Red Lynx have brought us several Trials games over the last few years, each more fiendish and challenging than the last, with our particular favourite in the early part of this console cycle being Trials Fusion and its long post release support. If you’d have said to us a few months back that this would be crossed with the our favourite over-the-top machismo leaden Far Cry spin off, Blood Dragon, we’d have laughed at you, and then probably have spent the time since then figuring out how it could work. We’d still not have got anywhere near what actually got released this last week. Bring on the 80’s communist hating insanity that is the Trials of the Blood Dragon.
The Trials games have always been about faux-3D biking courses designed to test your dexterity and patience, and are some of the most compelling experiences you’ll find. What Trials of the Blood Dragon does is take the established gameplay and redefine the package, much as happened with the original twisting of Far Cry 3 back in 2013. Cyber Commando Rex Power Colt is back (and voiced again by the appropriately gruff Michael Biehn), or rather he isn’t, but he gives the initial intro to his kids Slay and Rox, as well as what’s happened over the years since his last outing: America is in the middle of the fourth war with Vietnam, things aren’t looking good, and it’s up to you as the offspring of the greatest soldier that ever lived to win the day. No small task then, especially when you’ve only got a motorbike. Well, maybe this time there’s a little more to help you out.
Leaving the absolutely bat-s%*t crazy story aside for now, Trials of the Blood Dragon doesn’t just throw new dirt bike courses at us, it really makes an effort to switch up the gameplay and add some innovation into the series. Red Lynx manage it by not just introducing a couple of new vehicles, but by adding in full on-foot sections this time round. Slay is the biking expert, Rox is the infiltration specialist, and you’ll find yourself running amok inside enemy facilities shooting up any guards that get in your way. It’s an interesting way to break up the action, and it does feel like a break because it’s not quite as fluid as the motocross. Running and shooting is decent enough, and shows the flexibility of the game engine, though it’s definitely not as satisfying as making death defying leaps. Fortunately, there are innovations for the biking too, you get to fire guns from them, and more importantly there’s a grappling hook.
Adding the ability to grapple and swing from anchor points really does change the flow of the levels, and requires a fair amount to skill to pull off smoothly and successfully, particularly in the extreme levels unlocked later in the game. There are 6-wheeled off roaders, bmx’s and jetpacks to master throughout your adventure, and a couple of nausea inducing, perspective shifting sections as well that really do tax your hand/eye co-ordination. If you were ever worried that there wouldn’t be enough difference presented in Trials of the Blood Dragon to warrant the purchase, be assured that there’s more than enough variety in the 30 levels. Did I mention there’s even a remote controlled car used in hidden bonus sections that unlock the extreme tracks? Hidden in a safe in the main menu screen, you’re just given clues that relate to the names of the levels that contain the keys, finding them all opens the safe, and an epilogue to the story.
New mechanics might be the main feature, but there’s been a change to the level progression as well that suits the addition of the story mode. In previous games your completion of a level is based on the number of retries you’re allowed – usually about 300, and believe me they’re necessary in some of the extreme tracks. For Trials of the Blood Dragon it’s about the time you take to finish, and if you run out of time it simply means no score for the track, you can still finish and move the story on. Shifting to a narrative means that this had to be put in place otherwise you could effectively lock people out, and it’s a welcome change for me at least. If only they’d patched this option into Trials Fusion, I’d have finished more of the late stage levels than I did. Scoring is in place to give you incentive to improve with a second run, with going faster and having less faults the key to better scores, all of which add to the development of your inner animal. Honestly, that’s a thing.
From the presentation to the soundtrack, the whole game immerses you in the wacky universe the Blood Dragon’s inhabit, yet it also manages some great nods to real world 80’s pop culture that feel right at home. Hotline Miami, Indiana Jones and Doom are just some of the tropes that get lampooned, and the trophy listing is like a name that film game – perfect for a nostalgia hound. Despite there being a few niggles like disconnecting from the Ubisoft servers stops your scores from registering your “power animal” level, really this is a polished and compact presentation for a game that we didn’t really expect but are very happy it now resides in our collections. If you’ve never played a Trials game this might well be the place to start because it’s a bit more forgiving than some of the previous ones, and has the story aspect to keep you hooked. If you have played before, then you know what you have to do.
Trails of the Blood Dragon is available now digitally for PC, Xbox One and PS4.