Urban Trial Freestyle

Urban Trial Freestyle

Urban Trial Freestyle (UTF) reminded me a lot of an old EA BIG game called Freekstyle. In Freekstyle, players chose from several characters, customized their bikes, and executed insanely cool and unrealistic tricks while racing the CPU. UTF has some of those same elements, although on a smaller scale. Bear in mind this is intended to be more of a casual, pick-up and play type of game for short play sessions, and not much more than that, and you’re likely to enjoy it, perhaps even get a mild addiction to it.

That’s not to say you can’t sink a fair amount of hours into UTF should you desire. With forty-seven tracks set across five different environments (or worlds as they are called in-game) there is a good amount of content here, although most tracks are designed to be completed within two or three minutes. Players have to earn enough stars from one track to the next to be able to progress, a tried and true format, but it means you will find yourself having to replay tracks, especially after the first world. For me, that bogged the pacing and enjoyment down a lot. I was reminded of another game from years past: Gripshift. Gripshift was really great when things were going even somewhat smooth, but once you really started to have “work” at it, the fun factor dropped off rather sharply. With UTF, I had that same feeling; despite the tracks being well designed and full of activity (more on that later), I found replaying the stages was a tough pill to swallow. So while getting into UTF is cake, becoming proficient at it takes a significant amount of time. For me, the balance of time and fun versus reward wasn’t really there. I enjoyed UTF so long as I was progressing with a casual gamer’s effort, you could say.

All gamers, casual included, will find UTF an easy one to hop into, though. This is thanks to a very simplistic concept — simply move from left to right as efficiently as you can, grabbing as many money-bag pickups along the way. The controls couldn’t be much simpler (I used an Xbox 360 controller): RT for accelerate, LT for brake, and the left stick to lean forward or backward to maintain balance (and to perform some in-air tricks). Balance is absolutely key, lest you find yourself toppling over in all sorts of hilarious, and some not so hilarious, ways. I love that you can press Y at anytime to reload the last checkpoint, too, which is an instantaneous load. Load times in general for this game are practically instant for that matter, even on my low-end gaming rig (E8400 @ 3Ghz, 8GB, 4850 1GB). Curiously, when booting up the game, there is an odd ten second delay after the company logos before the pre-rendered cutscene starts, but this is forgiveable. I’m just happy that you can restart and hop back to checkpoints so quickly because when you wreck, you want to immediately get back and try again (no matter how hilarious the wreck might have been).

UTF features a nice amount of customization options too in terms of changing the appearance of your character and the performance of your bike. You earn money by picking up money bag icons throughout a course (which usually require a nice flip stunt, big air, or clever timing to reach). Helmets, gloves, jackets, pants, shirts, and shoes can be customized with different themes, like Sport, or Military. Bikes are rated on Max Speed, Acceleration, and Handling, with Wheels, Chassis, and Engines being your three different categories to upgrade. Upgrading your engine will improve max speed, but at the cost of handling, while wheels do the opposite, so there is some trade-offs to consider there, too.

I liked what Tate did with the environments and presentation from an art direction standpoint, even if the technical quality isn’t all that great. That your character is a sort of bandit, illegal biker that police are actively pursuing works in the game’s favor. It gives your character a sort of ‘badass’ edge in a way, as even though you are just biking through the city, which is practically falling apart in some areas as you go, you’re still on a wanted list. The tracks, which takes place across worlds known as the outskirts, downtown, industrial, underworld, and train depot areas, are also visually entertaining, complete with active backgrounds and lots of moving objects, often which can effect your path. This in turn makes the gameplay better because it’s not just about holding down accelerate and maintaining balance; there is good reason to be ready to brake and time certain hazards, too. At times I thought maybe there were too many icons or markers in the game world, but I ultimately decided there wasn’t. Furthermore, I liked the inclusion of the Ghost mode, which shows the current world leader’s performance alongside yours on the time attack tracks. Of course, the moment you take a jump wrong or somehow slowdown, the ghost driver moves onward, not to be seen again (sort of restarting the track).

Technically speaking, UTF looks dated and lacks fidelity. It supports 1080p and you can toggle V-Sync, but that’s it. It’s not an awful looking game, and I didn’t experience any significant framerate issues, but graphics are a letdown. For me they aren’t a dealbreaker, but for some, especially those who have played this game on other platforms and were hoping for the most visually impressive version yet, it might be a bigger deal.

From a sound design perspective, UTF does well — the generic (not meant to be condescending, just descriptive), or unlicensed, perhaps I should say, soundtrack is fitting and good. It’s all instrumental music too with no vocals, which is even better. Sound effects, including the buzz of your motorcycle, destruction, cops yelling at you, and so forth add some good ambiance and noise to the experience.

With that, let’s get to the summary…