Trailmakers (Early Access) – Xbox One Preview
Trailmakers by Flashbulb Games may be a work in progress, but already has more than meets the eye, with the design intricacies of a big budget racing sim hidden beneath the surface of an cartoon arcade caper/exploration puzzler. Now this isn’t the fully formed game, as its only just gone into the Xbox Preview program, so when you play you need to remember its still a work in progress. The premise is to design vehicles to get round a track or tackle the terrain, but building them from components lego style, only using the components you have unlocked.
There are four different areas to the game, Race Island, Danger Zone, Sandbox Island and Trailmakers Rally. The latter two areas of the game seem to be the most developed at the moment, and consequently I was drawn to spending more time in them. The environment of Sandbox Island is exactly what it says, as you can roam wherever you like exploring wherever your vehicles will take you. Scattered around are various challenges, all there without explanation as yet, such as ramps to scale, giant balls to push and flaming hoops to jump through. You have to figure out what the puzzle is in the first instance, then attempt to complete it to unlock a new component and level up your driver. Now obviously one car wont be enough to conquer the puzzles, so that’s where the design comes in.
The build of your vehicle, what parts you use and where you place them will have a big effect on performance. Put in more engines for extra power, but at the expense of increasing body weight, make a car longer for stability but lose out on manoeuvrability, all decisions you need to make when trying to build the right vehicle for the challenge. Until you get a feel for things like down-force and aerodynamics it’s a lot of trial and error, the amount of times I fitted wheel axles the wrong way round making steering impossible was a bit embarrassing!
On the Trailmakers Rally map, the emphasis is all on racing. You’re put on the start line of a track, and have to build a vehicle that will come in the top three against ghost cars, thus unlocking the next track. Match your design to the requirements of the track, with the difficult part only being able to use parts you have unlocked.
When you build a vehicle, its done in mid air above your driver. You pick a part from the menu at the bottom of the screen, then its attached to your driver by a line of electricity, letting you use your thumb-sticks to put it in the right position. Because you’re doing this in 3D it can get very tricky to place them correctly and you’ll find yourself constantly moving the camera angle to get the placement right. Green markers will appear when two parts are in position to connect correctly, and you even get an indication of how each piece will effect the aerodynamics as you add them.
The physics engine in the game is already working very well, and you notice every little change in the vehicle making a difference on how it performs in different terrains and on varying gradients. The graphics are fairly basic and cartoony, but its what you should expect of a game still in preview, as the developers flesh out the gameplay, and the look is often the last thing that is fine tuned ready for a full release. In the meantime, there is already a strong community building around Trailmakers on its different formats, mainly thanks to the creative freedom available to design your own unique vehicles, then save and share them online with fellow players. Here its not just about the practicalities of the vehicle, but can pimp it up with lots of cosmetic pieces to build your ultimate ride. You never know with a Preview game how long it will stay in the scheme, but if this seems your kind of thing, get in early while the price is low and have some fun. I’ll certainly be dropping into the game at regular intervals to see how its progressing, and I’m looking forward to the finished product.
Developer: Flashbulb Games
Publisher: Flashbulb Games
Many Thanks to Flashbulb Games for the review copy.