You remember Trials HD, right? A game that, despite a difficulty curve that often resulted in defenestration of your controller, was one of the best offerings that XBLA had to offer. So, does Trials Evolution improve on the original or is it merely evidence that Darwin was wrong?
• Developer: RedLynx / Ubisoft
• Publisher: Microsoft Studios
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
• Release Date: Available now
Trials HD, for me, remains one of my all-time favourite games to date on the 360. The gameplay and controls were so wonderfully back to basics – acceleration, deceleration and leaning forwards or back – that it served as a true breath of fresh air in a marketplace that was becoming increasingly obsessed with ancillary bells and whistles, as opposed to concentrating on getting core gameplay mechanics bang on.
When I first heard about Trials Evolution, the sequel to Trials HD, I was both excited and worried – excited that there was more Trials on the way, but worried whether RedLynx wouldn’t be able to resist temptation and end up messing around too much with a game that was near-perfect the first time round. Thankfully, it appears that all my worrying was in vain. Trials Evolution is truly excellent, improving on the weaker areas of Trials HD and leaving the aspects of its predecessor that didn’t need tinkering with well and truly the heck alone.
The first major difference that you’ll notice with Trials Evolution is that the action leaves the dingy confines of the ubiquitous (and dingy) warehouses of Trials HD and moves outside into a lush, expansive landscape filled with rolling hills, dirt tracks, industrial complexes and sheer mountains.
The core gameplay mechanics from Trials HD remain, as I mentioned earlier, thankfully untouched. At first glance the objective of the game – get to the end of each course as quickly as possible, preferably avoiding falling off your bike as you go – and the controls (accelerate, decelerate, adjust your centre of gravity by leaning) seem ridiculously simple. However, once combined with RedLynx’s brilliant physics engine, bikes that need a steady hand to accurately control and some inspired level design, you end up with a game that is a true exemplar of that clichést of clichés: simple to pick up, difficult to master.
One of the biggest improvements that RedLynx have made in Trials Evolution: some judicious smoothing out of the difficulty curve, which was truly brutal in Trials HD. In Evolution, the difficulty increases at a much more sedate pace and allows you to get to grips with keeping the mechanical bucking bronco that is your bike under control before (literally) chucking you off a cliff face and demanding that you drive back up it again. Don’t get me wrong; by the end of the game, Trials Evolution is profoundly, apocalyptically hard, but this incarnation of Trials thankfully drip-feeds you increasingly more difficult levels – which will mean that the, erm, less skilled among us are more likely to persevere and enjoy the game. Trying to perfect each track is addictive enough in its own right, but RedLynx have also chucked in a massive selection of rider and bike customisations to unlock as you progress – hopefully meaning you can avoid the embarrassment of turning up to a race wearing exactly the same thing as another rider. That just wouldn’t do, after all.
Graphically, Trials Evolution is a massive step up from HD, thanks largely to the fact that the game is now set in the great outdoors. The locale that Evolution is set in is beautifully crafted and rendered, despite being occasionally marred by texture pop-in and whips along at a rock-solid 60 frames per second. Evolution also has significantly more levels to drive across than were found in HD, with nearly 60 extremely varied stages strewn across the single-player game. The impressive scenery really helps the game feel a great deal more varied that its predecessor, whose brown warehouse interiors made the grind to the end of the most brutal levels even more soul-destroying than was absolutely necessary. The inclusion of a range of environmental and lighting effects – ranging from the sublime to the truly crazy – also helps things keep fresh as well. There’s also a liberal smattering of gaming and general geek culture throughout some of the levels as well – with a virtual tip of the hat to Limbo, Sin City, Ico and even Portal.
In Trials HD, competing against your friends was solely via in-game ghosts of their best times, which almost felt akin to the asynchronous multiplayer you see in a number of games today. Whilst you’ve still got the option of trying to best your mates in a never-ending quest for leaderboard glory/e-penis bragging rights in Evolution, there’s now a full-fledged multiplayer mode. There’s a number of maps – labelled as “Supercross” – created especially for Evolution‘s multiplayer that have a “lane” for each player, but Evolution also allows you to race on any one of the tracks designed for the single-player game, admittedly with the slight caveat of your opponents being rendered as ghosts, as opposed to the full-fledged riders you’ll see with the Supercross tracks.
Multiplayer is true, honest, gloriously anarchic fun – whilst you can’t drive into each other, the pressure of attempting (and inevitably failing) to pull off inch-perfect manoeuvres in real time in front of your buddies invariably leads to some truly epic fails and glorious moments of comedy at each other’s expense. The best bit, however, is the fact that you can propel yourself from your bike as you approach the finishing line. Even if you’re lagging behind, you can suicidally launch yourself into the air in a last-ditch, high-risk attempt to pip your buddies to the post. Obviously, whilst parting yourself from the company of your bike in an extreme manner is fun, it could be open to a smidge of abuse (and that’s why you can’t have nice things, internet), so you’ll be pleased to know you can turn it off if you’re a grumpy sourpuss. The only slight grumble that I have with the multiplayer aspect of the game is that, on Supercross tracks, it seems to have the habit of randomising which lane you’re racing in map by map, which can be very confusing at the start of every race as you happily career into a wall on the explicit understanding that you genuinely thought you were someone else.
Aside from the multiplayer mode, the other massive upgrade to be found in Trials Evolution is the beefed-up, full-fledged track editor. You get to pick a point anywhere on the massive world map to start your track, pick another spot where it ends and then get creative with placing nefarious obstacles to dumbfound any who attempt to tame your level. The editor available to you is exactly the same one used by the developers to create the levels in the game, which should give you an idea of the range of weird and wonderful things that you’ll be able to cook up with a bit of practice. In fact, you can even load up any level that ships with the game to see how those clever boffins from RedLynx put it together. Thankfully, the editor comes in 2 flavours: an “easy” mode, in which you simply place objects, and an “expert” mode that allows you, among other things, to take control of the game’s powerful scripting engine.
Like LittleBigPlanet, you’re not limited to creating one particular kind of game. RedLynx have created levels that include an FPS, a take on Angry Birds, a version of Marble Madness and a homage to ‘Splosion Man. Admittedly, many of these levels are more demos of what is possible as opposed to necessarily being levels you’ll come back to again and again, but it’s clear that once the community works out how to get the best out of the editor, there’s going to be a nearly endless supply of levels to keep Trials fans happy.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m fairly chuffed with Trials Evolution; however, there are one or two very minor and extremely nit-picky issues that I have with the game. Firstly, I wish the game tried a bit less hard to give the impression that it’s gnarly (dude). The rapping in the unskippable intro induces a sense of discomfort that can only be equated to the experience of having a film that you’re watching with your parents spring a sex scene on you. Secondly, and much like with Trials HD, the mini-games that supplement the single-player game – such as launching yourself as far as possible down a road, or getting as far as you can without releasing the accelerator – just feel a bit unpolished in comparison and seem to rely on luck rather than mastering the skill of controlling your bike. But like I said, I’m forcing myself to nitpick in the name of journalism. Or something like that.
Trials Evolution is a more than worthy successor to the excellent Trials HD, improving on its predecessor in just about every conceivable way. Learning to master your bike will take some time, but I guarantee that you’ll enjoy every single minute of it.