One of XBLA’s first breakout hits was the maddeningly difficult but extremely addictive BMX roller-coaster ride, Trials HD. Having since received an even better sequel in the form of Trials Evolution, it’s understandable that those in Sony’s Playstation ecosystem have begun to wish for their own slice of Trials pie, and as RedLynx has shown no signs of bringing it over themselves Tate Multimedia has taken up the challenge themselves with Urban Trial Freestyle…and how I wish they hadn’t.
If you haven’t played Trials in some form or another (shame on you), it involves hopping on a BMX bike and flying through absurdly designed obstacle courses, the likes of which would lead to certain death performed anywhere outside a video game (in other words, don’t try this at home).
Urban Trial Freestyle shamelessly takes notes from Trials in virtually every aspect of its design, but honestly that’s not my main problem with it. Video games have always borrowed from among themselves, and this has often led to the creation of some of the greatest games we’ve ever seen. It’s a common practice for developers to look at what others have done and build off that to make it their own. My problem then is not that UTF is derivative by design, but how terribly it manages to screw the Trials formula up in the process.
From the moment you pick up the game it’s obvious something just isn’t right. The controls feel sluggish, the levels blur together in a giant uninteresting mush, and the presentation is amongst the most bland of any game I’ve ever played. And this only gets worse the further in you get, as levels begin to throw cheap obstacles in your path, arbitrarily raising the difficulty as the controls fail to compensate for the precision required to get through them quickly.
It’s not even that I’m bad at the game, because I don’t believe I am. The levels are simply designed in such a way as to require cheap trial and error gameplay, that breaks the momentum that makes these sort of games so invigorating and quickly devolves into frustration. As someone who loved the masochistic challenge of Trials, UTF failed to deliver the same sort of adrenaline rush of pulling off a perfect run, by nature of being such a lifeless copy. What was once “wow, I can’t believe I managed that” became “I’m so glad I’ll never have to do that part again”, which in terms of a game that’s meant to be replayed again and again for highscores is a death sentence.
Part of me wants to continue on ripping UTF apart for it’s terrible art design, lackluster track selection and customization options, and the poor performance of the Vita version (the one used for this review) but there isn’t any need. Even if you’re starving for a Trials-like game, there is no reason you should defile yourself by playing UTF. It’s one of the worst attempts to clone a great franchise I’ve had the misfortune of playing, and I would strongly urge anyone thinking of checking it out to reconsider.