It’s not often you get the chance to get behind the wheel and operate a digger in gaming, with such rare opportunities involving the rather serious farming and construction simulators. That’s why it’s a nice change to see the developers at Pico Sacro Games taking the classic piece of heavy machinery out of its natural habitat for BH Trials on Xbox One. Instead of digging trenches and performing forestry work, BH Trials wants you to have fun with a bit of parkour. That isn’t a mistake, digger parkour really is the concept, but does it make for a fresh and enjoyable puzzler, or will you end up digging a hole to bury the game in?
Frankly, it comes ever so close to being the latter, but with a shed load of patience and skill, BH Trials shows that the idea works. That doesn’t mean the majority of players won’t become stupidly frustrated with it though, which is why this isn’t an experience suited to all.
To clarify, the star of the show in BH Trials is what’s commonly known in the business as a backhoe digger. While the prospect of getting into the driver’s cab is an exciting one, you should be aware that driving is the last thing you’ll be doing in this hunk of junk – there’s no transmission, the brakes are non-existent, and steering is out of the question. Instead, you must use the loader on the back and the foldable arm at the front in order to crawl and climb around.
The tutorial explains the controls pretty well and gets you to put the movements into practice for some simple tasks. With each analog stick controlling a different portion of the arm, namely the dipper and the boom, as well as one stick doubling as the all-important claw, it’s going to take a lot of getting used to. The loader just moves up and down using the triggers however, which is incredibly straightforward in comparison and is a very welcome simplicity. After doing as you’re told to get through the tutorial, the difficulty skyrockets almost immediately.
The first level merely wants you to reach the end-zone with no obstacles in sight, it’s just a matter of shifting the machine towards it. What an easy peasy way to begin, I thought. Don’t laugh, but even the simplest of objectives becomes a tad nightmarish because of confusion over the controls and figuring out a method to propel the vehicle forwards; instead of accidentally pushing it towards the edge of the platform and falling into the abyss. It teaches you a lesson swiftly, and that’s to sink or swim. Many people will jump ship early on due to how tricky the controls are, but those possessing the patience of a saint have got a few clever conundrums to overcome and the rewarding feeling is worth the hell, just about.
There are four different types of levels in BH Trials, with three of them geared up towards solo players and the other for local co-op. Focusing on the purest solo levels initially, these are the challenging obstacle courses you must navigate. Every so often it introduces a new problem into levels, which could be as small as a switch to press or huge swinging hammers ready to send you flying. Other troublesome obstacles include narrow pathways, sliding doors, steps, platforms to balance on, and much more. A personal highlight sees a bridge needing to be flung out using the claw, before sending yourself across it without attempting to propel via the bridge as it’ll start to retract.
Undoubtedly, the obstacle laden levels border on hellish at times, so it’s good to see a spot of light relief present in the other two level types on offer. There are skill games that put your reflexes to the test by getting you to knock balls into holes and hit bulbs as they light up. Alternatively, you could partake in the destruction-based offerings, essentially letting you demolish as much of your surroundings within a time limit – releasing tons of built-up aggression in the process. In a way, these levels are not only fun, but also a subconscious form of improving your mastery of the digger.
As far as the co-op levels are concerned, they involve a special ‘spider digger’ possessing four arms. Up to four players have to work together in unison to accomplish the tasks at hand, which is easier said than done. All I would suggest is giving it a go with friends you’re not too fond of as I guarantee there will be arguments aplenty, especially when someone forgets to lift a leg or moves prematurely. Given how hard it is to organise a couch co-op session at the moment, BH Trials is crying out for online capabilities. While you can try these levels on your own, it’d be utter madness to do so.
What’s great though is that there’s plenty of replay value to set faster times and garner high scores, which can see you climb the online leaderboards and earn up to three Stars for your performance. There are also miniature collectible diggers to locate and, by acquiring these, you unlock additional levels – so it’s worth finding them.
The overwhelming difficulty aside, the other downsides of BH Trials pertain to the visual and audio departments. For some strange reason it’s slightly reminiscent of Portal, with that rather clinical look that’s full of whiteness and generally uses a bland palette. This makes for a soulless atmosphere that’s confounded by the lobby style music in the background. It doesn’t exactly help lift the mood when you’re stuck attempting the same level for the 20th occasion.
BH Trials needs to be praised for a concept which is totally unorthodox and seldom like any other puzzling experience on Xbox One. I dig the idea, the skill games are pretty fun, it introduces a lot of intriguing obstacles, and the physics are spot on. Unfortunately, the difficulty of not only getting used to the tricky controls, but also figuring out techniques that can move the heavy machinery, is going to put many people off after a short time playing. Anyone that has the talent to stick with it though, without losing their cool every second, will be enjoying hardcore parkour for hours.
BH Trials is incredibly frustrating for sure and the difficulty curve appears too steep, however, with patience and skills, it’s rewarding enough to give a go.