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35 Reviews

Review: Trials Frontier is a microtransaction monstrosity

By Chris Scullion on Thursday 10th Apr 2014 at 9:00 AM BST

Such is the open nature of the Apple and Android app stores that both have already been awash with Trials clones for a number of years now.

The commercial success of Trials HD and Trials Evolution on Xbox Live Arcade, coupled with its relatively simplistic design principals, created a perfect storm of inspiration for indie developers looking to bring a similar experience (albeit less polished) to mobile.

Considering that some of its mobile imitations are actually fairly accomplished efforts too, it could be argued that Trials Frontier couldn't just be a straightforward port. Developer RedLynx needed to raise the bar in order to stand out, but unfortunately it has achieved the opposite. At the heart of this game is a freemium business model packed with in-app purchases and over-elaborate extras.

Which is slightly tragic because Trials Frontier, when one ignores its commercial priorities, very much plays like a robust and polished mobile game that fans of the series have been asking for.

It controls commendably well, given its mobile enclosure, with four buttons arranged at the two bottom corners of the screen (accelerate and brake on the right, lean back and lean forward on the left). The lack of analogue acceleration will undoubtedly irk the super die-hards, but 99 per cent of players won't even notice.

One small quibble with the controls is that the buttons aren't lined up evenly. The accelerate and lean left buttons are placed higher than the brake and lean right ones respectively, rather than placed directly alongside them, which takes time to get familiar with.

The other flaw is somewhat inevitable when emulating a control-pad on a touch screen. At times you'll likely slide your thumb from the accelerator to the brake, only to miss the target because your thumb was resting on the top half of the button.

Zoom

Through practice this becomes less of an issue, though even after hours of play there will still be the occasional moment where a perfect run will be ruined by an errant button miss.

Zoom

This aside, the core gameplay remains as entertaining as ever, and had Trials Frontier been simply a selection of progressively harder stages using these mechanics, would have at least made it recommendable.

But instead Frontier is a microtransaction monstrosity; a consumer-hostile, over-monetised farce that is both daunting and elaborate in the number of ways it tries to siphon money from your bank account, and inevitably hard to relax within and enjoy.

The main campaign offers a laundry list of objectives (finish a level, beat an opponent, perform a certain number of flips, get a gold medal) but eventually Frontier will introduce its random element: the item wheel.

Upon crossing finish lines, the game presents a wheel that must be spun with a chance of winning one of four different prizes. These almost always consist of vehicle parts, which are essential for finishing later missions and completing various upgrades.

If you don't land the right prize, you can either spend some "gems" on another spin, or redo the entire race to reach the wheel again.

Naturally for a freemium game, gems is a token currency repeatedly offered for a simple exchange of real money, or otherwise painstakingly accrued through grinding. Of course, in what is also customary for this type of game, forensic testing ensures that players always seem to own slightly fewer gems than they'd ideally like.

Not complicated enough yet? Then how's this: there are numerous different types of item to collect, meaning each stage offers a different selection of parts you can potentially win. On top of that, later in the game you'll be asked to find levelled-up parts, which are made by 'fusing' three of the same part together.

All these items can then be used to upgrade your bike, but be prepared for a lot of waiting. Each upgrade requires three specific items and a payment of coins on top of that (this secondary currency is also earned for completing tracks).

Get the right parts and earn enough coins, hand it all over and... you still don't get the upgrade.

Instead, you have to wait a certain amount of time - usually at least 24 hours - before everything is complete.


Slideshow: The needlessly complex side to Trials Frontier


Seemingly not satisfied with how many party balloons it has popped, Fusion also introduces an energy-based queuing system. Fuel is used up each time you play and is quickly depleted after a few spins.

To put this into perspective, after a few hours of play you should have roughly 35 units of fuel. Early races use up five of these, with later levels requiring seven. With fuel recharging at a rate of one unit every three minutes, that means you have to stop for at least a quarter of an hour when you run out, which (perhaps deliberately) tends to be the point when players just start getting into the swing of things.

This model simply does not work in many games, and certainly not one like Trials. This is a series in which players take part in numerous short races, many of which can last less than a minute, leading to that valuable 'one more go' factor so many games would kill to have.

This is cheap and soulless short-termism, and brings core-consumer trust in mobile beyond breaking point. To witness such anti-fun mechanisms spliced throughout a game series so recently applauded is, let's be honest, a little scary. The pervading business presumption is that more revenue can potentially be made through in-app purchases, which has already tarnished the likes of Ridge Racer, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park and Real Racing. Who else will sink this low next?

What makes it more exasperating is that there's a potentially great game in here. Slight control niggles aside, it's a faithful rendition of the much-loved Trials gameplay, but it's constantly being smothered by its capped gameplay.

Want to play? Pay now or come back in an hour. Want to progress? Pay now or come back tomorrow.

It's quite telling that such unreasonable gameplay ideas were never once introduced throughout the games industry's first forty years. It's only a business model that is pushing pay-to-start on games fans and developers.

Had Trials Frontier been available at a premium price, with no restrictions on fun, it would be worth your time.

But poor thinking and short-term business models has reduced an acclaimed racer into a cold-blooded coin sink.

The verdict

Classic Trials gameplay suffocated by a monetisation model, where all the pleasures of "one more go" gameplay are turned against you.

  • Core design is fantastic
  • Scandalous queuing system
  • Defaces a once-adored series
  • Over-elaborate currency system
  • Overall consumer-hostile approach
  • Controls can be slightly off at times
3
Format
Apple iPhone
Developer
RedLynx
Publisher
Ubisoft
Genre
Racing / Driving, Sim / Strategy, Puzzle

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