Trine 5: A Clockwork Conspiracy Review
The Heroes of Trine have returned
After a rough go of things with the third chapter in 2015, it was good to see Frozenbyte return to form with 2019’s Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince. The series jumped back to its 2.5D roots and delivered a refreshingly solid adventure with good puzzles and superb level design. After another four-year break, the heroes of Trine are back once more with Trine 5: A Clockwork Conspiracy, as Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya face off against a new sinister opponent.
Picking up sometime after the events of the last entry, Trine 5 once again sees our trio of heroes off doing their own things. Zoya has become an entrepreneur, but still hasn’t fully given up her thieving ways. Pontius is as brave as they come, but his job security has been threatened by automatons. And Amadeus has holed himself up at a resort after some recent marital trouble. When the three of them are summoned for an award ceremony, it serves as good a time as ever to catch-up. However, this event is actually a cover for the devious plans of a new enemy; a ruthless tyrant who will stop at nothing to claim the powers of Trine, Lady Sunny may just be their most devious foe to date.
Much like the previous entry, the overall plot of the game isn’t too memorable. The main issue is that the story goes for long stretches of time with Lady Sunny completely out of the picture. As a result, she ultimately feels underdeveloped for the stakes of the story. What ends up driving the action is the camaraderie between the core trio. Their friendship has been well developed at this point, and you really feel that they care for one another, despite their differing personalities. With the overall doom and gloom of the story, both Amadeus and Pontius spend a lot of time whining, which does get old after a while. But Zoya does a good job of boosting morale and cracking the whip on them to get their act together.
Trine 5 keeps the 2.5D platforming the franchise has succeeded with in the past. Each member of the team has their own skillset, and you’ll frequently need to use them in tandem. Amadeus can conjure boxes, platforms and balls, while Pontius can use his size to ram objects, and Zoya can grapple objects using her rope. Puzzles will often require you to utilize at least two of their abilities - and sometimes all three - in order to be solved. As you progress through the campaign, new skills for each hero will also be unlocked.
Each member of the team eventually finds themselves outfitted with new abilities. Examples of the new skills include ricocheting arrows for Zoya, the ability to reverse the gravitational polarity of objects with Amadeus, and Pontius being able to create a duplicate of himself. These upgrades tend to be unlocked during portions of the campaign where one hero will go off on their own to investigate something. Along the way, they can be upgraded via skill trees using points collected throughout each level.
The series has always been at its best when it’s forcing you to think outside of the box, and Trine 5 is no different. The host of solutions afforded to you with all the old and new skills lets you really run wild at times. There were several puzzles that I solved through means that did not seem like the perfect way but worked just well enough to progress. For instance, if I needed to cross a gap, I could use Amadeus to conjure up two platforms, then fuse them together. From there, I would use Zoya’s rope to hook onto a point to swing myself over. Or if I was trying to reach some XP out of reach, I could Pontius’ clone as a boost, then also stick his sword in the wall for some extra height. Although some of these challenges are probably much easier solved with other players, I didn’t find myself hampered when playing solo. The key is to not be afraid to experiment. With the game relying on weight and physics as much as it does, an idea that may have seemed crazy may surprisingly work out in the end.
Coming into this entry, Frozenbyte had made promises that they were focused on getting the quality of combat to be on par with the puzzles. In some ways, they did manage to close the gap between the two. New skills for Zoya and Amadeus put them almost on par with Pontius when it comes to fighting. The overall difficulty has been raised as well. You can’t just get by with button mashing now. You actively need to block, and move around to survive even regular encounters. The increased difficulty can also be seen in the boss battles. They often require the use of all three characters to get through the multiphase encounters. If the difficulty gets to be too much, though, there are options to make the combat easier. Toggles have been added to increase the challenge of both battles and puzzles, as well as the option to turn on unlimited lives.
With that said, I’m still not sure that the combat is all too enjoyable. It certainly feels like there are more encounters this go-around, with usually two or three big ones per level. It’s still the weakest facet of the series, and I much prefer the puzzles and platforming. Even with the additional skills, the action still feels sloppy and uncoordinated. There also isn’t a ton of enemy variety. You spend most of your time shattering Clockwork Knights or stabbing thieving rats. As much as the combat dragged in Trine 4, the creatures you fought were more varied and creative. The boss battles do improve things, as they meld together puzzle solving with the action, but the combat is still very much in need of further refinement. I don’t think it brings down the game significantly, especially with the modifiers included to make it easier, but I do wish it was less of a focus.
As with past entries, Trine 5 can be played both solo and with friends. Although it may be more challenging, going at it alone is enjoyable. Switching between characters is quick enough for you to make use of each hero’s power if need be. While I couldn’t get too much time in, multiplayer remains a blast as well. Both classic, which locks you into the three characters, and unlimited, which lets you freely swap between them, have returned. The action is enjoyably chaotic, but also not too hectic to be distracting. Regardless, the game does a great job of scaling the difficulty for either single or multiplayer action.
Coming off the mixed visuals of the last entry, the graphics for Trine 5 have been significantly improved. The environments remain as gorgeous as ever. Whether you are escaping from prison or scaling an enemy airship, there’s always visual splendor on display. The game makes excellent use of lighting and color to really make smaller details stand out. It gives the world a lived-in feel. The bigger improvements can be seen in the character models, though. The facial animations fit with the dialogue, and the characters just look much better. The designs and animations of them in the previous entry looked dated even at the time, but that’s not the case here.
It can be tough for a series to rebound from rough entries, especially one as long in the tooth as this one is, but Trine 5: A Clockwork Conspiracy manages to do just that. In all ways, this entry is a step-up from the prior releases. The new abilities each member of the team learns add even more depth to the unique puzzle stylings of the franchise. The graphics continue to impress, and improvements to the character animations raise that aspect to a new level. However, some of the same nagging issues continue to pop up. Although better, the combat still feels clunky and uninspired. And while the story raises the stakes, it suffers from an underdeveloped villain. Still, considering the newly recovered upward trajectory of the series, I hope future adventures continue on this course.