Published on June 26th, 2016 | by Sean Warhurst
Trials of the Blood Dragon PS4 Review
Summary: Trials of the Blood Dragon is an interesting experiment that ultimately fails to completely succeed.
Blood from a stone?
If you had asked me to guess which of Ubisoft’s games would be the next to get the Blood Dragon treatment, never in a million years would I have picked RedLynx’s Trials franchise.
Trials, for those unfamiliar, features precision vehicular platforming and insane motorcycle stunts, using the thumbsticks to correct your rider’s position in order to pull off landings and rack up time trial scores; Far Cry 3’s add-on Blood Dragon, on the other hand, revelled in kitschy, 80’s inspired nostalgia, neon visuals and action movie tropes.
So diametrically opposed are these two sensibilities that I would never have foreseen a marriage between them, but sometimes, just like that godawful Paula Abdul song where she serenades a cat, opposites attract.
So, somewhat inexplicably, we have Red Lynx’s latest effort Trials of the Blood Dragon as the official follow-up to the Far Cry DLC. For once the series has an actual storyline for the single player campaign, taking place 12 years after the events of Vietnam War 3.
Rex Power Colt (Michael Biehn) is missing, presumed dead, so after his omniscient narration opens the game the focus shifts to his cyber commando twin children and their efforts to speed through the battlefield of Vietnam War part 4.
A lot of the plot exposition comes via intentionally cheesy voice overs but most levels are also interspersed with animated cutscenes that are supposed to be reminiscent of 80’s action cartoons but look a little too slick to maintain the illusion, even with the welcome addition of chromatic aberrations and visual noise that replicates the experience of watching a show on an old VHS that’s been taped off the television, complete with snippets of corny advertisements.
Despite the intention to make the entire experience a campy jaunt through nostalgia, the storyline and voice acting skirt between being “so bad it’s good” and just plain bad, unfortunately landing in the latter camp more often than not. What semblance of a plot there is only really serves as a means to justify chucking the characters into different environments, usually prefaced by a clichéd and overly patriotic speech from the twin’s squad leader, although there are two twists that attempt to subvert expectations a little bit, with the final reveal actually eliciting a chuckle from myself.
For the most part, however, the attempts at humour generally fall flat, so it’s left to the aesthetic and the gameplay to salvage the experience. The storyline takes the twins to seven different environments – Eight if you include the challenge areas unlocked by collecting hidden keys -, from the war torn domain of the Viet Cong to the outer reaches of space.
There’s even a Hotline Miami inspired stage that probably stands out as the most enjoyable, particularly the surreal, hallucinogenic drug trip of the final level; you’ll also work through giant pinball machines in order to kill Power Ranger pastiches, take on insectoid enemies in an urban wasteland, venture into the depths of Hell, explore a tomb ripped straight from Raiders of the Lost Ark and even, as Arnie so eloquently put it in Total Recall, get your ass to Mars.
The levels are, for the most part, well designed and offer up a suitable challenge, especially in the later stages, and the variety of locales is definitely one of the game’s strongest points. The gameplay is similar to that of previous Trials games, forcing the player to maintain momentum whilst adjusting the pitch of your bike to ensure that you don’t wipe out.
When the game is focusing solely on the motorcycle and BMX sections it’s a case of being the same old Trials that fans love, simply transplanted to garish and gleefully silly environments with the addition of a grappling hook and a machine gun for when things get too hairy. It’s when the game introduces new vehicles, with varying levels of success, that the cracks begin to show; throughout the game you’ll take control of mine carts, an 8-wheel tank, jetpacks, a Turbo Flip remote controlled car and, for a first for the series, even leave your vehicles behind and go at it on foot.
The tank and mine cart sections are actually fairly fun and as intuitive to control as the bikes and the Turbo Flip makes for probably the most enjoyable sections of the game, even if it is criminally underused in the main game – The hidden key stages all take advantage of this mechanic and there’s also two additional tracks that can be obtained via Ubisoft Club that expand on the R/C goodness, however.
The on-foot platforming sections are pretty dang terrible, unfortunately, serving to highlight just how ill equipped the Trials engine is for anything not involving vehicles. The physics feel too floaty and the combat is rudimentary at best; this wouldn’t be such a big deal if these sections were few and far between but they inexplicably make up a hefty chunk of the main campaign.
By far the worst vehicle, however, is the accursed jetpack. Almost impossible to control with any real accuracy, your patience will be put to the test during these sections, most particularly a level that first sees you trying not to jostle an active bomb attached to your bike via a trailer before taking to the skies with it tethered to your character.
At these points the game becomes an exercise in sheer attrition rather than fun and once you finally complete them there is absolutely no way you’ll be heading back to attain an A+ ranking unless you’re a masochist.
Graphics and Audio
Graphically Trials of the Blood Dragon carries itself well, capturing that neon soaked vibe that the Blood Dragon games demand. The character models are pretty weak and heavily recycled but the environments are excellent for the most part and each level has its own distinct theme that makes it instantly identifiable.
The issues I had with the abysmal vocal performances, Michael Biehn aside, were pointed out above, but the rest of the sound design is relatively solid. The soundtrack, however, is absolutely superb, once again performed by Melbourne duo Power Glove, who scored the first Blood Dragon as well as sections of Hobo with a Shotgun.
Synth heavy and perfectly evoking the atmosphere of the Eighties, this is by and large the standout feature of the game and can even be purchased bundled with the game as a separate download.
Despite the writing falling flat for the most part, Trials of the Blood Dragon has an aesthetic charm that is undeniable for anyone who revels in Eighties nostalgia. It’s just a shame then that roughly a third of the gameplay experience fails to be fun in any way. The biking sections are incredibly entertaining and offer up a suitable challenge to series veterans and the R/C sections show the potential for using different vehicles in the Trials context.
Unfortunately these high points are marred by shoddy and rushed platforming and jetpack sections that only serve to diminish the level of enjoyment gleaned from playing.
This is a shame as some of the level designs are among the most creative in the series and well worth playing through but you’re forced to trudge through some rage inducing sections in order to reach them. The challenge levels unlocked by discovering the hidden keys are also annoyingly tough for the most part but they’re entirely avoidable if you so desire.
Trials of the Blood Dragon is an interesting experiment that ultimately fails to completely succeed. There is definite enjoyment to be wringed from the game as long as you’re willing to separate the wheat from the chaff but sometimes the entire experience can feel like a bit of a chore and seems at odds with the roots of the series.
Primary Format – Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Game Genre – Action/ Racing
Rating – M
Game Developer – RedLynx
Game Publisher – Ubisoft
Reviewer – Sean Warhurst