Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case, then the team at Redlynx must be ecstatic upon seeing Tate Interactive's Urban Trial Freestyle. From the first trailer to the release of the game weeks later, it felt like this is a shameless clone of Trials, which is also evident from the game's title. Being a clone of a successful game isn't bad, but the question is whether this clone does a good job of emulating the elements that made Trials so fun and addicting, especially for Sony players who don't have access to a PC or an Xbox 360.
Urban Trial Freestyle places you on a motorcycle and asks you to reach the end of an obstacle course before time runs out. As expected, you'll encounter ramps and loops in each course, but you'll also see other obstacles, such as rolling boulders and exploding bridges. Unlike other racers, this title is physics-based, so it's more than simply getting through the course quickly. You have to pay attention to how you handle your bike as the course changes. Don't put enough gas on a hill, and you'll struggle to climb it. Land awkwardly after a jump, and you'll likely bail from your bike. Hit a steel platform causes you to tumble, but hit it too hard means you'll crash. In short, it's a constant balancing act between going as fast as you can and not crashing too much.
Most of the time, the physics system works as advertised. It feels like you have to pay attention to every nuance of your bike positioning and your speed to master the course and open up shortcuts and pathways. What wreaks havoc on your runs are the physics of other objects, which sometimes behave abnormally enough to be unpredictable. Metal bars topple in opposite directions, or towers of boxes don't budge from a full-on bike impact. It isn't common, but it occurs enough to be noticeable and baffling.
The game is split into two different race types. As expected, in time trials, you try to get through the course as quickly as possible. Trick races have you trying to do the same thing but with a few specific goals thrown in for good measure. In certain spots of each map, you're given a chance to break records like highest jump, longest jump, and most flips. You're rated with a star system based on your score, and the stars govern the unlock system, which grants access more tracks and environments.
The progression system feels just about right. Though you encounter a few troublesome levels, it isn't too hard to earn three or four stars on each track. With each course having a very different set of star requirements, it is possible to reach a wall in one environment but unlock a few tracks in other environments. The need to go back and improve your performance is a little less important in this title. With that in place, opening up every level shouldn't take very long.
As for the bike and rider upgrade systems, it is possible to grab all of them thanks to the abundance of cash pick-ups in each level. The bike upgrades are split into body, engine and tires, all of which affect acceleration, handling and max speed. Each item has a tricky balance between the stats as it removes points from one area to boost another, so constant configuration is needed, depending on the challenge. The cosmetic upgrades are nice, but there doesn't seem to be any reason for them. You can't show off your session to other players or participate in multiplayer matches, making them more of a distraction than anything else.
The game feels very similar to the titles that have inspired it, so the developers wisely decided to concentrate on the constant competition feed in traditional racing titles, like the Need for Speed entries. Time trial levels have you riding with a ghost rider so you can gauge whether you're behind or ahead of the fastest run. Trick runs show you the recorded line and picture of the leader. All of those additions help to foster competition in getting to that top spot, but the developers took it even further by allowing you to select which leaderboard you'd like to compete with. By expanding the boards to more than just the global ones, the team has ensured that even latecomers to the game can have a chance at glory if the global leaderboard is insurmountable.
A missing element is a track creation system. Though it was more robust in Trials: Evolution, Trials HD and Joe Danger had systems that gave players a near-infinite amount of courses once they mastered the initial batch. There's nothing like that here, severely limiting the replay value of the title once you've beaten records on individual courses and earned five stars on every track.
The lack of expansion via a track creation system wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for two things. The track creation system does exist, but it's only available in the upcoming 3DS version. For whatever reason, there's no word of it coming to the Vita and no logical reason why it can't since both system feature touch-screens and storage. The second reason this hurts is that there's only a limited number of tracks. Even though you have 40+ events, a large number of the tracks are recycled for the time trial and trick events. Once you realize this, the game begins to feel much smaller.
Graphically, the game is quite average. Like a number of titles in this generation, there's an abundance of browns and grays in the environments. It's fitting for the urban environments, but it also looks a little depressing. The rider and bike look fine, and the environments are rendered well, albeit with jagged lines. Though the effects don't look spectacular, the numerous effects make the graphics stand out. Visible dust clouds running through the environment and torrents of rain that occur every so often add a little variety to the races. The exploding items in the background and moving objects give the city some life even though you're the only visible soul. Without those elements, there really wouldn't be much to look at here.
Like the graphics, the sound does its job without being spectacular. The effects are fine, and the music is good enough to sit in the background without becoming repetitive or annoying. The voice work, however, just exists. You hear the rider most of the time exclaim disdain at a poor performance or happiness at another broken record, but the inflections are the same. Unless you hear the dialogue, you'll never know if he likes or hates what you did since he always has a gruff delivery. The lines are generic enough, with some touches of modern slang thrown in for good measure, such as calling a move "beast" if it was great. There's nothing that's either groan-inducing or exciting.
For what it's worth, Urban Trial Freestyle is good. The physics-based racing is still challenging, and the constant presence of leaderboards for each level and each trick ensures some level of replayability. For Vita owners, the game is more interesting because there's nothing like it for the platform yet. At the same time, the title could be better. Level recycling and a sometimes questionable physics system harm the game, as does a lack of a level creation system. While players who've enjoyed the likes of Trials won't find this title to be especially great, they can still squeeze some on-the-go enjoyment from it.
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