TrackMania 2: Canyon is a time-trial-based simcade racing game that focuses on wild map design and skill-based driving. It somehow combines the lunacy of Forza Horizon 3’s excellent Hot Wheels DLC with the learning curve of a dedicated simulator like Project CARS 2.
The skill ceiling of TrackMania 2 is very high. Driving physics are arcade-like, yet still manage to provide a skill curve typical of a hardcore sim racer. This is achieved by having a map editor that functions around the drift system. Drifting feels like a more refined version of what was present in Burnout Paradise. There’s more control over momentum and direction here, but fundamentally it operates much the same. The community then designs tracks that have crazy jumps, technical chicanes and sweeping right handers galore. It’s impressive how the physics engine is flexible enough to feel satisfying on such a wide variety of course types. TrackMania 2 feels good when played on a controller, wheel or even keyboard. It’s very rare to find a keyboard-friendly racing game, so this is a pleasant change.
Critics often complain about the lack of tutorials or guides present, but I disagree. TrackMania 2: Canyon, like most racing games, is very simple to get your head around. The controls are extremely natural feeling, with throttle, brake and drifting being second nature to those familiar with the genre. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out going as fast as possible through each course is a good thing. A tutorial could have featured quite easily, but I doubt it would have gotten much value given how likely people are to jump into the deep end these days. This isn’t some complex 4X strategy game. It’s a game where you press RT and go fast.
The controversial decision to remove local split screen is a major negative for TrackMania 2. Having launched with full split screen support, it was later removed for no stated purpose. The game mode itself is in the game still, but the option to play it was removed from the menus. I suspect the reasoning behind this choice was either to get players to buy a second copy for their friend or to pick up the newer TrackMania Turbo. Either way, it’s very much an anti-consumer design choice.
Whilst limited single player options exist, TrackMania has always been a multiplayer first racer. Online lobbies can support up to 200 people at once. Of course, you don’t physically race together at the same time. There’s no hitbox detection between players, but you can see everyone else’s ghosts as you try to set the best time possible. These lobbies are about as competitive as gaming can get. The rush I feel when trying to get top of these colossal lobbies is similar to what battle royale games offer. But, here it feels more purposeful, as you can directly see all your competition and how they’re performing.
I spent some of my finest video game hours self-improving lap-by-lap on Forza Motorsport 5. Perhaps that is why TrackMania 2: Canyon feels so natural to transition to from other racing games. The desire to cut down lap times synchronizes well with the core design of TrackMania. In earlier days, I would often complete in excess of 100 laps in a session to get the perfect racing line and braking zones cemented in my mind. Turns out things haven’t changed much after all these years.
Those looking for a quality single player experience will be left thoroughly disappointed. To get through all the provided tracks with a gold medal on all except the hardest difficulty (where I could only score silvers) only took me three hours. While I am experienced at racing games, I’m by no means a TrackMania veteran. Better players could likely blitz through the single player in as little as two hours with ease.
While other racing games recycle tracks in various events, TrackMania 2 insists on using unique routes every time. You might think this would improve variety, but TrackMania 2: Canyon takes place in one environment. For locations outside of the canyon, you have to purchase all of TrackMania 2’s episodes.
Given that TrackMania 2: Canyon is almost eight years old, it’s very impressive how well it holds up in 2019. Certain models such as cars and specific environments look dated, but the overall aesthetic is still attractive. The lighting engine especially outclasses all racers around its release period and even a few today. TrackMania 2 looks better than V-Rally 4, but gets stomped out by The Crew 2 and almost every modern simulation racer.
On max settings I experienced zero performance problems. Most expected options from a new PC game are all there. The only strange omission is a general lack of choice on how good or bad you can make your game look. Visual options come down to resolution, texture quality, reflections quality and how much anti-aliasing you want. Although, I didn’t find this to be a problem as I was able to run this at a flawless 60 FPS on my far less powerful gaming laptop. Due to its age, most modern PCs can just power through and provide a playable experience.
Arcade racing games are a dying breed. It’s a sad reality, with EA leaving Burnout behind, Need for Speed getting worse every year, and Midnight Club seemingly in an eternal sleep. We rely on indie developers and smaller studios to keep the genre alive, and I’m glad to say that’s exactly what titles like TrackMania do.
While not perfect, TrackMania 2: Canyon is a fine racing game that manages to bring competitive mechanics to an arcade environment. There’s a satisfaction with improving overtime that you either get or you just don’t. Those that can commit to lap after lap without getting bored will enjoy this game. However, if it’s a varied, well-designed single player experience you desire, I recommend looking elsewhere.