Reviews

Trine 3: Artifacts of Power Review – Trine Too Hard (I’m Sorry)

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Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: Frozenbyte
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: 3-person co-op

Review code supplied by publisher.

Trine has returned for its third outing, so with two titles already under its belt what innovation has developer Frozenbyte opted to bring to the table? Well, for the first time since the series inception Trine is now in full 3D. One would imagine that such a change would completely alter how the game plays, and yet its effects are surprisingly light. There might be an added dimension, but it doesn’t feel like there’s been a new dimension added to the gameplay. Trine 3 is the most beautiful game in the franchise to date, only boosted by the 3D allowing for impressive vistas, and yet it’s also less impressive than its predacessor.

The basics of the series remain pretty much the same as ever; take three characters with radically different moves and abilities who you can change between at any time and mix in phyics-based puzzles, plus some light combat. Stir well, and then bake for a puzzle-platformer which looks like a fairy tale come to life.

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But let’s assume for a few minutes that you’ve never played the Trine series before, which is a travesty in itself because Trine 2 is fantastic and deserves your attention, especially considering how cheaply you can get it on Steam. Aside from it’s wonderfully charming fairy-tale visuals and the child-like glee with which it creates its quirky, light-hearted fantasy stories the Trine games work because of their  chaotic physics-based puzzles that can be solved a myriad of ways, often by abusing the physics and character abilities in ways that make it feel like you’ve progressed using a method never even envisioned by the developers. Pontius the knight is the best when it comes to fighting, but he also has a handy shield that can deflect things like fireballs and can even glide using it, too; Amadeus has somehow lost his ability to summon planks since the events of Trine 2, but he can still conjure up boxes and move things around using his magic; finally Zoya the thief has a bow and can swing around levels, plus her rope can be used to tie objects together. With a tap of the keyboard you can swap between them at any time to navigate seesaws,  leap across platforms, construct wobbling towers and much more. Pontius still seems to be getting the short end of the stick, I barely remember actually using him during most puzzles, but it’s satisfying, enjoyable stuff. Maybe you’ll wedge open a door with a box you conjured, or use a rope to hang off a platform before trying to wall-jump up before a door closes. It’s even better with three-player co-op on the go, as suddenly you can combine abilities in ways you simply couldn’t when working on your own.

And yet as fun as it is Trine 3’s selection of puzzles doesn’t even manage to come close to topping its own predecessor which boasted a varied and impressive roster of conundrums that often had me scratching my head, while in contrast I breezed through Trine 3 with only the occasional pause. This could be because the well-loved progression system introduced in Trine 2 that let you unlock a small selection of new powers and skills for the characters, such as Amadeus being able to summon new items and my own personal favorite in the form of Zoya’s anti-gravity arrows, has simply vanished. What you begin the game with is exactly what you’ll end it with. Sure, there’s a couple of new skills chucked into the mix, like Amadeus being able to smash down boxes for some added combat skill and Zoya being able to tie off her rope, but the weakened roster of abilities is keenly felt throughout the game as it allows for far less experimentation. Meanwhile the puzzles themselves just aren’t altogether memorable.

The added dimension….is alright. Truthfully it doesn’t actually affect the gameplay very much, which feels rather odd to say as one would reasonable assume that converting a game from 2D (or 2.5D or whatever you want to call it) would drastically alter  how it plays. Presumably to retain the classic Trine feeling the camera actually runs parallel to the player for a lot of the time, so it still feels like you’re playing a side-scroller, but with the added ability to move a little on the Y axis and the frustration that brings as you try to awkwardly line things up since Frozenbyte seem to struggle with how to relate the extra depth to the player. You have no control over the camera, so there’s plenty of situations where judging things correctly can become difficult, the most notable being Amadeus’ conjured boxes. I can’t count how many times I groaned when I missed an enemy with a box because I couldn’t judge the positioning correctly, or couldn’t get the box to settle on to something. You can work around it, but that doesn’t change the fact that Trine 3 often feels awkward. Occasionally the camera shifts and the game makes better use of its bonus dimension, playing more like a traditional 3D game, but once again fixed angles leave the platforming, puzzle solving and light combat feeling more cumbersome than they should.

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The leap over to three dimension has come at a substantial cost, too. In a frank post on the game’s Steam forums Frozenbyte stated that choosing to go for the full three dimensions cost substantially more than they expected, thus the game’s length has suffered. According to Frozenbyte they initially had a much longer story written with more levels, but to implement it along with their 3D vision would have tripled the development budget, money that they simply didn’t have. In short, they ran out of money during development. The reasoning doesn’t matter, ultimately. What does matter for the sake of this review is the finished product, which with three tutorial levels, five story missions and a small scattering of side-quests can be finished in around 4-6 hours. These side-quests are a new addition to the series, but they lock you into using a single preset character and while a couple of them are fun they’re mostly forgettable, throwaway quests. The Trine series works best when there’s three characters to choose from or interacting at the same time, and having just one removes the chaotic element from puzzles. Personally I wrapped up the side-quests and primary storyline in a shade over four hours, and didn’t feel like I was rushing too badly, although it’s fair to say that I didn’t stop on every puzzle to experiment wildly. That’s what another play through is for.

Back to the topic, though: Trine 3 is pretty short, which in itself would not necessarily be a problem, after all length doesn’t equal quality. I’ve always held that I’ll take a short but great game over a longer yet mediocre one any day of the week. However in this instance the game ends just when it feels like it’s actually getting into its stride. If that wasn’t bad enough the finale is an anti-climatic boss fight followed by a cliffhanger ending that left me feeling as though someone had simply deleted the rest of the game off my HDD. Like the length here’s nothing inherently wrong with a cliffhanger to help set up for a sequel (Frozenbyte have confirmed that there are no plans for any DLC currently, so it looks like they intended to start work on Trine 4 straightaway) but for a cliffhanger to work you need to feel as though the rest of the game told a worthwhile story in its own right that left you feeling satisfied and wanting more, something which Trine 3 doesn’t do. I was left wanting more, but not in the right way. When you combine these two factors what you get is a game that doesn’t feel like it ended so much as it was just cut off. The writing, the dialogue and the lack of build up all scream that there was supposed to be more, and that leaves the “ending” feeling incredibly poor.

Speaking of the story it’s oddly paced. We get the now typical intro of our three heroes being suddenly whisked away on an adventure by the magical Trine and a few snippets of story, but after that the plot goes quite quiet until a sudden explosion of information in a single level that occurs near the end, although it does have to be said that the level in which is this exposition bomb is dropped is the finest in the entirety of Trine 3. Still, the fairy-tale like quality of the series is maintained through its cheerful, fun heroes and charming narrator. It’s like being part of a classic children’s fairy-tale.

The decision to lock levels until you’ve gathered up enough Trineangles (yes, they’re actually called that) also feels like a reaction to how short the game is, a way to try to lengthen the experience by forcing you to replay levels in order to hoover up the collectibles you missed the first time around, but it comes across as forced and frankly completely annoying, at least to me. I got all the way to the last two levels, only to discover they were locked because I was missing a few collectibles, and thus had to traipse back through levels I had already played in order to hoover up a couple of Trinaeangles here and there. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been quite so annoying if I hadn’t just played the previous levels mere hours beforehand.

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One thing that can’t be debated is just how beautiful Trine 3 is. The series has made fantastic use of color and lighting throughout its previous entries, bringing it’s wonderfully designed fantasy world to life in often breathtaking fashion. Trine 3 is no different, and the art team have surpassed themselves in creating amazing locations to explore. The change over to 3D may have debatable gameplay benefits, but Frozenbyte use it to great affect to bolster the game’s already strong presentation, bringing the camera round to offer up spine-tingling visuals. The score is almost as charming, enveloping the game in a serene sense of peace, ramping up occasionally when enemies arrive on the scene.

With a less engrossing story, short length, simpler puzzles, missing progression system and 3D that doesn’t add very much to the formula Trine 3 is surprisingly a weaker game than its own predecessor. Weaker thought it may be, however, Trine 3 is still a lot of fun, boasting amazing visuals and enjoyable puzzles.  If you’ve never touched a game in the series I’d heartily recommend picking up Trine 2 instead. If you’ve already played the first two games, or even just the second one, and feel like you need a little more Trine in your life then this third installment is worth playing, provided you go into with the right expectations. Furthermore purchasing Trine 3 would be helping ensure a fourth game since Frozenbyte has hinted that the series future is in doubt following the public backlash and general lack of media attention. Trine 3 may be a bump in the road, but I’d hardly be averse to another entry.

Does Trine 3 earn itself a flat-out recommendation sticker? Not quite. It’s fun, but not something that I feel is utterly essential. If you’re more of a casual Trine fan consider waiting for a sale.

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4 replies »

  1. I came here to read the review after having bought the game. Since I was currently playing/loving Trine 2, I really wanted to know how did the skills worked in this one. And am really bummed to read that the gravity arrows (my favorite skill too) is gone.

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