmania, too, is competition, and on that front this new outing delivers too. Competing for medals is one thing, but competing against other players' times is quite another. Complete a track and you'll see how you compare, not only to those around the world but those around the nation and even those a bit closer to home - and there's something to be said for the pull of trying to be one of the best Trackmania players in London around any given track. It's the simple things that make Trackmania shine.
Which is why it's a bit of a shame that this new Trackmania is so needlessly complex in so many areas. As you've probably already heard this is a free-to-play joint, which would be absolutely fine if it made any sense. Want to know what's included for free-to-play players or those who shell out for one of two subscription options? I could explain, but here's a diagram which should help.
Simple, right? Of course it isn't, because nothing ever is in Nadeo's world, it seems. For all that unnecessary complexity, though, it's worth pointing out that it's a small sum you'll have to pay out for a year's standard access coming in at under a tenner, while the next tier up will get you access the Clubs that allow for the creation of more detailed campaigns - and it's worth a punt, as that's how you'll get access to the community-made tracks around which so much of this Trackmania is built. Nadeo provides 25 of its own creations - and is committed to providing another 25 every quarter - but it's by digging deeper that you'll find the real gems. Making tracks is easy enough with an instinctive tile-based editor that's available in a simplified or more complex form - with the ability to utilise plug-ins too, for the more ambitious - and finding new creations isn't too difficult either. There's everything from recreations of famous Mario Kart circuits to real-life tracks and some more original creations too.
But good lord what a mess it all is, and if contending with the bitty subscription model wasn't enough you'll also have to deal with a front-end that's frankly putrid. It's a very PC experience in that it took me far too long to work out how to perform even basic tasks like utilising custom skins for the new car, and there's a scrappy lack of logic extended across every menu that makes exploring some of the depths of this new Trackmania a real chore. As it ever was, really, but after the more accessible Trackmania Turbo I was hoping some lessons might have been learnt.
And after the generosity of that outing, it's worth noting that even if you do pay up for the annual subscription this remains a slim proposition right now. Invest in it and you're putting faith into Nadeo being able to deliver a decent live service, and tidy up some of the scruffy edges found here. With Trackmania 2 still so well supported by its players, you'll also have to put faith that that community migrates over to this new platform, and at launch there's not quite enough distinctive about the new Trackmania to make that a given. How it evolves, and how Nadeo builds upon this foundation, will be fascinating to see. There's every sign that it could grow to become something special.