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TECHNOLOGY

Review: 'TrackMania' sequel delivers

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

TrackMania Sunrise
Cars take a leap in "TrackMania Sunrise."

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Review
Video Games

A sequel to a successful video game should retain the magic of its predecessor while also introducing new features to further enhance the game play.

"TrackMania Sunrise" does just that. The follow-up to 2004's innovative PC driving game once again combines the thrill of high-speed racing with a fully customizable editor to create and share unique tracks, but this sequel also adds new game modes, faster sports cars and more expansive environments, including a handful of beautiful locales along the West Coast.

At under $30, this attractively priced Windows exclusive lets gamers climb behind the wheel of a couple of dozen cars before tackling opponents -- be it computer-controlled ones or real players via the Net -- on fictional highways, city streets and rural countrysides. Gamers can drive one of the game's default cars or tweak its looks and performance by visiting a virtual garage.

While this may sound like typical fare for a racing game, "TrackMania Sunrise" features some outrageous tracks, such as ones with enormous ramps, winding tunnels, loop-de-loops and even the ability to drive straight up a vertical 90-degree angle. Successfully maneuvering through these unreal courses means you may reach the finish line before your opponents -- if you don't fall off a ledge and into the ocean, of course.

Depending on the vehicle, it's possible to reach insane speeds of 250 mph, so when you catch air it's an exhilarating few moments worth savoring. To successfully unlock all the tracks in "TrackMania Sunrise," you'll need to drive as if you were Jeff Gordon and Evel Knievel rolled into one. While the cars enjoy semi-authentic physics and handling, this game is much more of an arcade racer than a driving simulation.

When you first start playing, only a couple of tracks and vehicles are available, but you can unlock more tracks by reaching the finish line in a reasonable amount of time and earning bronze, silver or gold medal status.

Single-player races are divided into various game types. The Race mode is a fairly straightforward time trial race where players must beat their best time to unlock extra courses; while the Platform mode features plenty of ramps and corkscrews.

The ingenious Puzzle mode provides you with a number of road pieces that you must put together with your mouse before you can drive from point A to point B. The challenge is putting the pieces together in such a way that you can reach your destination in the allotted time.

TrackMania
Racing towards a loop in "TrackMania Sunrise."

Finally, the Crazy mode includes some outlandish track designs and mini-challenges that let you try out silly stunts.

As with its predecessor, game developer Nadeo has included a comprehensive track editor for players to concoct their own twisted track designs and swap them over the Internet. With the tools provided, you can spend hours designing a track before uploading it to TrackManiaGame.com, but the editor can be tricky to master so it requires patience to design your perfect race course. You can also download and race on tracks created by the vibrant "TrackMania Sunrise" community at TrackManiaGame.com. Or you join multiplayer races in the site's intuitive online gaming lobby.

Along with its new game types, "TrackMania Sunrise" has improved the look, sound and feel of the game by enhancing its graphics, audio and controls. Speaking of controls, gamers can use the four arrow keys to maneuver the car, but you will get more out of the game by investing in a game pad or steering wheel.

"TrackMania Sunrise" has kept everything that made "TrackMania" a fresh and innovative racing game and has added a slew of improvements to make this value-priced racer a terrific buy for the entire family.

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