It would unfortunately be impossible to do an Urban Trial Freestyle review without mentioning Trials. Now Trials didn’t necessarily invent the wheel, but it was certainly the first to push it down a hill and gleefully watch it tumble away, so these comparisons are a must.
Physics-based motorcycle games have been around for donkeys years in one form or another; there’s just something so immediately arresting about a 2D platformer without a jump button that it’s hard to put your finger on. I spent years of my younger days playing a shareware version of relatively unknown motorbike 'sim' Elastomania, but put me behind the wheels of a bike in MotoGP 2013 and I’m bored to tears.
Trials HD set the template for the modern day bike physics game and it set the bar pretty high, with razor-sharp handling and a real weight to the physics that felt like it took years to perfect. I really enjoyed the game on Xbox 360 but I have to hold my hands up and admit the game is just too damn hard for me. Bits of some levels remain inexplicably off-limits, I have no idea how to traverse some of the trickier obstacles RedLynx saw fit to put in your way.
One of the first thing that strikes you about Urban Trial Freestyle is that it’s a lot easier to traverse to the end of the levels than in Trials HD. There isn’t really a huge amount in your way to stop you performing no-death runs with relative ease, provided you keep your pedal to the metal in most cases, and trust your instincts.
The real challenge presented to you is in the star ratings that you get on each level. A tradtional level has four or five challenges presented throughout which must be completed to the best of your ability. These are simple tasks such as get a high speed through a checkpoint, perform as many rotations as possible, or jump as far as you can. These in turn give you points that, combined with the time that you finished and the number of ‘deaths’ you suffered, gives you your final star rating. It’s a simple system but it’s quite an entertaining way to spice up your runs through the levels, as you seek to perfectly set yourself up for the next task. The stars you gain from each level are used to unlock later levels, ensuring you must replay some levels to get a high enough rating to unlock the later ones.
Getting those five star ratings does suffer a bit from trial and error, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself and they are all relatively achievable. Some levels just task you with finishing them as quickly as possible; these aren’t quite so entertaining and take place on the same level layouts minus the challenges, presenting a bit of a quandary as to why they need to be in the game at all, other than for the time trialists of this world.
Littered throughout each level is $5000 worth of cash in handily marked swag bags that you must try to hunt out to upgrade your motorbike. A lot of the cash is predictably hidden but it’s an enjoyable distraction from the main task as you try to upgrade your bike. The bike upgrade system is a unfortunately rather basic; you’re stuck with pretty much the one bike, with an upgradable engine, tyres, and chassis. Each of these upgrades often comes with an equal downgrade to another, eg increased acceleration but slower speed. Until you’re actually hunting for that 5 star rating it’s difficult to appreciate the difference that it makes, but later on you do notice the difference a little tinkering can make for nailing each course.
One of the best aspects of Trials HD was its level editor, and this is definitely a major stumbling block for Tate Multimedia's title. Trials HD created a huge online community thanks to its customisable and shareable levels, encouraging everyone to get involved in time trials, or challenge each other to finish each others tracks. Urban Trial Freestyle lacks this aspect of the game and it really hurts the game in terms of longevity; 47 tracks sounds like a lot, but it’s not a huge amount when most can be burned through in under a minute.
As a bit of a smack in the chops to PC gamers, I did a little bit of research and found out that the 3DS version of Urban Trial Freestyle released back in February contains a level editor, so it’s slightly baffling why this was left out of the more connected platform.
Still, it sounds like I’m being harsh, when I truth I did enjoy my time with the game, for what it’s worth. It’s got some satisfying mechanics and it rarely got frustrating for me in a way that many games of its ilk can. The game is undoubtedly fun in the way it handles. I will admit that the score is reflective of a real liking for the genre, and an ability to see past some of the games foibles to an enjoyable experience, so those of you with any indifference to the genre are unlikely to get your head turned here.
It does of course come down to your views on the price, I don't think £12 is too bad for an experience which could last you 10 hours plus to do everything, but of course there are some far better for value deals available out there. Still, I think it's a good game that unavoidably gets tangled up on the shadow of Trials HD, for better or for worse.
It's got the mechanics of a a great physics-based platformer, with some fun ideas to boot, but it does lack a little in personality and imagination. The tracks sometimes look great with some exciting visual distractions such as speeding trains and leaping over helicopters, but these unfortunately give way all too often to racing through yet another warehouse. So while no Trials HD killer it's certainly a viable alternative should you have tired of it, providing some quality quick-fix gaming whenever you feel the urge.