I spent yesterday home sick from work, and had still not yet picked up a copy of Gran Turismo Prologue. This could have made for a dull day indeed. The I remembered, a much less hyped, or heralded, or realistic racer was available to sate my need for speed.
TrackMania Nations Forever was available for download, free of charge for your windows PC. If you are unfamiliar with the TrackMania series, I suggest you take a look below:
As you can probably already gather, this game is not about realism. It's not about car damage physics. It's not about having an opportunity to 'drive' cars that you or I will never be able to afford in real life.
What it is about, is simple unadulterated fun. (Remember when games were all about the fun?)
So after a relatively painless download and install procedure (which is even less painless the faster your connection - I'm stuck with 1.5Mbps DSL), I fired it up.
If you have played any of the previous TM games before, you'll have little problem jumping right in. My last time playing was with the original TM Nations a few years ago, and it was like the proverbial bicycle riding - once you learn, you never forget. Create an online account, log in, and choose single player or online. If you're new to the game I'd at least try a few of the singleplayer maps just to get a feel for how TM 'works'. Once you get the hang of control, which can be handled via Keyboard, or joystick/gamepad, I highly recommend jumping into the online racing. There is a ranking system for TMNF's single and multiplayer modes, but I have to confess I haven't paid much attention to there intricacies.
Courses in TM basically boil down to 2 types: Point-to-Point, and circuits. The fun of the game really comes into play in that Reality is not a consideration. These are the racetracks you fantasized about building with your old Hotwheels cars. Insane Loops, ramps, and obstacle courses that happily ignore realistic physics and safety standards. Your mission is simple complete the course in the quickest possible time, while making sure to pass all checkpoints on the course. The game also ships with a course editor, so you can try your hand at tormenting your fellow racers if you are so inclined. When playing online, you'll find that most servers a running custom courses which definitely helps to keep the game fresh.
The part that you will either love or hate is how multiplayer is handled. Essentially, a track is loaded, and a time limit for that round is set. Your goal is to clock your best time before time expires. With some tracks you'll have the opportunity to take multiple tries, on others, you'll be lucky to finish the course completely. You can view other racers on the course, but they don't actually have any effect on you. You are all essentially racing against the clock. While the notion of being able to drive right through one of your competitors without will no doubt bother some, it does offer up several advantages when considering online play:
1. Lag is irrelevant. It can make for some odd visuals with how competitor cars are seen on the track, but otherwise your net connection won't lose you a race.
2. It's pretty difficult to be a griefer when you can't smash other people off the road just to be a dick.
Races are generally only a few minutes long, and the variety of courses I encountered on just a handful of servers in a few hours of play was quite good.
TMNF is certainly not going to supplant the Gran Turismos of the world, but if you like your racing a little - actually A LOT more arcade-like, or just want a change of pace from the norm, you could do a lot worse than to grab TMNF - the price is right. You can get it from the TrackMania Website