As the lack of recent updates might suggest, things have been quite busy work-wise recently! Since I've been working a lot, and since it's Christmas, I thought I'd write something a bit different for this article. While I haven't had much free time lately, I've spent a bit of it playing a game by the name of Trine. It's promoted as a physics based platform/puzzle game, so there is a vague science angle to tie in with the rest of the site!
Overall I found Trine a lot of fun, with beautiful graphics, great voice acting and some really fun levels. However, it's a little let down by some minor bugs and glitches in the physics. Personally I enjoyed it a great deal, but hardcore gamers might find it a little too short and on the easy side.
The basic premise of the game is that you, the player, control three characters who have been unwillingly bound together by a magical artefact called the Trine. Each of the characters has different abilities:
- the wizard, who has no fighting abilities but has magic powers to manipulate the world around him
- the knight, who is almost entirely focused on hitting monsters with weapons
- the thief, who falls between the two, with a bow for shooting enemies and a grappling hook for manoeuvering
The gameplay is a side-scrolling platform game, with various bad guys to fight and puzzles to solve along the way. The plot begins with the characters finding themselves trapped together in the Trine and turns into a save-the-kingdom-from-evil type quest. So far, nothing too original, but the charm of the game is in the execution and in this case the plot is clearly designed to keep the game moving along without getting lost in intricacies of the background. That said, it's still straightforward to follow what's going on, unlike some games with a minimal plot (e.g. Severance: Blade of Darkness).
The first thing that struck me about Trine was the attention to detail in the graphics. While the gameplay is essentially a standard two-dimensional side-scroller, the graphics are fully 3D and have a lot of depth to them. It's a shame in a way that the gameplay requires a fair amount of concentration as there are a lot of nice touches to appreciate in the scenery along the way. The levels are graphically pretty varied, with an obvious common style running through, but covering a nice range of different environments and atmospheres.
There are only a couple of cutscenes along the way, which are storyboard-based rather than full animations, but the art is still pretty, the voice acting is very good and the dialogue is entertaining in a tongue-in-cheek style. If you're looking for an immersive dialogue-filled RPG experience you'll be disappointed, but Trine is clearly pitched from the beginning as a light-hearted adventure, not a morality based epic in the vein of Planescape: Torment or Dragon Age: Origins. So long as you're willing to accept it on its own terms and not to take it too seriously the story is good fun.
Of course, without decent gameplay the graphics and story would not count for much. Fortunately the game is a lot of fun. It is not too taxing on the default "Medium" difficulty setting, which since I am lucky enough to have a job that requires thinking suits me just fine! If you're a more hardcore gamer you might find it disappointing, although I can't comment on whether the "Hard" difficulty setting makes it more challenging without getting frustrating. Generally the pacing seems pretty good, the characters generally gain new abilities at a rate that means you don't get stuck in a repetitive rut, without being inundated with new abilities that you lose track of. Some of the puzzle types get a little bit similar after a while but at no point did I feel that I was just going through the motions, doing the same stuff over and over again. My characters had just about reached the highest level by the end of the game so I didn't feel I was missing out on abilities or that they levelled up too fast. Just to note, I collected a fair few bonuses and secrets along the way but didn't compulsively repeat levels until I found everything, which obviously makes a difference to the level the characters reach by the end. The whole game could probably be completed in a day or two if you played fairly constantly, which some might find a little short (it's a far cry from the likes of Baldur's Gate II, that's for sure!), but again suited me just fine as I don't have a lot of time or enthusiasm for extended periods of gaming these days.
Sadly there were a couple of minor problems that detracted from the experience for me, although not enough to spoil the game. Occasionally the camera angle gets things a bit wrong and it's impossible to see what you're walking into - this makes sense when you're about to drop down a hole in the ground, but when walking through an archway or the like it would be nice to see that there isn't a pit or a trap just on the other side. The physics were mostly convincing, with some unfortunate mistakes, most obviously that it's possible to stand on a platform on a pivot and push it so that it rotates (maybe the developers missed their classes on conservation of angular momentum?). On a few occasions bad guys appeared to be standing on something a little way below ground level, although they usually sorted themselves out quickly. That said, the glitches were only minor, annoying for physics-types like me, but not causing any real gameplay issues.
The game also has a multiplayer mode, which unfortunately has rather more bugs. Instead of only playing as one character at a time, each player controls a separate character, all of which must be on the same screen. Multiplayer is not possible on the network or split-screen, so all players must be using the same PC. Trine multiplayer claims to support multiple mice and keyboards, but when I tried this out it didn't work at all. The alternative is to use gamepads, which are fine but (a) a little difficult to configure, and (b) not very practical for the wizard, who relies fairly heavily on mouse control. Even with the bugs, multiplayer mode is still a lot of fun, and on occasion the bugs did cause a certain amount of amusement in their own right, but I imagine that making a serious attempt to play through the game in multiplayer mode could get quite frustrating.
Overall I would recommend Trine to anyone who wants some easygoing entertainment and doesn't feel the need to take things too seriously. The game is a little on the short side, but it's cheaper than a lot of other recent releases so I don't think it's unreasonably priced. It is possible to buy the game in download-only form without DRM, for which I applaud the publishers. I can imagine wanting to come back to the game a couple of years down the line, and I avoid DRM on principle for that sort of reason: being unable to play a game that I have legally bought due to changing computers would be very annoying.
A quick note on Linux: there is not a native Linux version of the game, which is a shame but not surprising. I have read that it is possible to run it in wine, but haven't tried it myself.
I normally don't get along well with platformers at all but Trine has a very innovative, fun puzzle-based approach, amusing dialogue and beautiful graphics.
If you're running on Linux with an ATI card remember to disable anti-aliasing and filtering before you start or it will lag a lot even on very fast computers (with proprietory driver).
Thought I’d belatedly mention that, in addition to the Linux port of Trine mentioned above, Trine 2 has also come out on Linux!