Reviewing…Trine 3: Artifacts Of Power

2015-08-21_00001I wasn’t expecting a Trine 3, although thematically I suppose it makes sense in a series revolving around a theme of three. The third instalment in a series of character-swapping puzzlers, Trine 3: Artifacts Of Power brings some new tricks to the table.

Not everything is different, and the game picks up it’s story with the three (kind of) stalewart heroes; Amadeus, the wizard who can’t cast fireballs. Pontius, an entertainingly heroic-but-stupid knight. And Zoya, the thief. Called upon once again by the Trine, titular magical macguffin round which all the stories kind of revolve, they roam around the world in a series of linear levels, solving puzzles and slaying beasties.

Sticking with the thematically fitting, Trine 3 brings an interesting ‘third’ to the series: the third dimension. Now instead of simply looking at all the pretty backgrounds you will often be interacting with them, making puzzles all that much more flexible and levels that much more creative.

I was dubious about 3D movement at first, especially in a third-person, fixed-camera physics puzzle game like this. There is a lot of room for things to get very frustrating if it’s not done well, with boxes flying off ledges and players losing all sense of depth perception. Equally, steering objects (often boxes again) is a tricky one, when you are independently still controlling your character. Thankfully, Trine 3 knows what it’s doing.

A combination of level design and camera means that it’s very rare for something important to not be visible, while often meaning that secret little areas aren’t. It all works rather well, keeping levels clear and visually highlighted, while rewarding a little extra attention. This is a theme we’ll see reflected in many parts of Trine 3, and it goes a good way towards making it a game worth playing.

With 3D movement, the characters are a little more mobile. Zoya’s gameplay feels especially enjoyable now, with puzzles ranging from daredevil swings and shots, to a surprising amount of fun with ropes; now that the third D is around,the addition of rope-ties becomes fascinating. Players will often find themselves tying ropes to boxes, around poles, and all other manner of inventive solutions. It perhaps says something about humans as a whole that tying a rope around a log can feel significantly more rewarding than shooting fifty people in the head.

There are a few times when the kaleidoscope of movement, 3D and Trine’s stunningly saturated colour scheme might make your eyes start to revolve in their sockets. An early bonus level section stands out for me – as jumping my way through a turning rock crusher, my brain started to insist that I was upside down and possibly inside out. These moments are few and far between however, and it’s possible that those with more severe motion sickness are just getting the short straw.

It’s true that sometimes you will send a box flying into the ether, but it will always be replaced by another – or be non-essential. So anytime you do so, the game doesn’t stop or break, there’s just a chance that you might miss a secret. In other words, careful play is rewarded but not frustratingly necessary.

In general the controls are intuitive in layout and effect. Movement is fairly forgiving – with mid-air acrobatics and a reasonable move speed meaning you can often avert disaster with a bit of quick thinking. While the physics aren’t totally perfect (looking at you, ropes), they never actually cause a problem. A rope-tie juddering about is forgiveable, as long as the practical elements of it do what they’re meant to Even moving boxes in 3D isn’t the problem I was anticipating, as the mouse-wheel proves itself to be highly effective in allowing precision placement. The controls aren’t perfect however; Pontius in particular suffers from the fact that the buttons for a butt slam in the air are also the buttons for charge on the ground, and unless you take your fingers off the buttons very fast, after a victorious smash down you will often find yourself accidentally throwing yourself off a ledge. Given Pontius’ particular brand of brash, it is at least funny the first time. Less so every time after that.

A big change is that power-ups are gone. In Trine 1 & 2 you would gain experience, and slowly customise the powers and abilities of your three heroes. I was gutted when I found that Trine 3 omits this – I’m a particular sucker for any game that lets me customise my character powers and development. So imagine how floored I was when I had the strange realization that the lack of this feature makes Trine 3 better. It really does. One of the (often unintentionally hilarious) side effects of the upgrades in previous Trine games was that pretty much all puzzles could just be solved with Amadeus. Once he gained the ability to make ramps, multiple boxes and wall-hanging boxes, the game quite often felt like you just had the cheats on. Now, instead of your avatar strength increasing – meaning your character is just better as stuff, often doing more damage or gaining new tricks, the game is dependant on your gameplay strength increasing. The skills your characters have in level one are the skills they have in level thirty. The only thing that’s got better is you, and that’s so much more satisfying, especially in a puzzle game.

Combat in the game, however, is rather forgettable – simply push 3 to get Pontius, then click LMB until everything is dead. The more creative enemies or combat scenarios do allow some shine however; simultaneously trying to stay alive whilst squashing enemies with a magical box is miles more entertaining, or swinging and gliding between multiple platforms, whilst fending off an array of beasties. When these aren’t happening, the game often gives you a range of rings and rocks so you can swing & fling with Zoya or Amadeus – but frankly, pressing 3 and LMB just so much faster. Without a sufficiently rewarding incentive to do otherwise, you’ll quickly default to bulling through the combat to get to more interesting bits.

My main complaint with Trine 3 – and unfortunately it’s a big one – would simply be that it is too short. This, in combination with the lack of any truly challenging puzzles, drops the game from being excellent, to simply rather good. It’s a shame, but doesn’t make the game a lost cause.

All in all, besides the obvious length issues, Trine 3: Artifacts Of Power does a sequel right. It uses the existing themes, stories and mechanics and shakes them around a little, developing some and dropping others. While Trine 3 doesn’t completely re-write the formula, it does most of what it does well. If you played a previous Trine game and didn’t find them to your taste, then I wouldn’t expect Trine 3 to change your tune. For everyone else, there’s a good dose of fun to be had in this colourful little game.

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