Urban Trial Freestyle – PS3
Publisher: Tate Multimedia
Developer: Tate Multimedia
Release Date: Feb 19, 2013
Genre: Racing
Reviewed by Arend Hart

Review Score: 3 of 5

For nearly 3 years, Xbox 360 gamers have been enjoying Finnish developer, RedLynx’s superb stunt-based motocross Trials series on Xbox Live Arcade. Styled after the immensely popular European motorsport, Trials – in which riders are tasked with completing precise navigation through dangerous obstacle-courses – RedLynx crafted a unique 2D experience that aptly blends reality-based physics modeling with surreal environments and level design. The result is an edge-of-your-seat test of timing, precision, and fluidity.

Granted, RedLynx’s vision was not entirely novel; the 2D side-view design harkens back to the earliest motocross video games, most notably Nintendo’s original Excite Bike and Codemasters Stunt Kids, right on through a slew of Java-based casual titles like Canvas Rider and Line Rider, and even recent PSN releases like the excellent Joe Danger series. But RedLynx was able to succeed by making the staid formula seem new and exciting.

So why am I talking so much about RedLynx and their Trials series in the opening of Tate Multimedia’s Urban Trial Freestyle review? Well, because it is basically the same game. And by “basically,” I mean that even veteran Trials gamers would have to really look long and hard to spot the differences – and they might be less than impressed with what they find.

That’s not to say there are not a few obvious differences between the two games, or that URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE is not a technically sound. The nearly-identical visual aesthetic and the finely-honed physics modeling are sure make Trials gamers feel like they are treading on familiar territory, but URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE’s unique “run from the cops” take on the gameplay will clue gamers that something about the game is different.

The letdown comes when the gamer realizes that URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE’s entire experience (levels, gameplay challenges, player options) is about one-third of what Trials delivers on any given day. Given the $15 price tag for each of the two titles, it hardly makes URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE seem like a bargain. But enough about RedLynx and their Xbox-exclusive Trials series – we are here to talk about Tate Multimedia’s PlayStation Network exclusive URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE, out now for the PS3.

Fun, exciting, addicting – these are all words that come to mind when I think back to my time playing URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE for the sake of this review. Sure, as a seasoned fan of this style of game, it took a little bit of time to get tuned-in to the physics – learning what was, and what was-not possible in the game. And although early on I found myself ready to break my controller in two pieces more often than I care to admit, once I found the groove the controller became increasingly more difficult to put down.

You see, I have always been a sucker for tedious challenge modes – games like Stuntman with its exacting Director’s requirements, and Gran Turismo’s License Tests which challenge players to continuously shave fractions of seconds off of trial times through cone courses and stopping challenges. These non-traditional racing challenge modes have a way of magically stealing hours of a gamer’s life, oftentimes more than the core gameplay modes.

URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE does an outstanding job in delivering the same style of highly addictive gameplay with its engaging level design and challenging – yet achievable – goal structure. With a Burnout-like 5-Star grading system, gamers will be tasked (depending on the event) with either achieving the fastest time through a course, or with performing particular stunts at specified locations marked onscreen.

While the balls-out racing segments are definitely exiting, it was the stunt mode that really had me coming back for more by challenging me to achieve points the highest jumps, most rotations, speed checks, and more all within a time limit, and with points taken off for falling (yet strangely not for resetting to a checkpoint just prior to an accident).

While these challenge spots might not seem like they are always chosen in the optimum locations for achieving the highest jump, or the fastest speed, the developer has done a fantastic job at adjusting the grading scale accordingly – so in one level, a long jump score of 850 might indicate a miserable failure with the announcer dropping a rude quip like “Are you kidding?”, yet in another level the very same 850 garners praise and excitement, “Oh yeah!”. These challenges, given in the face of adversity, really help drive the gamer’s desire to achieve mastery of the gameplay, and help hone the gamers skills overall.

Again, like those original Burnout titles, gamers collect their awarded Stars, which eventually open new levels. Inevitably, gamers will find themselves up against a locked level needing a handful of stars to proceed, which can be garnered by replaying earlier levels to get better trick scores and racing times. The levels also contain any number of hidden money sacks, which when collected can be used to buy equipment upgrades and the necessary costume pieces to cover up the half-naked, bandana-wearing rider that is assigned in the beginning of the game. I will say, of all the challenges I achieved in URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE, none was more rewarding than the moment I finally realized I could put a shirt on my character. And I’m not kidding.

Visually, the game looks really fantastic with its odd blend of apocalyptic-industrial aesthetic. I’m still not entirely sure why the city appears so bombed-out, and why some folks are panicking while others are quite-literally picnicking in the rubble – but apparently it has something to do with my character and what he did.

Regardless, there is a lot of 3D background distraction going on in the background, which is exciting for spectators, but not so much for the gamer as much of it is ignored by keeping such a close eye on the character. At one point, my son was watching me play and he said “Aw, that’s disgusting… did you see that clown’s eye pop out?” All I could say was “What clown?” Upon watching him play moments later, I had not just driven by a giant clown whose eye popped out and almost rolled over my character, and I never noticed it at all. I guess that’s a good thing, eh?

Really, given the fact that I like these Trials-styled games so much, and URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE is done so well, I really do not have much to gripe about aside from the fact that compared to the competition – there just isn’t that much here. URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE’s 20 track layouts might sound impressive, but considering these tracks typically are only 1-2 minutes each, it starts to fall into perspective. True, you replay each level numerous times – with different ghost racers to ride against, or different stunt locations – but compared to the Trials series which delivered 35 original levels in its first outing, and 50 in its follow-up, Trials Evolution, and it’s suddenly obvious that URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE just doesn’t hit the mark.

If that were not enough, the fact that the game only offers two gameplay modes – Racing, and Trick Score, which are little more than minor variants of each other – and neither technically online (other than leaderboards), URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE hardly measures up to Trials’ numerous gameplay modes, track editors, and online play.

Still, the one thing that URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE has to its benefit, is that as a PSN exclusive it does not have to directly compete with RedLynx’ epic Xbox Live Arcade exclusive. However, with a fair number of gamers owning more than one gaming system at this stage in the console lifecycle, the likelihood of indirect competition is becoming more of a reality, and in those cases I would have to point gamers squarely in the direction of the identically-priced Trials Evolution.

Albeit a blatant cash-in on the success of RedLynx’ Trials series, Tate Multimedia still managed to craft a fun and exciting – and even mildly unique – gameplay experience. While I do wish it offered a tad more in terms of content, I cannot argue with the fact that URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE succeeded in hooking me with its addictive challenges. PS3 owners would not go wrong with URBAN TRIAL FREESTYLE, but multi-console homes should go directly to Trials on the Xbox.