Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
For a long time now, a certain X-Box exclusive has been the only game I have ever envied Microsoft keeping a tight grip on. I don’t care for Halo, Mass Effect is multi-platform now and Alan Wake never lived up to the hype that surrounded it, but Trials has always been a game I have longed for. Showered with compliments for it’s superb visuals, unrivaled accuracy of control and crazy courses, Trials has made a name for itself as the best in the business when it comes to 2D motorbike games. Many have attempted to emulate it’s success in the mobile phone arena, as clone after clone have been released onto iOS and android, but few have ever come near to (and none has surpassed) the commercial success and extremely high bar that RedLynx set. For those of you who are unaware, Trials motorbike games involve getting from A to B, across bone crushingly difficult assault courses that involve loops, jumps and all manner of hazards to try and stop you. Because of the nature of Trials games, tight physics and responsive controls are the most important asset, as things can get pretty crazy the further you delve in. Trials is also famous for having a track editor, extending longevity far beyond the reach of the levels on offer. The Playstation Vita doesn’t have any Trials clones, that is, until now.
Developed by Tate Multimedia, Urban Style Freestyle has more than a passing resemblance to Microsoft’s famous exclusive. The game houses a campaign of twenty separate courses, played through twice (one run through as a time trial, the other with stunt based challenges) with a score of up to five stars awarded, dependent on how skilled you are at beating the challenges on offer. The game begins with ride training and stunt training, which runs you through the basic handling and scoring methods the game has to offer. The first thing I noticed immediately is that the game handles very well. You can accelerate with either the x button or right trigger, and brake with square, or the left trigger. Pressing left or right on the left analog stick shifts your rider’s weight forward or backwards. And that’s it. No tacked on touch controls outside of menu selections, no gyro tilting to shift rider weight (which is common in mobile phone offerings). It’s pleasingly simple and easy to grasp for amateurs with no experience, and Tate Multimedia have done a great job with the physics. The rider and motorbike react exactly as you would expect them to, which is vital when you factor in everything the game will put you through.
As I said previously, there are two main goals. Time trials are as simple as getting from start to finish as quickly as possible. Checkpoints are frequent throughout and this helps to reduce frustration, as all manner of hazards try to break you. Trees fall in your path, exploding cars are thrown at you, you ride on top of speeding trains, broken roller coasters, and more. Some levels have you working your way through systems of pipes, wooden platforms crumble beneath you and there’s 360 degree loops and a lot of air time. A LOT. Urban Trial Freestyle does a great job of mixing things up from level to level, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, another unique hazard is thrown at you. It keeps you on your toes and helps maintain a constant level of excitement. Of course, once you have been through a level and you replay it, you realise the set pieces are all scripted but it doesn’t really matter as repeat playthroughs are essential to try and obtain five stars and a great sense of achievement is awarded if you make it through a course without falling off your bike and having to respawn at the nearest checkpoint.
The other game mode, challenges are a little more sedate (if you can call it that). There is no time limit so you are free to take as long as you need to, but at specific parts of the track you are tasked with performing long or high jumps, or flipping your bike as much as possible. I didn’t think I would enjoy these challenges as much, but I actually found myself enjoying them more than the time trials as you have a chance to really let the levels draw you in. The game is so fast that during time trials you can make it through levels in little over a minute, so the stunt runs allow you more freedom to explore the alternate routes through the courses, to find the money bags needed to upgrade your motorbike and to find the best way to line yourself up for each stunt. It’s also here that you find upgrading your bike and replaying levels becomes important. To begin with, the bike you have is very limited in it’s capability, but as you progress and find more money you can upgrade the body, engine and tires for your bike. You have three main areas that are affected; top speed, acceleration and handling. While the first two are self explanatory, handling affects the speed at which your rider is able to shift his weight. Low handling means the bike is much heavier and as a result it is faster but also much harder to control on tricky terrain. Good handling becomes very important on the stunt courses as flipping the bike is nearly impossible with poor handling. Money can also be used to change the appearance of your rider, but chances are you won’t bother as you’ll be too busy saving up to buy new bike parts.
With the unstoppable rise in social media, multiplayer aspects are becoming ever more prominent in computer games, and while Urban Trial Freestyle doesn’t have a specific multiplayer mode, there are leaderboards for just about everything the game has to offer. What this means for the player is every time and trick is recorded and displayed on track. In time trial stages you can see a ghost of the fastest time (I had trouble keeping up with them) and when you finish a level the people at the top of the leaderboard are named, with photographs. You can set your own photograph from the main menu, but unfortunately some people have already chosen to abuse this (topless page three model pictures have been seen by me a few times). Really this could do with being better moderated as teenagers and children shouldn’t be seeing this, and it’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be any form of filtering for this. The idea in principle is good though as it feels immersive, and the visual representations of the trick challenges work well too. For example, when you hit a long jump, you’re presented with a line that shows your personal best, and another that shows the world best. Now, I’m not a high score chasing gamer, and actually prefer to play alone, but I really found myself replaying levels and restarting checkpoints to try and better myself and get nearer to the world leaders. This is unheard of for me really so I have to commend the way these social aspects have been introduced and how they bring out the competitive side.
All of this sounds great, right? And it is, so it pains me to now come to the not so good stuff. I’ve already mentioned that the game is fast and chaotic, and unfortunately the framerate can be a little chaotic with it. I got used to it after a while, but given that games these days very rarely suffer slowdown I did find it initially quite off putting. It’s a shame because in the main the game looks very good. I’m no expert but given my experiences of Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, I also suspect the game is running at a sub-native resolution. The reason this appears apparent is due to no anti-aliasing and extremely severe jaggies. There’s also a slight blurred effect to the visuals, though whether this was implemented to try and hide the rough edges or for artistic effect is a mystery. The other slightly crippling aspect (although this is somewhat lessened by the generous price tag) is that the game is very short. Part of this is exacerbated by the fact that the game is so brilliantly addictive and thrilling to play. Upon completion I just wished there were more levels on offer. Trying to get five stars on each level will take a lot more time and effort, but I’d still have liked to see more. There is a challenge mode available when you complete the game, but this simply contains five short challenge levels where the goals unique, like blowing up your rider and trying to get his body to fly as far as possible or shifting gravity by tilting the Vita whilst trying to complete an insanely difficult level. It’s a shame this mode wasn’t expanded on as it is left almost feeling like an afterthought.
But despite this I can’t help but love Urban Trial Freestyle. It may be short and sweet but it’s still immense fun to play and I sincerely hope it gets some sizeable downloadable content or even better, a sequel. Its hard not to like the atmosphere and crazy visuals with the rock solid controls and inoffensive sounds (Explosions and sound effects are good, rock music plays quietly in the background). Hopefully the stuttering framerate issues will be addressed in a patch, but it’s nowhere near game breaking. Also, the file size comes in at under 190MB which is tiny compared to the bloated, gigabyte hungry file sizes we’re now used to, so if you have slow internet or a small memory card you’re not going to feel squeezed. All in all Urban Trial Freestyle may not be perfect, but it’s the only Trials game on the Vita and it definitely does a good job. Just don’t expect to be playing it for weeks to come.