Trackmania's made a name for itself as the racing game that people who don't play racing games can play. Super-simple controls, instant retries and an approach to physics apparently based on what happens if you hurl a Hot Wheels toy car off a cliff: all-out entertainment, not simulation, was and is the driver behind this particular wheel.
After a raft of similarly-named and even more similarly-playing games, fully-fledged sequel Trackmania 2: Canyon dials everything back to basics and slaps it into a dramatic new look. The titular Canyon refers to the sweeping cowboy landscapes the game's courses are set within - but the vast rock monuments in the background pale into insignificance alongside the entirely bonkers tracks themselves. Skyscraper-high loops, plazas the size of airport terminals, sudden plunges into what must surely be the bowels of the Earth… Trackmania 2 doesn't follow the rules of reality, and that's why it's such flat-out entertainment.
Unfortunately, its puritanically stripped-down approach throws too many particularly lovely babies out with the bathwater. While the one type of course setting, the Canyon, never wears thin due to the mad variety of the tracks within it, only having access to one type of car does start to feel thin. You can repaint it to your heart's content, including importing in your own textures, but if you tire of the vehicle’s bottom-heavy, slidey handling, you're out of luck. Given the entire game is setup is clearly set up to be an online content hub, it's hard not to suspect that the trucks and bangers of the earlier TMs won't be due for a return down the line, but it's a real shame they're absent at launch.
Far more crushing a loss is Trackmania's deliriously absurd puzzle courses, wherein you were required to bounce your car across impossible platforms within a certain number of respawns. With that gone, Trackmania 2 feels that much more conventional and, frankly, not dissimilar enough from the experience we've had for the last half-decade or so. Fortunately, it's still a pretty substantial package - 60 singleplayer courses, a track editor that you can either use to create your own impossi-circuits or download more from the community, and a multiplayer mode already taken to with great aplomb by TM's quietly huge and passionate community.
In fact, the game seems to have been designed with that community in mind and newcomers not so much. Major concepts, like the in-game virtual currency system and how to progress your offline racing to competing for global rankings, simply aren't explained within the game, and even once they are understood prove to be awkward and illogical. For instance, why have to wait five minutes to take another shot at competing for a higher rank on a given track? And why on Earth include a crude lotto system to try and win more 'Planets' (the major currency)? It's a mess of too many ideas, and the same lack of polish applies to the clumsy out-of-race interface that hides important options in all the wrong places and doesn't play at all nicely with gamepads.
Nonetheless, once you make it past the surface wobbles you're in for a glorious time. Multiplayer is, rather than the fiercely competitive and unforgiving likes of more conventional racers, somewhere between a perfection's wish-dream and a chaotic vehicular party. The instant retry system of singleplayer makes its way over, meaning you're competing against intangible and similarly respawning drivers for an ultimate best track time rather than who comes in first during a simultaneous race.
Spot someone who seems to know the best way round the course and you'll understandably try to ape him. This can lead to huge processions of cars moving in perfect synchronisation - including when the leader mucks it up and plunges off the side of the track into water hundreds of feet below. You've never seen shinier lemmings.
So, it's almost impossible not to have a good time with Trackmania 2 - but it feels like it's only the foundation of a game, not the fully fleshed-out version it will quite likely become over time.