Platform: PC

Release date: April 16, 2008

Published by: Nadeo

Developed by: Nadeo

ESRB: E (for everyone)

Every now and then, along comes a game that is not only great but also absolutely free. And for those gamers on a budget, free is the magic word. TrackMania has been around awhile, but in the newest installment, TrackMania Nations Forever, the game is free to download. Developed by a little-known French software development company Nadeo, TMNF is a masterpiece of video gaming excellence. Part racing and part puzzle solving, TMNF not only blends these two unrelated gaming elements seamlessly together, but throws in a track editor and online capabilities as well.

The player picks his or her country, screen name and in no time, is off racing and thinking. TMNF is not a simple racing game, but a puzzle-related racing game. As far as I know, no other game has blended the adrenaline fury of high-speed racing with mind-twisting puzzle oriented racetracks. The player navigates at high speed through what can be considered as some of the best puzzle-solving found in any game. Think Tetris meets Gran Turismo. As odd as it sounds Nadeo has managed to take two completely unrelated video game genres, mix them together, and actually pull off making a series of games that will be forever remembered in the minds of gamers from all over the world.

You don’t have to be a racing fan to enjoy the game, nor do you need a high-end gaming computer to play. Although with a nice machine, the player can pump up the graphics to look simply amazing. On top of that, there is an option in which you can play in real 3D, with a pair of red-blue 3D glasses. I stumbled across this option when tinkering around with the settings and can’t stop playing the game with a pair of old 3D glasses I’ve had for years. The controls are what you would expect from a racing game, and the keyboard works fine and all, but having a gamepad really comes in handy. The sound of the game is light and cheery with fairly decent effects, complete with cheers from a non-existent crowd and the music for each track is groovy, which adds to the overall excitement the game gives to the player.

Some of the best parts of the game are the crashes. The cars behave in ways that could never take place in the real world, and if “executed” correctly slamming into a wall or launching from a jump while the car spins or tumbles though the air the player can score stunt points. The real trick is to land safely and this is where TMNF really shines. Although the game play is fairly basic, the real challenge is to figure out the “puzzle” for each track. For instance on one track, the player must guide the car through a series of sharp turns and then jump a long gap that turns into a vertical wall much like a half-pipe, then launch off of the top of the half-pipe and land safely on another section of track several hundred “feet” above where the track evens out again. Each track has its own way of solving it and some tracks even have multiple ways and levels of solving.

While trying to manage all of the chaos, the player must also beat the clock in order to achieve a bronze, silver or gold medal, depending on the preset time limit to each track. Unfortunately the multiplayer mode does not add much to the game with the exception of having your screen name up in the online ranking system of points. The other cars or players if you will, cannot interact with one another, the player can only see them. Hopefully later iterations of the game will have player vs. player interaction. Since the game is free, I can’t complain about this somewhat significant flaw, considering the player can race other players from literally all around the world.

But what the game lacks in multiplayer is made up with the Track Editor. Very much like the SimCity series of games, the player can create and customize their own tracks however they seem fit. Using preset sections of track including jumps, gaps and various obstacles the player can also create multiple levels of the same track. The player can jump up to a higher part of the track and then plummet down to the bottom again. The best part of this track customization feature is that there are various ways to share tracks and cars via the large TrackMania online communities.

At the end of the day, TrackMania Nations Forever is just plain fun to play, pure and simple. With the myriad of preset tracks the game will never get boring, and if it does you can either download new tracks or join an online server with custom tracks already on it. The game play is simplistic but addictive and can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Even though the multiplayer seems lacking, the fact that you can make or download new tracks gives the game an infinite number of puzzles to solve and keep the game re-playability high. And the best part, the game is 100 percent free!

For more information or to download TrackMania Nations Forever, visit the game’s website.

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