Not everything from E3 that was given to the public to play was a demo. During their press conference, Ubisoft not only announced but launched the surprise Trials of the Blood Dragon game. The game promised to be a crossover of the crazy action of the Trials series with the setting and motif of Far Cry: Blood Dragon. As much as critics and gamers love each of those games individually, when you combine the two franchises, the result is the exact of what you would expect from either franchise.
The two parts making up this new whole are pretty good in and of themselves. Trials games started as a simulation of trials motorcycle competitions and has evolved into trials based insanity as you try to traverse levels of increasing difficulty and insanity. Blood Dragon was a parody of 80s post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy movies and 80s fiercely pro-American action movies such as Terminator, Rambo and Predator.
It picks up over a decade after Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon with the children of Rex “Power” Colt who are also cybercommandos who have been drafted into service for the United States of America. This is their adventure.
Rather than spoofing 80s shamelessly jingoistic action movies and 80s over-the-top sci-fi movies, Trials of the Blood Dragon combines that with 80s cartoons and 80s/90s kids movies. The cutscenes are done in 80s cartoon style with mock commercials spliced in like someone who did a terrible job of recording a show on their VCR. Unlike most, I don’t really mind the presentation style. I don’t care for the redesigned Blood Dragons, though. The story is a non-factor and only exists to somewhat jokingly take us from place to place. The plot and twists are supposed to be a parody but they aren’t really parodying anything in specific apart from a generalized stereotype of 80s sci-fi and children’s fiction so the story and humour falls flat as a result. Actually, one level parodies Hotline Miami. That one is even worse.
On paper, the fusion would only really work if done in a limited way. If it was Trials biking crossed with the setting and themes of Blood Dragon, it would work. Trials biking in that neon 80s aesthetic while dropping tricks from the right stick and replacing it with a machine gun. There are levels like that and they’re actually really good. The biking doesn’t get too complex when trying to gun down the Viet Cong in the fourth Vietnam War (Vietnam War III was the focus of FC3: Blood Dragon) which is disappointing but those levels were the high point of the game.
There is much more to the game than motorcycling and gunning, though. Some of that is okay and a lot of that is bad.
The motorcycle levels are mostly okay. The best is a level in which your character is escaping from a burning/exploding drug factory and having some very cool looking hallucinations. As you traverse the level, everything is changing around you from the background scenery to the level you’re riding on. You’re used to things happening in the background and levels shifting on you in Trials games but never to this extent. I don’t know what Red Lynx’s engine is capable of but this seems like the high point of technical acumen from Red Lynx.
The game also introduces a grappling hook which works like it does in Uncharted or Tomb Raider in traversing a level horizontally. Combine that with one level that also involves vertical movement and you get frustrated quite quickly as you can’t climb up or down the rope. Instead, it’s a case of hoping you speared the neon green grappling cylinder (for lack of a better descriptor because it’s painfully obvious that it was dropped into the levels as a gameplay element rather than integrated with the visuals of a given level with any degree of care) at the right time so you can progress. It’s one part of one level but it took a hell of a long time.
Also rating as okay were the eight-wheel armoured vehicle and BMX levels. Of course, we saw levels like that in previous Trials games so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Brand new additions to the gameplay, don’t go so well.
The game introduces on-foot missions and jetpack missions. The jetpack is an exercise in frustration to control. The left stick controls rotation and you fly with the right trigger which is confusing and counter-intuitive to how you would normally control a character floating in low/zero gravity like this. Even worse were the on-foot sections which involves such floaty and imprecise platforming that you would swear that you were playing a low-gravity level every time. It seems like the Trials engine just isn’t even close to capable of realistic simulation of running and jumping so they just threw it in to see if people wouldn’t mind. And rather than include physics puzzles, these sections were littered with instant kill states like surprise attack aliens and laser grids. They also didn’t give you cool death animations for those which is a shame. I could forgive the abundance of laser grids if they suddenly sliced you into tiny slivers. That would have been a smart cartoon parody.
The worst mission, by a wide margin, was one in which you must use your motorcycle to tow a bomb in a trailer and then dragging it along with your handy jetpack. If you jostle the bomb too much, it explodes and you die. The bike part is an exercise in trial and error as you try time and time again until you get the speed of a jump right. Bumps and ramps were easy because you just came to a stop before them so that part of the level took forever. The jetpack part I just treated as a sprint between checkpoints because trying to fly normally resulted in frequent deaths. It was far easier to haphazardly sprint to the next checkpoint and restart because trying to play smart wasn’t rewarded in this section. I’m fairly certain that I was awarded zero points for this level and I was never happier that scoring a point or completing a level in the time limit was removed as a progression requirement in this game.
Overall, this game took me just over three hours to complete the 25 missions which seems exceedingly short for a Trials game. It’s not helped by the fact that Ubi launched it at $15 with a 30% exchange kicker in Canada only to dump the exchange this week. I don’t just want my $4.50 in apparently superfluous exchange back but the $15 base price as well. Unfortunately, it’s a three-hour game so no dice on the Steam Refund. I’d recommend Trials Evolution: Gold Edition or Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon over this. Sure Trials Evolution costs $5 more but it has over twice as much gameplay and no bullshit platforming or jetpacks. If you want the 80s parody, FC3: Blood Dragon is the same price as TOTBD and you can get a lot more time and enjoyment out of it.
A word of warning beyond the above, if you play on PC, you’re going to be shunted through UPlay. I had a couple of crashes, including one on launch. There were server connection issues about half the times I booted the game up. Because I never use UPlay, I had to wait for it to update and then wait again to authenticate my game key from Steam because Ubisoft. Also, I wasn’t happy that everything was presented in retro aesthetic except the Ubisoft logo because they’re above this 80s parody presentation.
Trials of the Blood Dragon is a game with promise when Red Lynx sticks to what it does best. However, I’m not sure if even half of this game is about trials. When they apply their engine to gameplay that it wasn’t designed for, you wonder if Red Lynx had any say in the matter or if they were given any time to iron out the game through testing. Given the Trials games, whether I care for them or not, are well produced games. This just seems like Ubisoft said “do this” and Red Lynx had no choice but to follow orders, consequences be damned. Now, they’ve their goodwill and reputation have been burned through.
You have my recommendations for alternatives to Trials of the Blood Dragon. If you still really want this game, you should wait until it’s at least 50% off. That sounds like a good way to score it too.
Trials of the Blood Dragon was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether you want a Trials game, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or some bizarre, warped, unrecognizable hybrid of the two.
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