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Trials Frontier review: Or how to ruin something with F2P

Trials Frontier Screenshot - Trials Frontier

Trials Frontier is a phenomenal waste of time. I’ve been playing it for weeks now and only just started getting to some reasonably challenging tracks. Had I simply plunked down the $20 for a proper Trials game with Fusion, I could have perfected my expert level laptimes and used the creation tools to remake Super Mario Bros. by now. This free-to-play game doesn’t just ask you to pay up to get ahead, it wastes your time even if you do pay.

It’s sad, because the fundamentals of Trials are surprisingly well-realized in this touchscreen version of the game. Admittedly, Trials only really needs four buttons -- lean left, lean right, gas, and brake -- but the subtlety of moves you can perform within that is surprising. The touchscreen controls will never compare to a good controller, but for the most part I was able to forget that I was tapping a piece of glass to keep my bike upright.

Trials Frontier

Occasionally I’d be flipping forward through the air when I meant to backflip. Only after crashing would I realize that my finger drifted off to the wrong button. The game seems to account for this with track designs that remain squarely in the easy-to-medium difficulty level in terms of typical Trials games. This is probably for the best, but I spent a long time yearning for a little more challenge in the track design.

The core issue is the free-to-play framework built around the typical Trials gameplay. The game piles on just about every F2P gimmick imaginable. There’s “gas”, a finite resource used to start a track that refills on a timer. Then there’s bike upgrades that require parts, and even after you acquire the parts it can take hours for the mechanic to finish the upgrades. Of course you can speed this up by buying diamonds, this game’s premium currency.

The real kicker, though, is the prize wheel you have to spin at the end of every successful run. The prize wheel features important quest items like bike part components and blueprints, and winning them is based on random chance. This means that you’ll often hit a wall where you can’t progress without playing one track over and over again. If you run out of gas, you’ll have to wait or pay, and there’s no way to simply buy the quest item outright, so even if you pay there’s no guarantees you’ll get what you need.

Trials Frontier

The whole framework results in you replaying tracks over and over for no reason than to spin a wheel at the end. Spinning the wheel becomes the game, with the actual Trials gameplay acting more like a disruptive mini-game to get you to the real goal. Even when you do get lucky and win the item you need, the quest system means you’ll be replaying the same tracks over and over again with different goals anyway. It’s a massive chore.

As much as the game is ruined by the F2P framework, there are some annoying aspects to the actual races as well. Since the tracks are usually pretty straightforward, the game introduces challenge by forcing you to win against an AI opponent. The problem here is that the difficulty seems more closely tied to bike upgrades than actual skill. It goes against everything Trials is about, because rather than overcoming pure obstacles, you have to defeat an AI that doesn’t necessarily play by the rules.

Somewhere underneath all of this is a solid, playable game, but that isn’t enough to justify what you’ll endure for a free Trials experience. Had they simply charged for the game and built it around fun instead of wallet manipulation, Trials Frontier could have been one of the best mobile games out there. As it is I have to insist that you avoid it at all costs, even free.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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