Going nowhere fast
Urban Trial Freestyle has all the swagger and braggadocio still associated with extreme sports—which is to say none. “I’m not one for discipline and rules,” says supposed godfather of urban trial freestyle and promotional frontman Julien Dupont. “The rider [in Urban Trial Freestyle] has a kind of gangster style. It makes you want to trash things, explore all the streets, and pull stunts everywhere.” Once upon a time, “extreme” may have accurately described activities involving skateboards and BMX bikes and motorbikes, but these days, they’re as common and everyday as anything else that’s been swept into the mainstream.
Watching Dupont, who Red Bull tells me “has done for motorbikes what parkour has done for jogging,” sell Urban Trial Freestyle by pointing out how it has police and helicopters and car pileups on highways doesn’t really connect with me the way he wants it to. What Dupont wants is to sell his Trials Evolution clone through the counterculture perception extreme sports had 15, 20 years ago—back when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was culturally relevant. But where Tony Hawk games were a spectacle that took something from real life and portrayed it in that bizarre, hyper-realistic way that only videogames can, Urban Trial is simply a spectacle in the silliest sense. At least the crazy maps in Tony Hawk—which included an active foundry—were playgrounds. Everything Dupont describes are set pieces thrown up on a green screen. Crazy, unbelievable things happen as you pass by, but in a detached way—a disconnected way. Urban Trial’s gangster-style rider is like an actor on a prop bike.
Are you familiar with Flick Trix? They’re tiny little toy bikes that you can manipulate with your fingers to perform tricks and stunts—and they offer much, much more variety and genuine engagement than Urban Trial Freestyle. See, there are only four buttons in play—one to accelerate, one to brake, and two directions on the analog stick to balance the bike as it fights gravity and physics. After the first few levels, you pretty much get the gist; subsequent stages are just more of the same.
Unfortunately, the game is designed in such a way that unless you perfect each level during your first run, returning to them is a requirement. Each stage can earn you up to five stars, which serve as currency to unlock the later levels. Stars are handed out for earning a certain amount of points through stunts or completing levels under a set time goal, neither of which I ever really had the heart to care about.
At first glance, most people will compare Urban Trial Freestyle to the XBLA title Trials Evolution—and they’d be right to. Urban Trial, however, lacks any and all of the charm that made Trials special. Where Trials was arcadey in a playful, fun way, this game is arcadey in a laughably absurd way. It takes itself seriously and promotes itself as believable, even though it’s the furthest thing from either; this misguided attempt at realism is what makes it such a chore. And unlike Trials Evolution, this PS3 answer to RedLynx’s smash hit lacks its source material’s bevy of features. There’s nothing beyond the main game—in which you can compete for leaderboard glory—except five additional challenges. No multiplayer, no map editor.
Maybe, maybe this dopey, mundane motorbike game could be fly on the fun, on mobile devices. It certainly isn’t worth 15 bucks. I could get behind the stripped-down, simplistic gameplay if it were something I busted out on the bus or subway for a quick fix. But on PSN? For the PS3? Not so much. Perhaps it’s an adequate substitute for Trials Evolution if you don’t also own an Xbox 360, but it’s a poor man’s substitute. Urban Trial Freestyle never manages to rise above the humdrum of “Vroom-vroom, motorbike goes from left to right. Warning: Occasional platforming may happen.”
“I’m really proud to be a kind of ambassador for the game,” says Julien Dupont. Well, Jules, were this game an actual country, and were you really an ambassador, yours wouldn’t be a country I’d care to visit.
SUMMARY: Urban Trial Freestyle is, at its very best, a poor man’s Trials Evolution. It feels very much the same, but it lacks the personality and host of features that its source material possesses.
- THE GOOD: Ghost races, the closest thing to multiplayer in Urban Trial, caused me to lean forward a little in heightened interest.
- THE BAD: Watching that ghost racer vanish, presumably to a better place, whenever I tipped over and restarted from the last checkpoint.
- THE UGLY: How little there is to do in Urban Trial Freestyle.
Urban Trial Freestyle is available on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita via PSN. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 3.