A fantastic ride with frustrating free-to-play elements

The world wrapped around Trials Frontier is full of dust, rocks, and rust. Only the bravest, hardiest souls are capable of taming the land from the backs of their bikes. They ride hard while their motors rasp through the shimmering heat. They leap for glory, pop wheelies for justice…

…and then are forced to sit on the sidelines while their depleted fuel stocks slowly refill. They tap their feet and check their watch while an instrumental rendition of “Spanish Flea” pipes from the background.

Trials Frontier

Trials Frontier from RedLynx and Ubisoft is a mobile iteration of the Trials biking series. There was some worry about what that would entail, and it turns out said worries aren’t totally unjustified. Trials Frontier has an intriguing setting, a good sense of humor and lots of stunt bike action, but its free-to-play trappings are sure to turn off hardcore fans of the Trials games.

You rip through Trials Frontier as a biker in a weird post-apocalyptic world where dirtbikes are king. A bad biker named Butch sets off a trap that knocks you unconscious and wrecks your bike. You wake up in a town and find yourself beholden to its residents, all of whom hate Butch as much as you do. They want you to take him down, but it’s not going to be easy.

The action in Trials Frontier is spread across several tracks. While you can race on these tracks anytime you like (once they’re unveiled, that is), quests issued by the townsfolk are what moves the story forward and lands you valuable items like blueprints for new bikes.

As might be expected from a Trials game, playing Trials Frontier is a riot. The bike is responsive, making massive jumps and flips is as fun as it sounds, and the townsfolk are a colorful bunch of people with crazy requests. Unfortunately, you won’t play for long before the free-to-play elements start seeping into the experience. The worst of these include bike upgrades that take time to complete, and fuel that depletes when you start a stage.

In other words, Trials Frontier essentially has an “energy” system. If you want to refill your tank, you need to wait around, or spend premium currency. Sometimes when you level up, your tank is permanently increased by a single unit, but… big deal. Who wants to play a racing / stunt game that only lets you experience a handful of levels before you’re forced to put it down for hours? Even most modern city-building games that use the freemium system have abolished energy gauges.

Trials Frontier looks and sounds great, and plays smoothly. Its “Wild West” setting is pretty cool, too. It’s just a shame we can’t pick up the whole package for a few bucks and forego the whole freemium business. Well, at least there’s Trials Fusion