The runaway success of the Trials series on the Xbox 360 has exposed the need for a motorcycle platforming game on the PlayStation 3, and, finally, a mere four years since the release of Trials HD, a clone of the series is available on the PS3 and Vita. Sadly though, it fails to bring the magic of the Microsoft games to Sony's systems – leaving only the bitter taste of disappointment.
Urban Trial Freestyle attempts to replicate Trials Evolution’s tried and tested formula – and, to an extent, it does it quite well. There are five worlds with eight tracks in each, meaning that there are 40 levels to play through. On top of that, there are five challenges that will see you purposefully landing on explosives in a long-jump style contest or even driving to the finish line with a limited amount of fuel in your tank; these represent the most enjoyable parts of the game.
Unfortunately, if you want to play all of these you will have to finish every conventional level first. All of these consist of obstacles to race over, barrels and such to navigate through, and jumps to launch off – as you would expect in such a game. Some levels also have set objectives like speed gauges, jump gauges, and flip metres, all of which boast the inclusion of individual leaderboards and even display the world leader in each on a billboard inside the level. This is a nice touch and it fits in nicely with the rest of the world with the leader’s name being written in graffiti on the environment itself.
Urban Trial Freestyle is a good looking game with stages being populated by onlookers, police, rioters, and lots of detail in the backgrounds that help to create the illusion that the bike is not limited to a single track. There’s always something new to look at, even if it's just as grey as before. Racing through a level will often lead to a set piece being triggered, like a car speeding towards the camera and narrowly missing your bike, or a train speeding by just in time to be jumped over. Sadly, these are a one-time only thrill, and, upon replaying, will seem calculated and staged. Some levels are a simple race against the clock and these, just like the other tracks, award you with a five star rating depending on how well you perform. As with most score chasing games, the later stages can only be played if you have attained enough stars in the previous levels – so expect to be replaying stages quite a few times.
This isn’t the only reason to replay levels, though: money bags are spread across the stages in hidden areas and are used to buy upgrades for your bike. New wheels, chassis, and engines are available for purchase and give a slight performance upgrade, which, in turn, encourages the replaying of earlier levels to gain a faster time or better score. After every upgrade has been bought, it's possible to finally put a helmet on – health and safety, anyone? – and cover up the rider’s bare chest. However, it's doubtful that anyone will stick around long enough with Urban Trial Freestyle to warrant buying new clothes for their rider. This is partly down to the game not rewarding the replay of levels, but, more likely, because the title has quite a few glaring problems.
Any platforming game demands pinpoint accuracy in its control scheme and physics. Urban Trial Freestyle is no different, but its controls are far from perfect. There are many times when the bike seems not to react instantly and the controls feel a little too sluggish. For example, an insane amount of space is required to pull off just one backflip. Some sections make this problem far more noticeable: elevator and spring boards will make death a very common occurrence, while the assignment of brake and reverse to the same button will leave you scratching your head.
The other unforgivable problem here is with its leaderboards. In our experience, the world leader ghost is often a lot slower than the time it's supposed to have set – and it’s immensely frustrating to spend half an hour trying to beat a ghost rider only to find that, when you do beat it, you are still 10 seconds off its time. When contacted, the developer informed us that it's working on the issue, but in the meantime, it remains a very real problem. Another missed opportunity is the omission of any kind of multiplayer from the game, and the lack of a map editor also puts it behind the competition, drastically reducing its lifespan.
Urban Trial Freestyle may have taken a lot of inspiration from Trials Evolution, but it only emulates the bare minimum. Yes, there is a bike, and, yes, there are obstacles to navigate, but any soul or innovation is left at the starting line. This is a cold, sterile replication of a successful franchise, and a testament to the fact that fun cannot be imitated in such an uninspired way.