In 2009, Frozenbyte Inc. released Trine, a 2.5D action and puzzle platformer that was praised for its inventiveness as well as its looks. A follow-up arrived in 2011, and even managed to improved greatly on the formula of the original. Both games have sold millions of copies. Now the third installment, Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power, has just come out of Early Access.
And it is rather disappointing.
Trine 3 opens with the three heroes – the wizard, the thief, and the knight – going about their lives after the events of the previous game. Suddenly, the Trine appears before them once again and, much to their irritation, summons them away to fight off a new evil.
Like the previous installments, the initially-shallow plot is mainly just a framing device to link together all the different areas and puzzles. However, while those games had collectible notes, poems, and so forth in each level that shed further light on the story, Trine 3 has no such depth.
There is a single level with three or four books that provide a bit of backstory, but a later level just explains whole the plot in full, so the books could have been left out entirely.
There is also some contradiction between story and gameplay. The first two games explain that the Trine binds the three protagonists’ souls together, so only one can physically exist at a time while the other two exist inside the Trine – hence the ability to switch between them in gameplay. However, during cutscenes all three exist onscreen at once without explanation, conflicting with established lore and with gameplay.
However, the biggest problem with the plot is its pacing. The campaign consists of eight chapters, with the first three being tutorials for each character. The actual ‘adventure’ doesn’t even begin until around the halfway point. Then, the game just ends. Nothing is resolved, it just abruptly cuts to the end credits around the four-hour mark – on a cliffhanger of all things.
Of course, the plot is just a framing device for the actual gameplay, and the biggest and most apparent change from the previous installments is the shift from 2.5D to 3D – the cost of which has been blamed on the game’s brevity. So, instead of being restricted to a side-scroller in two dimensions, players can now navigate 3D environments with eight-way movement.
This does take some getting used to, even for those accustomed to 3D platforming, and a controller is almost required rather than mouse and keyboard. It doesn’t help that due to the fixed camera perspective, some platforms will remain hidden off screen unless you move to a specific part of the map.
It is also sometimes unclear which platforms are actually platforms and which are just part of the scenery, at least until you’ve attempted the jump and either clipped through it or just fallen straight off the map.
The puzzles themselves are a mix of platforming and object manipulation. The most praiseworthy addition to solving them is that the characters have finally learned how to grab on to ledges, so you will no longer get stuck on a jumping puzzle because you are a few pixels shy of jumping directly onto the platform.
However, while they do make you think outside the box, the puzzles are not as diverse as Trine 2’s, and many of them repeat themselves. This is mostly due to the lack of the skill tree from previous installments, which is a massive disappointment. No more fire and ice arrows for Zoya, or Storm Hammer for Pontius.
Similarly, Amadeus can only conjure a single box as opposed to the four boxes, planks and the floating platform he could summon before. All-in-all, not only does this make the three heroes feel severely weakened, but playing as them can get rather monotonous without the growth of their abilities.
Scattered throughout each chapter in place of the experience potions are small, glowing pyramids called ‘Trineangles’. These are used to unlock subsequent chapters and side challenges, which is rather aggravating. It just feels like a cheap gameplay-lengthening scheme to pad out the game’s already pathetic playtime.
The co-op mode from Trine 2 makes a return, with up to three players (either local, online, or both) being able to play through the story campaign together. However, your partners’ animations will often be jumpy and jagged due to latency issues. In fact, there seem to be more bugs in the co-op mode, as none of these were encountered in the single player.
The physics engine breaks frequently too, causing objects and set pieces to be flung around at the slightest touch and get stuck in other objects, and a lot of the time, what you see happening onscreen and what your partners are seeing on theirs will not be the same. This was hilarious at first, but soon became infuriating and unbearably game-breaking, making the game harder with other people than when playing alone.
Over in the graphics department, while the characters models and set pieces are much smoother than before, the textures seem a lot less detailed and the more open levels feel a lot emptier. There are no more giant toads or snails blocking your path, or giant flowers watching ominously as you pass by. Instead, there are a few locked door puzzles and some obnoxious wave battles.
While the environments in each chapter are very distinct from each other, the environments themselves remain the same throughout the entire chapter. On the other hand, Trine 3 sports very vibrant colours and lighting, leading to a few absolutely gorgeous shots of some beautiful vistas. But while Trine 3 certainly doesn’t look bad, it does not look nearly as good as Trine 2.
The game’s soundtrack, on par with its predecessors, sounds right out of a fairytale, with a range of charming, adventurous tunes, and the voice acting is stellar as usual, particularly the villain and the narrator.
Unfortunately, Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power trips over its own ambition and falls almost completely flat on its face. The third installment simply does not hold up to the first two, and at NZ $27 for a four-hour game, it really isn’t worth it.