Zoom zoom goes the motorbike as we cruise into Tate Interactive’s newest offering into arcade racing platformers. Step into the role of a nameless anarchist, who's mission is tearing through obstacles across city blocks as he brings down the man. The only thing missing is Youth Gone Wild jamming on the radio. Or at least that is what I thought the game was going to be about from the intro movie. Talk about a curve ball.
Urban Trials Freestyle is a platforming racing game where the player has to reach the end of the obstacle course without wiping out. Some of the stages have time limits. Other stages don’t but have you racing against yourself, instead of racing against time or against other AI or human players. The quicker the stage is finished the more stars awarded, with future stages only being unlocked once you've gained enough stars. The whole game is essentially a giant time trial, with no variation from the formula.
The entire game is a straight line, which is great for those who are bad at racing controls. There is no turning or swerving - just hit the gas and enjoy going straight forever. In its place are some very delicate balancing controls. Go too fast and the bike will flip over, meaning you constantly need to hit left or right to keep the bike balanced, rather than turning around objects. Flying off a ramp at the wrong angle guarantees a crash landing, forcing a restart from the nearest checkpoint.
Make no mistake, you will crash and crash a lot. It is obvious that was one of the intentions of the developers given one of the trophies requires you to wipe-out 100 times. The slightest touch of your character against anything on the screen will wipe you out, making him the most fragile gaming character since Sir Arthur. This fragility will either make you love the game for its immense challenge to five star every course, or have you cursing all the dozens of retries from clipping a ceiling to flipping the bike over. At least from respawn there is zero loading time, which allows getting back into the action a smooth transition.
Essentially it comes down to how OCD the player is at five starring every course. There is not a lot of meat to the game except for rinsing and repeating levels constantly to finish the stage perfectly for a five star ranking. There are money bags in each stage for buying some bike upgrades and tricks that can be done off certain obstacles for high scores, but other than those two features, both staples of racing games, there is not much to do.
The graphics are pretty good for a Vita game, and the semi cel-shaded nature of them gives a more arcade feel and look. The level designs are varied and scale in difficulty, adding new and more challenging obstacles as the game goes along to force the player to master the controls. Also, some stages have alternate paths to take to the finish line, which may or may not be harder depending on the individual’s skills. It is a risk and reward choice. Go the skillfully harder way that might mean stalling on an obstacle or go for the easier but more pinpoint accurate way that could mean wiping out from nicking the wall, thus forcing a restart.
What the developers did right, which I hope to see integrated in other Vita games, is integrating the PlayStation Network into the gameplay. Players scores and times are saved allowing for an ever fluctuating leaderboard. Some stages allow you to race against a ghost from the top of the leaderboard, seeing his exact route and movements as you try and beat his time. Additionally, for some of the stunt stages it will have the top player’s score to show what the player needs to beat. Beat it and now someone else will be trying to beat your high jump score in their game 2000 miles away across the world. It's a nice piece of interactive innovation that spices up the boring, static scoreboards that is seen in every game.
When playing Urban Trials Freestyle, it gave off an old arcade vibe like Excitebike. It is one of those games that is easy to play, hard to master, and takes real skill to get good at. If you are looking for a challenge and something to spend five or ten minutes on at a time while waiting for the bus, then this game could be right up your alley as every stage is short and concise. However if you are looking for something that has deep simulation qualities, or to be played for hours on end, then look elsewhere for that bike to be tuned up because this is Excitebike meets Wipeout the game show. No frills, just spills and short bursts of fun to keep you from getting bored in the bus line.
-The Final Word-
Excitebike meets Wipeout in this challenging arcade racing game. Great for those short line-ups when five minutes need to be burned but lacks any deep reserve of nitro to keep the engines burning at full speed into first place glory.