Ubisoft surprise announced, then immediately surprise released, a new game last night: Trials Of The Blood Dragon [official site]. Combining Red Lynx’s long-running motorbike stunt platformer with their half-idea standalone Far Cry: Blood Dragon is a bold choice. And having played this towering turd all day, one I can understand their wanting to keep a secret for as long as possible. I’m a little surprised they acknowledged it after release. Here’s wot I think:
The first thing you need to know is: No. This is not a Trials game. Even if you’re the biggest Trials fan in the world, steer so well clear of this. While there are, unquestionably, moments that are similar to what you’d expect from Redlynx, the majority of this festival of dreadful takes place off the bike. Because someone, somewhere, let leave of their senses.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the underwhelming Far Cry 3 spin-off, Blood Dragon, was its conflation of 1980s Saturday morning cartoons, and the decade’s violent action movies. Trying to spoof both at once, for seemingly no reason, it ended up spoofing neither – instead producing an unrecognisable hybrid of cheesy cartoons with incongruous swearing. In the end, its Peter Kay-ish “DO YOU REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES?!?!” felt hollow and often bewildering. So, well, it’s a bit odd that this new Trials spin-off makes exactly the same mistake, and so many more besides.
Here is what the Trials engine is built for: Nine years of stunty motorbike riding with a weird physics thing that makes you roll backward far too easily.
Here is what it was most certainly not built for: On foot twin-stick platforming.
What the bloody hell were they thinking?
The resultant mess of Trials Of The Blood Dragon is dismissive but entertainingly overblown Trials levels occasionally interspersed between incompatible cartoon sequences about Vietnam War 4 and cancerous growths (yeah), and some of the most dreadful platforming I’ve seen since the 90s. Ghastly, floaty jumping makes it feel like one of those freeware games you’d get piled onto magazine cover discs, complete with abysmal edge detection, skiddy unanimated landings, and timing-based jumping sections thwarted by its own incompetence rather than your own.
It’s really hard to convey quite how abysmal the platforming is. That Ubisoft and Redlynx considered it in any way suitable to release is bewildering. It feels like a placeholder for when they get around to properly programming it, along with the accompanying combat against nothing AI enemies. “But!” I can imagine someone involved in the project objecting, “It’s not meant to be top-of-the-range combat, against smart enemies – it’s just a light-hearted…” But let me cut them off there, because it’s a colossal pile of shit – it’s bad, and it’s on sale that way.
Where a Trials game should obviously shine is in the challenging tracks to race along, but there seems to have been considerable effort to ruin these as often as possible, too. The addition of a gun on the right stick (or mouse cursor, but really, no) is entirely unwelcome, meaning you’re now trying to shoot at targets while messing with the muddly physics. And while no one in the gaming world could have predicted this: the addition of a grappling hook actually makes this game worse. That defies the laws of nature itself.
What is unquestionably nicely delivered is the hyperbole of the tracks. The cartoon sequences are mostly incredibly boring, once more attempting to intersperse the clips with VHS blips of adverts and the like that have been ‘taped over’, and once again seeming to have been written and created by people who weren’t actually alive in the ‘80s – internet acronyms and energy drinks (other than Lucozade/Gatorade) weren’t a thing then, folks. The platforming sequences are, as I’ve said, atrocious. Other vehicles are invariably awful. But the bike tracks offer ridiculous grandiosity of exploding scenery, screeching dragons, neon horror and the like. It goes far too far on occasions, like having the camera rotate as you try to ride, making it deeply tedious to control, but clearly fun has been had here taking the Trials formula somewhere very silly.
However, it has the rather deleterious side-effect of revealing the main issue at the core of the Trials series: it’s not a motorbike riding game. Trials’ bikes operate under entirely unique laws of physics, bouncing and rolling in ways that are far from realistic. When you play a regular Trials game you accept these are the rules for this platform game, and learn to adapt to them, despite the frequent frustration that you often simply cannot correct your bike’s movement after the scenery made a surprise movement. In Trials, you say, “Okay, next run I’ll know about that,” and adjust accordingly to improve your score.
But while TOTBD offers letter grades at the end of a run, and the option to replay, it’s also a narrative-led game where each level is a progression along both its story and its journey. As a level finishes you see more cutscene, continue through its (albeit awful) plot. So it shifts the tone, moves the emphasis, and the game more starkly reveals itself as, well, bad at some stuff. Oh, and the further you get, the fewer and farther between come the bike sections.
That’s what blows my mind about this massive misfire – it somehow manages not to even be a Trials game. There are so many hateful platforming sections as you get deeper in, fewer bike sections, then poorly implemented jetpacks in space, clumsy alternative vehicles, and what I think might be one of the most annoying moments in any game I’ve ever played: tugging a trailer containing a massive bomb that cannot be bumped. On a bumpy track. Across which your bike is poorly balanced. It’s not a case of skill – it’s a case of guessing which random speed will successfully traverse it without the bomb bouncing out. And once completed, you’re rewarded with an even worse jetpack sequence. Oh, and at one point it feels the need to spoof... reference... copy Hotline Miami? I've no idea.
It’s buggy, glitchy. You can get stuck on obstacles, lines of dialogue repeat themselves on the wrong levels, cutscenes go out of sequence (although this last bit might be deliberate, but that you can’t tell speaks volumes). Dialogue like, “Fuck you Slay, you ‘tard,” captures the ingenuity and wit at place here, although nothing can out-awful making a Trials game where you spend more time on foot than on a bike.
Credit where it's due, the sections with the Turbo Flip toy car are great, especially the two levels you can download from within Ubi's Play app - someone should be working on making that into its own game. But a small aside bonus in the game is the only thing for which I can find any praise. This is a disaster, and the biggest surprise about it is that Ubisoft thought it worth releasing.
Trials of the Blood Dragon is out now for £12/$15 on Windows.