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Trials of the Blood Dragon

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: June 13, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Trials of the Blood Dragon'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 9, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Trials of the Blood Dragon combines the gameplay of Trials with the style and attitude of Blood Dragon. Ride into full-blown missions with a range of additional mechanics and multiple objectives.

Sometimes, you can combine two things that don't normally go together, and you'll end up with something unexpectedly good. When you find such a combo, you wonder what other combos you've been missing out on. Ubisoft started to wonder this as well. Its Trials series had started to explore more absurd ideas with the latest DLC, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was loved primarily because it was a wacky spoof of '80s action tropes. Combining them seemed like a good idea, and Trials of the Blood Dragon was both announced and released at E3 2016. Unfortunately, that combination didn't go down as expected.

Just like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, the plot resembles an '80s action movie with the absurdity turned up. It has been years since cybernetic soldier Rex "Power" Colt stopped a rogue army from harvesting the blood of the Blood Dragons to create super soldiers. Since then, he married Dr. Elizabeth Darling and the couple had fraternal twins, Roxanne and Slayter. In the years since, Dr. Darling disappeared and left Rex in a state of depression. He tried to find her but got involved in Vietnam War 4. After going at it alone and dying, the kids are looked after by Rex's general and turned into cyber soldiers. With years of training under their belts, the teenage duo goes out in the field to stop the Communist threat once more.

It doesn't take long before the game goes beyond the Vietnam War 4 setting and into stranger territory: Japan, Miami, ancient South American tombs, and even space and Hell for far-fetched reasons. While it may be fine to travel to places that seemingly aren't connected, the way the whole thing is told is rather irksome. Spliced in between all of the barely animated cut scenes are random commercials and TV station bumpers that are thrown in for no discernible reason. There are attempts at humor, such as advertising a breakfast cereal with more insect protein or having a channel called WTF, but those bits feel forced rather than organically funny. It also doesn't help that the dialogue between all of the characters is groan-worthy, losing sight of what made the original game humorous in the first place.

The core game is split up into several different components, with the Trials portion making up a good chunk of it. These stages are less about racing and more about dealing with physics. You'll be on your dirtbike taking on steep slopes to get enough speed to cross big chasms. You'll knock down poles and fences to create your path, and you'll sometimes get on pneumatic lifts to send you rocketing toward the air to hopefully land with two wheels on the ground. You've got full control of acceleration and body lean, which you'll use to manipulate things so you don't crash. Should you wipe out, however, the game's quick restart system gets you back to your last checkpoint immediately, so you can try again.

These portions are much more forgiving than what was experienced in past games — at least in the beginning. There's certainly more forgiveness when it comes to landing on the track from a jump, and it takes some real effort to land poorly. The shifting track in some courses may make you think that you'll certainly fall, but the bike seems to have some magnetism since landing on completely vertical surfaces seems easy, and crossing small steps and jumps feels effortless. Even when you get on other vehicles, like a mine cart or a six-wheeler, the courses feel rather safe compared to the older titles, making you believe that this may be one of the easiest Trials games in the series to date.

Once you make it about two-thirds of the way through Trials of the Blood Dragon, however, the difficulty spikes and the old physics come back with a vengeance. Sliding backward and tipping over from simply accelerating now becomes a thing, even if the track doesn't give you any new obstacles. That stickiness from wheel to track is suddenly gone, and even getting over simple steps becomes a maddening chore because the physics system decided to become more sensitive. This sudden shift in difficulty becomes readily apparent in the space level, where you need to transport a bomb across the terrain. The bomb is sensitive to harsh movements and collisions, so you want to go slow, but the track makes it so that you're either going to have to go fast or not make it at all. With the bomb set insecurely on the flatbed and the physics system making it so that the slightest bump can cause the bomb to go flying, this is likely the point where players give up in frustration, especially with the knowledge that later stages employ things like pinball flippers and riding atop rockets.

Since this isn't a straightforward Trials game, the team added a few new mechanics to the biking sessions. Some stages ask you to bike around while shooting, which seems odd but works pretty well. While the gun isn't as effective as your own bike in mowing down enemies, it comes in handy for killing growths that act as switches on your path. Other stages introduce a grappling hook, which lets you latch on to overhangs from any distance to swing over large chasms and reach the next part of the track. It works very well at first, but the mechanic becomes cumbersome when you reach the Japanese levels, where you need to use the hook as you would in a platformer. That sounds fine, but with the physics at play here, using the hook is difficult enough to sap away any fun.

The other big component is platforming. For a decent portion of the game, you'll be off your bike and taking on the enemy by foot. The standard platforming mechanics are here in that you can jump, and you've got loads of pathways that require you to navigate floating platforms and push boxes to get to higher places. You also have a gun with infinite bullets, perfect for taking out foes, hitting tumor switches, and destroying other boxes.

It is here where everything falls apart in rather grand fashion. Shooting is handled by pointing the right analog stick, but it doesn't feel precise at all. You'll hit what you're aiming at because of the nature of your submachine gun, but it doesn't feel satisfying to use. Your characters lack any other sort of expected platforming skills, so don't expect to climb on edges, but you can at least duck. Jumping is the worst offender, as it lacks any sort of weight. More often than not, you'll try and correct yourself in the air since you always feel like you're jumping too far when you really may not be jumping far at all. Compared to being on a bike, it feels like the physics are turned off, and it proves that the engine isn't meant for anything but wheeled machinery.

The only real solace you'll find in the platforming levels is the fact that they're relatively easy. Enemies don't tend to shoot until after you've been spotted by them, and the quick restarts means it's much easier to get back to your last spot and overcome the challenge. Except for the later levels, the enemies are pretty easy to dispatch and the actual platforming isn't terribly difficult once you come to grips with the really bad physics behind it. Also, there are still more biking levels than ones where you're on foot, so at least the bad platforming sections aren't the largest part of the game.

Though not a major component to the game, there is one other mode of transportation: the jetpack. The best way to describe the jetpack levels is that it falls somewhere in between the biking and platforming in terms of difficulty and sense of control. The Trials physics system is out in full force, but it doesn't take long before the game starts to throw really tricky obstacles at you. It takes a while before you get used to the weight of your character compared to the power of the thrusting system, but by the time you finally come to grips with it, those stages are no longer found.

There are other design decisions that either feel tacked on or are just terrible. The game has around five different secret areas for a flippable RC car to navigate through. Aside from the challenge levels that you unlock when you beat these, the levels are quite challenging, even for Trials veterans. Their inclusion is nice, but for some reason, there's no way to escape these levels without escaping the whole quest, an unacceptable proposition when some of these secret stages are located at the end of a regular stage. The game also gives you a few collectibles, but for the most part, they add nothing else to the game. Choosing and leveling up a spirit animal that looks suspiciously like a Pokémon is fine, but there's no impetus for doing this. The same goes for the collection of stickers for a sticker book, which remains mysterious in every way possible. You have no idea how to collect a sticker pack, and you won't even know you acquired one until you get to the sticker book and see a simple prompt letting you know to open up a pack. For many, those features can be safely ignored without any further impact on your experience.

Graphically, Trials of the Blood Dragon starts off with a pretty good base but taints it by overusing unnecessary graphical tricks. The neon backdrops of the original game are back, and seeing some city landscapes awash in that glow is certainly impressive. For the most part, the character models are fine even if they can be rather diminutive during the platforming levels. The bikes are fine in their 2.5D environments, which sport some nice details and look terrific due to their perspective changes. Bullets are almost impossible to see, and you sometimes might not see exactly what hit you until it's too late. The digital interference filter doesn't fit the game at all when you're trying to convey the use of old technology with scanlines. The effect is used so often that it becomes a major annoyance instead of a cute little quirk.

The audio is certainly mixed as far as quality goes. The synth tunes of artist Power Glove fill the soundtrack, and it is impeccable. Each track sounds great in every level, and while you won't have a wide variety of tracks since every environment only has one or two songs, you'll want to turn up the volume. What may make you want to reconsider this are the voices. Just about everyone is cast right, and their vocal inflections are perfect for their cheesy lines. The exception are the kids, whose actual voices are fine, but they sound bored, and that certainly doesn't lend itself to a story and setting that should be exciting.

In the end, Trials of the Blood Dragon is a mess. The platforming is barely passable, and several mechanics feel terrible to use. The biking portions work, but the change in physics systems messes things up just as the game becomes tougher. The presentation is lackluster, and the story tries too hard to top the original game but doesn't manage to achieve the same level of charm. It can be finished off in a relatively short amount of time, but fans of either franchise won't want to bother. Unless you're insanely curious, Trials of the Blood Dragon is best left alone.

Score: 4.5/10

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