Republished on Wednesday 28th March 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of April's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Despite the brand debuting well over a decade ago, TrackMania: Turbo marks the arcade racer's first release on a PlayStation platform. A favourite on the PC particularly, this property is all about perilous point-to-point sprints, where shaving milliseconds off your laps forms the hook that will keep you coming back. But does this kitsch car-based campaign have enough in the tank to make it a PlayStation 4 must have?
Well, even despite the dearth of arcade racers on Sony's new-gen system, publisher Ubisoft seems to realise that French firm Nadeo's latest is not worthy of a $60 price point; the game's been politely nudged into the more appealing $40 bracket for its first lap, and we wouldn't be surprised to see that sum slide as time goes by. To be fair, with over 200 pre-made tracks, triple digit online lobbies, and a complete course editor, there's a whole lot of steel on this title's wheels – but it still can't help feeling a little cheap.
Some of this is by design: the release's art style is intentionally gaudy, with inflatable doughnuts and other such garish guff bookmarking increasingly demanding tracks filled with loop-the-loops and turbo pads. There's nothing much wrong with that, of course, but the title ends up lacking the presentational consistency of its PS4 peers, peppering skylines with floating pigs and magic eight balls just because it can.
It's quite an ugly game artistically, then, even if the smooth performance – occasional tearing issues aside – and bright colours do their best to disguise that. Not that you'll be paying too much mind to the scenery anyway: this is a game that moves briskly when you're at full-pelt, and it tends to discourage any use of brakes. Because the racer's pre-made tracks are generally quite short, this is a title that's all about mastering very specific sections of track – and you'll be replaying a lot until you find the perfect line.
In some ways, the title closely resembles fellow Ubisoft staple Trials: you'll restart almost every track over and over until you hurdle its spiteful demands. The game's split into four sectors, each with its own unique vehicle: Grand Canyon is a drift-heavy discipline, complete with a meaty muscle car that can be kicked into corners like a soccer ball; Stadium is an indoor series, with an F1-esque vehicle that relies on tight turns and precise air control.
While the abovementioned are personal favourites – and the Rollercoaster Lagoon set, with its gravity defying maps impress – the Down and Dirty Valley category disappoints. Not to be confused with a dogging hotspot, these miserable rally-inspired races are marred by a car that careers off-road should you dare to even brush the DualShock 4 with the daintiest of touch; the galling twitchiness is compounded by road layouts that thrill in throwing you off course. So many racing games fall short due to a lack of precise control, but the issue here is the opposite – it's far, far too fiddly.
And that's just not fun when you need to shave a second off your lap time but you're oversteering as you exit a hairpin bend by barely applying pressure to the analogue stick at all. In fairness, you can get through a chunk of the single player with bronze medals – and everyone is wrestling against the same problem online – but it's a shame that a quarter of the title's content is undone by the inclusion of a vehicle that seems to have a brain of its own.
It's a good thing that the track editor from previous instalments returns, then, unlocking an almost limitless pool of maps for you to conquer. Many of the player created stages that we sampled fell into the borderline impossible bracket that's so common with user generated content, but as long as the developer floats the truly outstanding maps, then we can cope with the many vomit-inducing stages sure to accompany them in their droves. The tools are a little clumsy, but with creation options ranging from basic to advanced, it's not hard to put something of worth together.
And you can promote your stages online, where multiplayer works a little differently to other racing games. Here, you'll create lobbies with your favourite maps, and race them in rooms of up to 100 people. The idea is that you have five minutes to compete for the ultimate lap time, with ghosts of all other players packing out the course as you go about your business. You can set up more traditional races, too, but this unique take on the time trial offers a welcome change of pace – and is where we spent most of our time.
Local multiplayer also takes centre stage here, with options ranging from obvious pass the controller pursuits like Hotseat and Arcade – where you essentially take it in turns to earn the fastest times – all the way through to the more active Double Driver and Split Screen. The latter's as straightforward as it sounds, but the former offers an interesting almost co-op twist – and it clears the slate in campaign mode so that you can attempt to complete it all over again with a pal.
There's a lot to get through, then – and crude unlockable paint jobs only help to incentivise your progress. The soundtrack, a mixtape of eighties-inspired synth stings and electronica, is similarly stacked, though we found ourselves quickly reaching for the safe embrace of Spotify, as the nauseating beats can get a bit overbearing at times.
TrackMania: Turbo's a gaudy game that demands you excel in short bursts. A truly compelling online component and a meaty single player campaign is offset by some shaky handling that, in the case of one car in particular, is far too fiddly to be fun – but those that like a challenge will still enjoy attempting to tame the title's increasingly outlandish maps. With a clumsy but empowering track editor there's certainly no danger of this racer running out of gas – it just depends how long you're willing to keep up with the quest to be the best.