Let's start this review out on front street: Describing Urban Trials Freestyle without mentioning it's obvious creative template, Trials HD, is a fruitless endeavor, even going so far as to ignore the obvious reference in the name. As iterative as gaming is, it's rare that a release comes so close to it's progenitor that it can rightly be called a clone. A few tweaks outstanding, UTF is one of those releases.
Like Trials, UTF's gameplay focus is on “motorbike vs. the sickest environments imaginable,” though it doesn't take this concept quite as far, or as nightmarish, as those of it's forefather. Tracks contain the same types of hazards and challenges, but UTF is far easier, and I was able to complete, but not master, all 25-ish tracks within a few hours. The environments are split between five major themes/areas, ranging from office buildings to parks to major industrial complexes like water treatment plants and sewers. It attempts to weave these areas together as part of your rider's narrative, but with the “on the run from the cops” storyline only showing up in the beginning cinematic, the police presence in some levels serves as nothing more then window dressing.
It's impressive window dressing, especially when cars, boats, helicopters and trains are worked as set pieces in the level, some skidding into the scene just in time for you to use it as a ramp, while others serve as a destructive element, wiping out walls, or taking out portions of the background. To it's credit, it also never stops being as cool as it was the first time. Even on my 5th or 12th playthrough of a level, I was always finding things I hadn't noticed before, especially after breaking down the individual elements of a track and was simply doing it for better times or higher trick scores.
Trick scores? Yup. One of the tweaks to the Trials formula, there are two versions of every track in each area, a time attack version and a score version. Time attack could be considered classic mode, though UTF reduces the difficulty slightly be removing faults from the equation. Score tracks on the other hand are all about tricks like flips and jumps, with each performance producing points when done within their specific zones. These add variety to the way you approach each track, forcing you to often find an alternative to simply brute forcing the run for a quick time.
The concept should have been taken further, allowing points for tricks and jumps through the entire track rather then just sections, turning it into a style mode rather then simply being a small change to the overall run. They tried to do this with a “Challenge” mode, offering up six maps with different goals and sometimes completely different controls (there's even an “awesome” six-axis map!), but these are nothing more then gimmicks, and being separate from the main tracks they're easily avoidable and contribute to nothing but a trophy upon completion.
Completing tracks earns you stars, which serve as a progression lock through the game. Quite often did I find myself going back to tracks I had initially scored low on with the goal of squeezing more stars out of the runs. Stars serves the same concept as medals in Trials, and also adds a bit of competition, as the end of run score screens also displays who had the best run/jump/flips and allows access to some leader boards.
Each track also has money bags totaling $5000 hidden across the level. Some are easy enough to grab, showing up within reach of a normal ride. Others are pretty well hidden, requiring some tricky maneuvers or reversing in specific areas, which can be bothersome given stickiness of the brake/reverse controls. The money goes towards paying for bike upgrades like chasis or engines, each offering its own bonuses and penalties. The system is pretty simple, with the most expensive upgrades offering the most bang, but collecting the bucks can be pretty tedious, especially when it comes to having to scour a level for hidden money. Rider clothing options are also available, but all the choices are pretty generic and offer nothing outside of looking pretty standard. You'd be better off getting all the bike upgrades before spending anything on the clothing options.
Overall, I think Urban Trials Freestyle has a lot going for it, but it doesn't push any of it's ideas far enough to be anything other then a very capable and entertaining clone. I never once found it frustrating to the point of screaming, which is a plus comparatively, but it also never really challenges outside of trying to five star every level or find all the money bags. The best feature is easily the dynamic level design and exploration bonuses by way of hidden money bags, but even these pale when set up against the controller shattering later levels of both the original Trials, it's sequel, and all the user created tracks made available by an editor that UTF just doesn't have.
A good effort, an entertaining ride, a clone that's different, but in none of the ways that it needs to be different. As an option for a system that doesn't get the blissful torture of Trials HD or it's sequel, it's worth the money if you have that itch, but when put up against the best, it shows itself to be nothing more then a quality knock-off.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!