Urban Trials Freestyle is the first title on the Vita from Tate Multimedia. A relatively unknown developer, they have experience in producing games for a variety of devices, but have produced a lot of content on mobile platforms already, especially the DS and the PSP. This bodes well for the Vita. It needs more games designed specifically for the mobile gaming market, and it shows with this current IP.
First, lets get the inevitable out of the way. Comparisons will be made to that other motocross platformer game on the Xbox. It will always happen when games by competing developers are very similar, and being a fan of RedLynx’s Trials series myself, I couldn’t help but compare the games. However, upon seeing previews of the game, my first thought was, Trials on the Vita? Hell yeah. Lets be honest, there are enough generic shooters out there that do basically the same thing, you can’t fault Tate for capitalising on a successful genre, and they’re not the only one. Joe Danger also took the oblique vehicular platformer genre and turned it into a casual game that was very successful.
The presentation goes down the well trodden ‘gnarly’ street style route of brick walls, graffiti, thrashy metal music and blazing oil barrels on every corner, which is somewhat clichéd. It would be nice to see a game presented to the non-bud-light-swigging Kid Rock fans who live in the rest of the world apart from the States. You are presented with the option of photographing yourself using the Vita’s camera as a profile picture, which will appear in various sections of the game as you hit the leaderboards, much like the barriers in Need for Speed. Resisting the temptation to photograph parts of my body other than my face, I snapped my baldy visage and dived into the main game.
You have a choice of 20 tracks which are recycled in various ways to present a variety of driving disciplines. Tracks focus on either scoring as many points as possible for stunts performed, or by completing the route in the fastest time possible. There is also a challenge mode, which uses the same tracks again, but presents you with, as the title suggest, unique challenges, to complete the route. One such example is having to get as far as you can on a limited fuel supply, which drastically changes the way you play the game and control your bike. The more cynical reviewer would comment on the more limited supply of tracks compared to the Trials games. It’s a play off between a loss of quality in the graphics to have more tracks and it’s not a compromise I’m too concerned with. This is after all a mobile game and the developers do have certain restrictions in data size for use with the Vita (not to mention budget challenges). If you are connected to the internet, your time and scores are added to the global leaderboards as are certain achievements in-game. These include getting the longest or highest jump, or hitting certain obstacles precisely with your bike. Beat the best score and your ugly mug appears in game for bragging rights. Additionally a ghost will appear of the global leader and it is interesting to see the technique they use and the routes they take to get the best score. I picked up some pretty useful tips by watching the Ghost perform.
The tracks themselves are reasonably pretty, if somewhat homogenous in terms of design; there’s a lot of industrial influence and it would have been nice to see more variety in the environment. Nevertheless this is a good looking game and a good showcase for the Vita. I imagine there may be some DLC at a later date and it would be great to see less girders and rails and more green and organic routes. Having spent many hours on Trials Evolution already, the control system was immediately very familiar. Driving your motorbike is very simple; two buttons control your accelerator and brakes (you have the choice between using the X and Square buttons or the left and right shoulder buttons for this. I prefer the shoulder buttons for my fat fingers). The left stick controls your balance. This is important as the position of your rider on the bike can have a big impact on how your balance and speed is affected. it follows the classic rag-doll physics of Trials although it is somewhat easier and less deep in terms of gameplay. The game isn’t as hard or as challenging and this may limit later replays, but as a quick to pick up mobile game, this is a good design choice. Overall the difficulty does ramp up slightly, and you progress up in rankings to unlock further tracks, so once all the levels are yours, the challenge is to beat your friends online. Whether this appeal lasts remains to be seen.
Throughout the levels money sacks float around, ready for you to pick up and earn cash. the cash earned allows you to customise your bike and outfit. The outfit is purely cosmetic and as far as I can see has no influence on your performance, but bike customisation does. Buying better wheels, engines etc. does not lead to an upturn in overall performance, as, like attachments to weapons in shooters, equipping one item is to the detriment of the other. It does add another level of challenge as you try to find the best setup to suit the particular terrain or style of track. There’s not a massive amount of customisation to choose from and you will buy most of the kit fairly rapidly.
Overall this is a solid game. It is important to look at it in the handheld context, it works well from dropping in for a quick few tracks, but also to the more addicting ‘just one more level’ phenomenon, and I am losing sleep playing this. It looks good, is fun and is not throwing in-app purchases at you like some other mobile devices I could mention. It doesn’t overdo the touch screen functionality either, just reserving this for navigating the menus, which is refreshing. It is by no means perfect and I’m not sure how it’s price stands up in value to similar games on other mobile devices. It’s a shame that it is not a cross-buy product, but to be honest I feel I would play this more on my Vita than on the PS3 anyway. I very much feel that this game could split opinion. If you’re a member of PS+, I recommend downloading the demo and getting a feel for the game before buying. You may be pleasantly surprised. – 3/5
Available on Playstation Vita
Game provided by Tate Multimedia
Images Courtesy of Tate Multimedia