The Trine series, in our day and age, is a bit of an outcast. Its odd breed of puzzle platformer with co-operative gameplay and specialized protagonists has always been a bit of a niche item, with the most prominent contemporary other example I can think of being the Lara Croft game series (attention: not Tomb Raider). Before these recent titles, there have been scant few notable examples apart from their progenitor: The Lost Vikings, developed by a little company named Silicon & Synapse. If you’ve never heard of them, that’s because nowadays they go by the name Blizzard Entertainment. Frozenbyte‘s Trine, however, sprang up seemingly out of nowhere back in 2009 and was closely followed by a sequel in 2011. For their third game, the developers aimed for something more ambitious and Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power is the result.
Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power : PC [Reviewed]
Release Date: 20th August 2015
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game copy supplied by Developer]
If at first you don’t succeed, Trine again
The game puts us back in charge of the series’ three protagonists which are enjoying various leisurely activities following their previous adventures when the eponymous Trine summons them once more to defend the realm. Pontius, the socially-conscious knight is spending his time rescuing sheep from goblin-related circumstances (later complaining that everyone focuses too much on rescuing kings and queens, but no one pays any mind to the sheep). The definite brawn of the group, Pontius uses his sword, shield and body weight to smash, push, shove or crush enemies and obstacles alike. He is nigh-unstoppable in battle, but aside from a few sequences where his shield glide ability is needed to gain some air time he is fairly rarely used in solving puzzles.
With her Assassin’s Creed hood, lithe frame and dexterous nature, Zoya is the self-serving thief of the group, being equally competent and useful in both combat and puzzle solving. She can shoot enemies or environment items from afar with her bow and arrow, grab hold of certain walls or objects with her grappling hook and swing safely across chasms and spike pits. She also seems to be a bit more agile than the other protagonists, seemingly hanging on to walls for longer, and jumping higher, but that might very well only be my imagination.
Amadeus is the wizard of the group and a fairly incompetent one at that. During his training at the Academy, the most he’s ever been able to do is summon clockwork boxes and dream about one day casting a fireball. His telekinesis and box summoning abilities make him instrumental during most puzzles that require object manipulation or counterweight systems but sadly his proficiency in peaceful magic makes him next to useless in combat. The most he can do (lacking heavier, more destructive objects present) is summon the same box ad nauseam and smash it into the enemies’ heads.
Over the course of the game the player is able to almost always freely switch between the three protagonists and use their abilities as the situation requires, to solve physics-based environmental puzzles, battle foes and progress through the story. Subsequent story chapters are unlocked by collecting the so-called “trineangles” scattered throughout the levels and sometimes quite cleverly hidden or hard to access. The game is fairly forgiving as far as failure (bonus alliteration points for me) is concerned. Dying with one character merely requires you to take control of another and stand in a certain place for a few seconds and resummon. This is made just a bit more difficult in combat, but not enough to pose any real problem to anyone. However, collecting enough trineangles unlocks various side-missions which are challenges for specific characters (either combat, puzzle solving or both) where death means you have to start the whole thing over again.
Obviously, Trine 3 relies heavily on its physics engine and I found it to be excellent. Every item, stone ball, brittle wall or wooden box has the perfect feel to it. The weight, the flexibility or rigidity and the force of impact are all simulated exquisitely, making it extra satisfying when you slam into the ground with Pontius or crush an unsuspecting goblin with a giant rock. The puzzles, while sometimes having “obvious” solutions often leave room for the player’s imagination, most of them being approachable in more ways than one.
This sandbox-like freedom of the tightly-designed physics opens up the doors of emergent gameplay elements for those players that want to get especially creative. For example, sometimes I would forego the obvious switch to Pontius in a combat situation, instead choosing Zoya, grappling a nearby stone boulder, and try to build up momentum quickly, spinning faster and faster until I used the amazing power of the Tetherball of Doom to crush all of my assailants into dust.
The most notable departure from previous titles in the series are the fully 3D environments. While some areas have a more 3rd person action game perspective rather than the classic side scroller platformer, most of the game is still technically “mechanically 2D” even if all of the sequences have an obvious added sense of depth. I’ve rarely met a game series that made a successful transition from being traditionally 2D to full 3D, but Frozenbyte have made an decent job on this with Trine 3. It manages to maintain a familiar control scheme to its predecessors by locking the camera in place and giving you zero control over its position and movement. This is not a 100% successful system and playing with the keyboard and mouse can sometimes get infuriating. Having played the game with a gamepad controller, the control scheme was initially confusing for me, as I was trying to move the camera around and instead Pontius raised his shield and Zoya fired arrows. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the controls are intuitive enough for this to not be much of a problem.
Where the game does suffer from the transition to the Third Dimension is in the handling of Amadeus, telekinetic wizard extraordinaire. Because of the addition of a third dimension, you now have two “modes” of controlling Amadeus’ powers. The first is the classic one where you lift an item and move both Amadeus and the object left to right using the left stick and move the object up or down using the right. However, in order to move the object toward and away from the camera, you need to switch into “precision mode” by holding down the right trigger. This locks Amadeus in place and lets you move the object around freely with the left stick. Does that sound confusing? Well don’t you worry, because in combat (the few places where you are forced to play only with Amadeus, places that I have named “the horror segments”) you will need to quickly and repeatedly switch between these two modes both physically and mentally and use your only attack (pressing B to slam the object vertically into the ground) to perform ridiculously precise strikes against your enemies. It all plays like a wonkier version of The Force Unleashed‘s Force lift system.
Trine hard, with a vengeance
The series has never looked bad. Quite the contrary, Trine 2 is one of the best looking indie games in recent history. That being said, Trine 3 looks positively amazing. The game takes advantage of the full 3D engine to frequently present you with enchanting vistas and make every single frame of the game look like a fairy tale postcard. I usually like to take my own screenshots when playing a game for review and I stop as soon as I get a good handful of images to pick from. For this game, that handful was over 50 screenshots and selecting the several that I included was incredibly difficult.
Even better, the HUD is a minimal one and is only present when absolutely necessary. This is not to say that there are no problems, albeit small, with the graphics. For instance, I would have appreciated a slider for the oppressive bloom effect. I also thought that every single texture in the game seems to have a sharpen effect applied to it making everything look shiny and chrome and the game a bit tiring to look at for long periods of time. There are also minor clipping issues sometimes, but nothing game breaking. The atmosphere is still great and the excellent music and voice acting only serve to enrich the experience. Where the game suffers the most, however, is in story or better said: narrative.
As you’ve probably already heard from other sources, the game is dreadfully short. I actually have no problem with that, as a rule. A short game is perfectly fine as long as it tells a good story, but Trine 3 obviously wants to tell you a longer and richer tale, instead barely managing to introduce you to the story’s conflict before suddenly ending in a cliffhanger. The fact that it spends a lot of time setting up the story of the magical McGuffin broken into four pieces and then spends an equal amount of time blazing through getting the first one before abruptly ending is bad. Even worse, though, is how because of the way the “overland” map you use to choose between levels is set up, you are constantly reminded of how short the game is and how close to its ending you are.
I’m a completionist to a fault, so I tried hunting down every single trineangle in the game. After just between six and eight hours I had collected every single collectible and achieved every single achievement in the game. I suppose this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it has mod support and the co-op does give it a bit of replayability with up to three people able to control a character each, but it ultimately just seems to deliver an inferior experience to its series predecessors and it’s a shame, because it is otherwise a great game, born of the best intentions, but brought down by its own ambitions.