By Tommy Robbins. This is LOAD FILE, where the threat of communist and hostile alien invasions are crushed by mad motorcycle acrobatics. This week, Tommy reviews Ubisoft’s latest installation to the Trials series, ‘Trials of the Blood Dragon’, for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
In late April of 2013, Ubisoft released a unique expansion for the third installment to their successful franchise, Far Cry. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, was a retro futuristic sci-fi shooter that offered a self-aware and humorous spin on the more serious tone often found in the Far Cry series.
While this was happening, another Ubisoft series, Trials, was on its fourth installment, with work being put towards a fifth. The game, themed around acrobatic motorcycle stunts on increasingly demanding courses, offered a compact arcade experience with its 3D take on two dimensional track racing. It featured intense bike physics capable of allowing players to experiment with stunts and different play styles while mastering the courses.
The bonkers nature of both titles lends itself pretty well to this collision of bombastic style and thrilling mechanical fortitude, but perhaps what appeared to be a good idea on paper was not so great in practice.
Let’s review Trials of the Blood Dragon.
DOWN WITH COMMUNISM!
Trials of the Blood Dragon is the linear follow up to its spiritual and narrative predecessor, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Picking up where Blood Dragon left off, there’s a super-brief info dump to fill in the few narrative gaps. It feels kind of like a neon-soaked sequel to a Michael Bay action blockbuster — intentionally heavy-handed, with a touch of excessive patriotism.
By the end of Blood Dragon, Rex Colt had seemingly defeated the communist regime in Vietnam. Following his victory, he returned to the States with Dr. Elizabeth Darling, got married, and had twins, Roxanne and Slater Colt. Like their parents, Roxanne and Slater are extremely gifted in realms of fighting and handling advanced technologies. (Must be the genes.) One day, seemingly without reason, Dr. Darling left the Colt family without a word. Unable to cope, Rex did what he does best — he returned to Vietnam to deal with his emotions by facing the looming communist threat. As you do.
Time passed, and Rex was believed to have died in his depression quest against communism. The children turned to General Mason Ryback, a close family friend and military comrade to Rex. Ryback, having been responsible for technological modifications that gave Rex his fighting capabilities, knew that the children were destined for the battlefield and altered the children’s physiology, turning them too into android super soldiers. Now, Roxanne and Colt use their mad fighting skills and technological prowess to… you guessed it… venture into Vietnam and liberate POWs from the grasp of communism.
And there’s more. So much more.
Ok, so maybe the story isn’t so brief. This action movie inspired lunacy, spewed onto its viewer in quick sequences accompanied by vibrant and loud background noise, feels like late 80’s/early 90’s Nickelodeon cartoons bleached with the cocaine madness befitting of the time. This style somehow makes sense out of the ridiculous nature of these story dumps, taking us back to a time of VCRs and ladies with absurdly big hair. It’s ludicrous and amusing.
This narrative madness offers a lot of fun, especially in the setting of something like a Far Cry style shooter, but did I mention that Trials is a mechanically based motorcycle stunt racing game? One that’s typically free of narrative and is so coveted solely for its ‘replay courses a million times until you nail the perfect run’ style? While the tone of Trials of the Blood Dragon is certainly entertaining, it is worth pointing out that it, in no way, serves or benefits the gameplay.
BACKFLIPS FOR FREEDOM!
Now, regarding the ever so important subject of gameplay mechanics fans expect in a Trials title, the addition of certain mechanics that come as a result of the Blood Dragon theme utterly detracts from the experience. Trials has always been a game about mastering mechanics, physics, and ultimately, control. The feel of the game’s bike controls gets established by relatively easy tracks, before the game unleashes players into increasingly more difficult challenges. You know how it goes by now.
This is not that. Not even a little.
Due to Trials of the Blood Dragon’s focus on narrative, the supplied courses follow a timeline of events as they unfold for the characters. This not only strays from the racetrack-series style of past Trials games, but it implements never before seen mechanics that offer little to the experience — things like on-foot action platforming, grappling mechanics, or tank courses where you play as a giant vessel equipped with a top-mounted cannon. The platforming is terrible, the grappling is negligible, and the tank? Straight up boring.
The most fulfilling gameplay in Trials of the Blood Dragon is when it returns to true Trials form. Simply put, when you’re on the bike, it’s exactly what you want. The one addition that doesn’t feel pointless and dull is that of the submachine gun: with the controls of a twin stick shooter, the submachine gun allows players to easily spray bullets into unsuspecting guards while performing ‘sick’ motorcycle backflips.
BLOOD DRAGONS ARE GNARLY!
Trials of the Blood Dragon is an exciting mash-up of two incredibly different styles of bombastic gameplay and narrative. On one hand, the gameplay that holds true to the experiences we expect from Trials is still genuinely enjoyable. On the other, the 80’s cocaine-induced narrative and tonal style derivative of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is perfectly comical. The fault is in the intersect, where the two begin to influence each other. When Trials tries to pull in more than it can handle, it simply loses the charm that comes with its expected simplicity. While this one-off title gave me plenty of laughs and was mildly enjoyable, it hardly merits that call-to-arms of other Trials games. For those seeking hours of maddening replay sessions, stay away.
Developed by Redlynx and Ubisoft Kiev.
Published by Ubisoft.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
6 out of 10