If you know TrackMania, it’s perhaps the best starting point to understand what kind of game the Danish Flashbulb Games propose us, born from the ashes of Press Play, authors of indie titles that are also very good in this generation as Kalimba and Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood. Trailmakers is in fact a kind of TrackMania… on the contrary. Instead of having to build tracks or deal with tracks created by other players, here the paths are set and what changes is the means to deal with them. With a system clearly inspired by the LEGO bricks and more specifically by the Technic line, you can in fact build piece by piece your own racing car, taking into account the type of track and the obstacles that you will face. On wheels, in the water or even in the sky. Few games offer the possibility to drive cars, boats or planes with total freedom, even less those that allow the manual design of each vehicle. This is why Trailmakers is an original product, capable of attracting our attention with a very praiseworthy concept.
The actual realization of this concept certainly has its ups and downs. Let’s start by talking about the area of the game where you definitely spend more time: the media editor. In whatever mode you are, you will move with a view from above a nice man in a suit with a gravitational gun, with which he can select, rotate, move, attack, remove any piece available to the player. It always starts from the cockpit where you will find the player, but around it you can place virtually anything that physics allows. Wheels (not necessarily 4) selectable from different types, engines more or less performing, aerodynamic elements or connection between the various pieces. All that of course can also be applied to water and flying vehicles, introducing concepts such as wings or pieces with shapes closer to the boats. However, there is nothing to prevent a kind of pirate ship on four wheels for challenges on land, or to create Gundam-style mechanisms with legs instead of wheels as a movement system: it is enough that the vehicle can move. And the realistic physical title system ensures that everything you place on the car has the right effect on factors such as grip, aerodynamic load, top speed, handling, air resistance and so on.
The main single player mode is called rally, and is represented by a series of levels with a system of progress similar to that seen mainly in mobile games: we are facing a series of challenges of increasing difficulty where we can get up to 3 stars beating respectively the times bronze, silver and gold with our vehicle, using a driving system of decidedly arcade style. The game, however, wants to be accessible to all, and in fact for each challenge offers a kind of tutorial for the creation of a vehicle more than capable of obtaining gold in almost every path. Each additional piece must be paid with credits, and the often exorbitant prices lead the player to redo the same races many times to get enough money. But this takes away much of the challenge to the game: you can obviously ignore all this and build your own racing car, experimenting with increasingly strange shapes in search of performance, but if the game itself offers a vehicle already extremely competitive, why commit yourself so much to achieve something that perhaps does not even reach that level of speed or maneuverability? And why make the effort to get dozens of golds to unlock the right pieces when the game already offers the “perfect” vehicle for the occasion without grinding any? And with regard to the handling mentioned above, it must be said that the system of title controls is not particularly satisfactory. Physics is quite realistic and reacts as it should in most cases, but a high input lag, a not very good framerate and a generally rather rigid basic guide make the gameplay less exciting than it could have been.
There is also a creative mode where the limits of rally mode disappear: here you can build almost anything, without worrying about the real effectiveness or competitiveness of the whole. Unlikely robots with 8 legs, multi-storey planes, vehicles with wheels at different heights, with the various pieces then colorable and editable in appearance … the limit, in practice, is only the creativity of the player. Luckily, here there are no limits on credits or number of blocks, and there are therefore no brakes on your ideas. Of course, this mode doesn’t have any particular objectives, but fans of creative video games will find something for themselves. And the game world, very dynamic and colorful, offers the opportunity to test their creations in quite different scenarios.
Since it is a title in Game Preview, the various features may have important changes until the release of version 1.0, regardless of when this will happen. Already the presence of the rally mode is a novelty of this version 0.8.0 of the title, but we point out above all an important lack: on PC Trailmakers is playable in online cooperative, even allowing us to build in sandbox with other players. At the moment, no cooperative or multiplayer option is available in the Xbox One version, with the only real online interactions that are limited to the rankings present for each level of the rally mode. This inevitably makes the console version of the title much more limited than the PC counterpart, but the purpose of the Game Preview is precisely to follow a game during development and so we hope that these features will be added soon as the authors update and improve the title.
Trailmakers, for the moment, is a two-sided medal. Using the LEGO-like system to build vehicles of all kinds is extremely hilarious, and thanks to a careful physics you really feel the difference of any changes made. Trying out your most bizarre creations in the sandbox mode is really hilarious, and the limit is practically only the creativity of the players. But it’s all undermined by a fairly generic flying/driving model, obvious technical problems such as a rather high input lag, but also a campaign that serves as an extended tutorial with a grind to tell the truth exaggerated, not giving real reasons to field creativity or experimentation. Finally, there is no multiplayer, which will be introduced later. The basis for a more than valid game there are, and Trailmakers could really become one of the cornerstones of creative video games on our consoles. To achieve this it will still need a number of measures, both technical and design.