Review: Urban Trial Freestyle can’t escape the shadow of Trials Evolution
Trials Evolution is a masterpiece with one serious flaw: you can’t play it on a handheld.
Developers Tate Interactive and Strangelands set out to rectify this issue by bringing their Trials-like, Urban Trial Freestyle, to PSN and 3DS. Their game mimics Redlynx’s Trials games to a blatant extent, ripping off the checkpoint-to-checkpoint gameplay, the industrial junkyard aesthetic, and the silly ragdoll crashes, but it lacks the secret sauce. Even during the game’s most enjoyable moments, Trials Evolution casts a long shadow over the experience. Only in the bliss of Trials ignorance will players be able to truly enjoy this game.
It starts off pretty strong, capturing the essence of those initial stages when Trials offers up some simple fun. Players take control of a dudebro on a dirt bike who navigates a two-dimensional obstacle course full of barrels, planks, crates, and other junk. The controls are simple: Gas, brake, lean forward, lean back. The rest of the nuance is handled through the physics, allowing players to perform wheelies, preload jumps, or hit the ground headfirst.
Urban Trial Freestyle introduces a couple of its own quirks to the Trials formula, scoring players extra points when they hit speed gates or nail long jump records. At first these mini-challenges felt like an interesting additional layer of depth, but the truth is they’re often simply indicators of the “ideal” way to navigate a track. Sometimes they simply feel like band-aids on bad design decisions, encouraging players to slow down so they don’t get crushed by an inexplicable scripted event or indicating where they have to go when it isn’t clear.
The game leans more on event-driven course design than Trials Evolution. It can create some cool moments, like driving along the top of a moving train or outrunning a boulder, but it can also feel overly touchy. Sometimes the “coolness” of the scripted moments isn’t worth the trouble of perfectly lining up your bike to see them through. You end up feeling like a bit player in someone else's Rube Goldberg machine, and the experience is more frustrating than challenging.
That brings us to another substantial issue with Urban Trial Freestyle. The game simply isn’t very challenging. For a game that rips pages from Trials Evolution’s playbook it only ever reaches about a medium on the challenge scale. As such, and with only 25 courses or so, UTF feels like half a game, or even less when you consider that the real meat of Trials doesn’t start until the hard levels. UTF’s course selection can be blown through in an hour or two, and outside of some unlockables it doesn’t offer much reason to come back.
I suspect that the lack of challenge is a result of a physics system that doesn’t seem nearly as detailed as Trials’. The gameplay simply doesn’t have the depth to emulate the epic moments of Trials’ extreme levels. So what you end up getting instead is an assortment of relatively effortless levels that are over in a flash. When the tracks are well-designed it’s some harmless action, but the jankier areas will leave most wondering if there isn’t a better version of this -- and there is.
If you want to drain every last bit of substance out of the game, you can go for five-star ratings on each track. Completing all of the tracks to perfection in an area will unlock some more gimmick-driven challenge levels. One example has the player tilting their 3DS to alter gravity on the track, allowing their rider to drive on walls and flip upside down. It’s a genuinely neat idea, but since it’s relegated to a single course that wears out its welcome before the end, the fun doesn’t last long.
Unique to the 3DS version of the game is, of course, 3D visuals. While the game isn’t nearly as high-fidelity as its PSN counterpart, it makes up for it with a far superior framerate and eye-pleasing 3D. The pop of the 3D is impressive thanks to plenty of background elements, and it won’t fatigue your eyes because, honestly, you’ll finish the game before that can happen.
Also exclusive to the 3DS version of the game is a basic track editor. It gives you the tools to create some simple track designs, but nothing terribly complicated. You certainly won’t be making Pac-Man clones, 2D shooters, or first-person horror games like you can in Trials Evolution’s insane editor. What’s worse is that once you make a track there’s no way to share it. The game doesn’t include a hub for user created tracks, nor does it even allow you to share with your friends. Considering that there's little reason to create your own levels if you can't share them, the feature seems useless. Had the game included this simple feature, the lack of developer-created levels wouldn’t sting so badly.
If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines wishing you could play Trials Evolution, Urban Trial Freestyle isn’t the replacement you’re looking for. Even $6.99 is too much for an unremarkable copycat with zero lasting appeal. Is it a terrible game? No, but it’s a soulless clone that fails to capture the best parts of its source material.
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