Trine 2 Review (Xbox360)

In the current culture of visceral, epic, action-packed, cinematic triple-A white-knuckle high octane controversial scripted set-piece spectacles; there are certain parts of the dictionary that are almost completely neglected when attempting to describe vidja-games. Indeed, it seems almost absurd that one might describe a game as peaceful or pleasant. And if you’re thinking of describing a game as “lovely”, then clearly you’re a big girly-pants who hasn’t shot enough men.

So excuse me while I don my tights, swing my handbag and declare that Trine 2 is a lovely game. Whereas most games leave you feeling exhilarated or thrilled or exhausted, a slumped, quivering sack of adrenaline, Trine 2 is a game you come away from feeling contented. It’s the gaming equivalent of a crackling fire and a crossword puzzle on a midwinter afternoon.

Whenever there is food-related trouble, Ser Pontius is at-hand

Much of its soothing quality stems from…well…just look at it. Look at it. I know that rules one and two of game reviewing are do not talk about the graphics and do not make hackneyed Fight Club references, but today I’ll happily forego this generally sage advice and reiterate: Look. At. It. It’s full to bursting with colour and life, so vivid and light and sweet.

It’s important to point out, though, that Trine 2 is not a game of technical fortitude. This is the supposedly clunky, allegedly creaky Unreal Engine 3 that is doing naughty things to your retinas in these screenshots. Like Skyrim, Frozenbyte’s sequel is a masterpiece of aesthetic design. The environmental variety, the profound sense of scale, the visual depth, all amount to something far greater and more compelling than a game with just a powerful engine.

The latter of these three is the most striking. As with the original, Trine 2 is rigidly two-dimensional, but because there is so much depth and detail in the background, you end up exploring in three dimensions, making it far more involving than most platformers. The game offers a vast array of locales for this passive sightseeing. In the first level alone there’s a woodland glade, a dusk-drenched farm, and a slumbering city all waiting for your coos and gurgles while you jog unrelentingly to the right of the screen.

Of course, this isn’t merely a grand fantasy tour for taking pictures and buying tacky souvenirs. The world is in danger, and the task of saving it has once again landed on our three mismatched heroes: Amadeus the reluctant and perpetually frightened wizard, Zora the nimble thief (or “entrepreneur” as she calls herself), and Ser Pontius the courageous and mildly gluttonous Knight. The characters are neatly balanced, and also have the potential for some excellent banter.

Sadly, Trine 2 never really does much to fill out these characters beyond my one-line descriptions. Amadeus worries about his off-screen wife a lot, and Ser Pontius talks about food a lot, but that’s as far as things go. In fact, writing and story is the one area where Trine 2 is lacking.

“Excuse me, I’ve got a human in my throat.”

Let me put it this way, the main antagonist of Trine 2 is magic water. Granted, behind that there’s slightly darker tale of jealousy and betrayal, but it is rather patchy and thinly spread. I was hoping Frozenbyte might have taken a leaf or two out of Bastion’s brilliant book, given that Trine 2 too has a narrator, and its fairytale environment is perfect for a dynamically narrated game, but the narrator is mostly limited to offering hints when you get stuck on a puzzle. It isn’t a massive problem, and I suppose what’s there fits with the games’ gentle themes, but there’s no escaping that Frozenbyte could have done a lot more in this area.

Also, as with so many games, the main reason magic water is central to the story is because it’s also a core game mechanic. See, the water makes things grow exceptionally large, and using it to create flora-based pathways is often key to getting around. Trine 2 is as much a puzzler as it is a platformer, and in this area the game really excels, providing a better puzzling experience than that brain-tickling behemoth Portal 2.

The game’s success is primarily down to the flexibility it allows within its physics-based conundrums. When it comes to liquids, it often provides hollowed-out logs and such which you can use to manipulate them. However, Amadeus is capable of conjuring mechanical cubes and planks, which can be used to create makeshift aqueducts and waterways. They can also be used to build ramps and staircases to reach the more inaccessible areas of the levels.

Alternatively, if there is a wooden surface nearby, you can use Zora’s grappling hook, or combine the two, using Amadeus’ levitating skill to pin a wooden object to ceiling-spikes, which then enables Zora to grapple. Even the combat-heavy Ser Pontius gets in on the puzzling action in his own blunt manner, using his hammer throwing ability to smash through walls.

At the same time, however, the solution to a puzzle is rarely immediately obvious, and it’s likely you’ll try several things before you find something that works. That Trine 2 allows for creative flexibility without succumbing to “one-size-fits-all” solutions is quite an achievement.

Yet more methods become available should you opt to play the game cooperatively, as it allows for all the characters to adventure simultaneously. Thus, options like using Amadeus to float a character across a chasm become available. It’s even possible to play as three sets of characters, and wreak havoc on goblins and the kingdom’s food supply as a triple-set of Ser Pontius’.

Seriously, where is it and how can I get there?

Yes, the combat. Even Trine 2 in all its pleasantness can’t escape from a bit of fighty death-sticks. Providing a barrage of rather samey goblins for you to splat with Ser Pontius’ hammer or pierce with Zora’s ice and fire arrows. Even Amadeus can acquire the ability to levitate enemies, a skill that highlights the game’s darker side when you slowly drift a struggling goblin toward a massive wall of spikes. There isn’t an awful lot that’s new in this department, and the combat often devolves into frantic clicking as the game bombards you with adversarial greenskins.

Thankfully for the most part the scrapping is lighthearted and comical, and definitely secondary to building makeshift bridges, swinging across ravines and generally letting the glorious worldcraft fill your skull like a sugary cocktail of fermented children’s dreams. Trine 2 is a rare and beautifully cut gem of a game, and makes for a wonderful end to a season of extremely strong releases.

Top Game Moment: Probably the initial moments of the level set in a castle on a beach, because it is simply gorgeous.

Format Played: PC

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