Urban Trial Freestyle – Review
by Mark R
Charles Caleb Colton is often misquoted as having said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and, while it may be true in some respects, there are those who would rightly argue that imitation is merely a lack of imagination or intellectual effort. In the video game industry, as with all sectors grounded in an art form, it’s often difficult to hide the source of inspiration and this is certainly the case for Tate Interactive’s break-your-neck-athon, “Urban Trial Freestyle”.
It has to be said very early on, however, that Urban Trial Freestyle may look and feel very much like the outstanding Trials series from Red Lynx, but they have actually gone to some effort to add more flavours to the mix rather than go with the straight-forward clone.
The first obvious difference is that it’s more than a simple tale of ‘boy meets bike, boy falls in love with bike, and boy somehow finds himself in a part of town where the only way to get from A to B is to traverse conveniently-obstructed thoroughfares’ as the devs at Tate Interactive had peppered each track with a series of mini-games which not only test your driving skills, but also your mental dexterity. As is generally the case with games such as these, the idea is to get from one end of the track to the other in the shortest time possible to gain the highest score, but with UTF there is higher scoring to be had from speed, accuracy, height and being able to manipulate the bike in a very short space of time.
The first of the five in-game challenges is accuracy, where an area will be marked by animated arrows pointing to the centre of a hit-point and it’s your job to try and get as close to the centre as possible. However far from the centre you land is shown on-screen in centimetres, and whatever score you are ultimately awarded decrements as this distance grows but, to make matters worse, these targets are sometimes placed on distant walls, or on the ground immediately after a drop and a steep ramp, so control is of the utmost importance or you’ll quite simply overshoot and miss out on picking up valuable points.
Speed challenges are exactly as you’d expect, and you are immediately presented with an on-screen indicator using an old-style speedo needle (remember when speedometers didn’t use LCD?) showing your current speed along with whatever score you manage to achieve. With these being ‘challenges’, they will invariably occur after a severe drop in the hope that you’ll rely on garnered momentum coupled with some nifty driving but, alas, they’re never as simple as you’d expect… and that’s a good thing.
For the Burnout Paradise fans, we have the ‘longest jump’ mini-game where, on hitting certain ramps or drop-off points, a horizontal bar is rendered in real-time showing the distance travelled as a cross-bar on the ground below. In similar style, the ‘highest jump’ challenge displays a bar in mid-air directly relative to whichever part of your bike is currently at the greatest height. In both cases, the highest-achieved score is visible while taking part in this challenge so you can immediately see if you’ve broken your personal record and can tweak movements to try and improve upon it.
Finally, for all aficionados of ‘the other stunt bike game’ (no, not Kick Start) and lovers of defying gravity, we have the most enjoyable of all the challenges – the flip. Scores are paid out based on how many degrees you’re able to flip your bike within the designated flip-zone, but you’re free to switch between forward and back at your leisure, so it’s possible to hit a ramp and flip backwards before bouncing off a wall to enter a forward flip… but should you wipe out, you’ll lose your progress. In most tracks you’ll find a combination of at least one of each in-game challenge and it’s these which help to boost your final score.
In Urban Trial Freestyle, your score can mean the difference between progressing to the next track or back-tracking to one of the earlier areas because it’s impossible to move on to the next stage if you haven’t yet accrued the required number of stars for that level. Each area has five stars on offer, and the number awarded depends on how quickly you get to the end, how many penalties you pick up from having to go back to the last checkpoint and, of course, how well you do in the various in-game challenges. In earlier levels, this isn’t too much of an issue as the number of stars required for each level will almost always be fewer than you’ve managed to pick up along the way, and without having to put in too much effort. In later levels, however, the difference between one track and the next could be ten stars, so even if you manage to blaze through the current track and pull in all five stars, you’ll still have to go back to some of those areas where you only picked up three or four stars, and improve upon your performance.
In order to max out the stars for every level, however, it takes more than pixel precision and a stubborn disposition… you need upgrades. Rather than unlocking brand new bikes as you progress through the various levels, Urban Trial Freestyle has an in-game store where you spend cash in exchange for specific components. As with all well-written games, said components won’t give you an outright advantage and for every improvement in one area you’ll find a penalty in others. This new engine may improve your acceleration by four points but it’ll undoubtedly hinder your handling and overall speed, so selecting each component part is all about balance and compromise.
The cash spent on upgrades is picked up throughout the level, and at the start of each new area we’re told exactly how much earning potential it has. Whether you’re able to collect the full amount is down to your ability to manoeuvre the bike to near-unreachable areas and seek out potential hiding spots. In some cases you’ll be able to see the bag of cash, but actually getting to it can often mean thinking outside of the box and that’s when Urban Trial Freestyle steps into puzzle territory. There are no sliding-tiles, no pushing buttons in specific order or memory games but you will most definitely have to survey the track from all angles and ascertain how the hell it’s even possible to reach certain money bags. Once you nab them, however, they’re gone and so there’s no need to go back over old ground.
It’s not only your own scores and times that you have to beat either as, thanks to the online leaderboard, there are thousands of others out there ready to mock you at every stage of the game. If you’re signed in to PSN while you play, any time you approach one of the challenge areas you’ll be greeted by the avatar of whomever has the number one position on the leaderboard, serving as a reminder of just how crap you are… unless you’re that actual guy, of course. Add to this a series of separate challenge games, such as how far you can fly off your bike after being shot into the air by a gas explosion, and you have a game which has incredible replay value.
And it’s replay value which is perhaps the most valuable asset that Urban Trial Freestyle has to offer. The graphics are as you’d expect from the Vita, the soundtrack is forgettable at best, and the physics don’t come close to those from Trials HD or Trials Evolution… but those stars and the thought of even shaving half a second off an existing score in the hope of moving up the leaderboard are every bit as tempting as you’d imagine. While the individual tracks from each area do have a repetitive quality to them, mainly from playing through the same track again but in a speed-run style, there’s more than enough to be getting on with and this type of game is exactly what the Vita is made for – dip in and out, pick up and play, but with just enough of a draw to make you actually want to pick it up.
Urban Trial Freestyle is all about gameplay. With almost every track already maxed out with five stars and most of the money already collected, there’s no real reason to keep playing it, and yet I find myself drawn to it night after night and that ‘one more try’ mentality kicks in very quickly, so firing up the Vita with the intention of getting in a few minutes of gameplay during an ad break invariably turns into several hours of engrossed frustration at missing a ‘best score’ by only a few points, and a whole load of missed TV shows. It works both as a casual game and one which requires dedication and effort, and I thoroughly recommend it.Pros
- Easy to dip in and out of
- Addictive as hell
- The in-game challenges give the player more to strive for
- Puzzle solving for certain money bags is a nice touch
- More than 45 different levels
- Such an enjoyable game
- Great replay value
- Forgettable soundtrack
- Physics aren't exactly accurate
- Could have done with less of the track repetition where you play the same track again, but as a speed-run
Urban Trial Freestyle is everything you'd want from a portable game, insofar as it has the sort of gameplay where you can easily pick it up and play for just a few minutes at a time but it's also one of those addictive games where, even with the best of intentions, it's very difficult to put it back down.
Similar in style to Trials HD and Trials Evolution, but without the more-accurate physics, it brings a few new tricks to the table with the in-game challenges and money pick-ups so there's reason to keep playing beyond just getting to the finish line in the fastest time.
For someone with an obsessive personality, this is undoubtedly going to be one of those time-sink games and will certainly be frustrating at times when not enough pixel-precision results in your bike being scuppered by inertia just as you were about to beat your highest score... but that's what it's all about. Improvement and frustration, in perfect harmony. The die-hard Trials HD fans will likely see Urban Trial Freestyle as a rip-off, and it's easy to see why, but there truly is a great game here, begging to be played.
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