Trials Evolution Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360
Addiction. It's one of those ugly words dripping in negative connotations. It can leave one feverish and sweaty, lying awake at night, wishing for just one more go. Yet I'm not ashamed to admit it. I have a vice and its name is Trials. In recent times, this addiction had faded to a mild pulse, a desire that sat waiting to be sated, but never overpowering. Happily, this month, it raised its head again in a new form. It had mutated, it had evolved.
Trials Evolution they called it. And that's a fairly accurate description. Not a completely separate entity to its predecessor Trials HD but a progression in virtually all respects. A game of simple mechanics but impossibly hard to master. A game not just about riding a motocross bike across increasingly insane tracks but a wonderful rendition of physics and map making. A game that drags one in so entirely it can quickly and easily become an obsession.
A quick recap for the uninitiated. Trials is a 2D motocross simulation, set in a beautiful and often explosively manic 3D world. You must control your rider through the use of acceleration, braking and shifting of body weight. With these means you climb ramps, take to the air off massive jumps and land at the bottom of dark chasms. While it may take a short time to get to grips with the controls, and having to drop back to the nearest checkpoint after landing face first in the dirt, it does not take long until you are looping the loop, climbing near vertical hills and performing zany stunts. The aim of most of the tracks, and generally the most competitive element of the game, is to reach the finish line as quickly as possible with the fewest number of falls. It is a format that breeds that drive within us to continually have one more go and does it with a humorous tongue in cheek attitude.
Trials Evolution does not bring much more to the table in that respect. The basic premise is still the same, and the physics handle with near identical similarity. However the evolution releases us from the confines of the warehouse in which Trials HD was trapped, unleashes fantastic multiplayer functionality and bundles in hilarious non-bike related skill games for good measure.
In the single player mode, which is where the addiction generally tends to manifest, you start out wfith a fairly pathetic bike and must complete simple races with few jumps and barely undulating hills. By completing these time trials as quickly and with as few falls as possible you receive medals which unlock new courses and bikes. However, the later tracks become increasingly mad, deviously designed and horrifically difficult to such an extent that most riders will be content with simply reaching the finish line. Though, if you ever find yourself stuck, you can always watch how the top riders completed the course and marvel at their genius balance and meticulous throttle control.
There are sixty races in total and as a quick comparison, it is fair to say that the new tracks are generally more friendly and welcoming than the previous release. The introduction of themes (varying wildly from simple forest scenes to tongue in cheek renditions of other arcade games such as Limbo) that encapsulate most of the races tends to make them smoother and more predictable. This is not really a criticism however, more a statement on how ridiculous the later stages of Trials HD were. Not that this entirely matters since racers can always download more tracks from the near infinite repository of user made tracks or, if they are so inclined, design their own using the brilliant editor which we will come to shortly.
Once one tires of the trials (presumably when their hands are an aching broken mess) they can venture on to the skill games. These are a bizarre but thoroughly entertaining collection of physics based games, ranging from skiing to Marble Madness to flying like Icarus towards the sun, or more likely, straight into the floor face first. As with the standard tracks you can still compete with friends and strangers for the best scores and view other player's attempts.
The addition of multiplayer in the supercross mode is inspired. Up to four players compete on tracks with four lanes over Xbox live or happily locally, racing to the finish line over generally less severe courses than the time trials. Players lose points for crashing and for every position they drop from pole. The result is possibly one of the best pick up and play local multiplayer games on the console and the perfect addition to any night in with friends. Perhaps one of the most entertaining parts of this experience is the ability to bail from your bike towards the finish line and rocket over the heads of your unsuspecting competitors and steal first place. It is a move of risk and reward though as if you fail to reach the checkered flag you end up with zero points. Arguably the game is worthy of purchase purely for this mode alone.
Players that have raced through all the time trials, blitzed the skill games, got tired of endlessly thrashing their friends on supercross and cannot find the courses they desire on Track Central (the online repository) can still create their own maniacal races with the incredibly powerful track editor. Developers RedLynx claim that every track in the game was built with this editor and while I doubt they used Xbox controllers (although that would explain the long wait we have experienced for this sequel) there is definitely no reason to believe they are telling fibs. The editor is surprisingly simple to use and gives you access to a ridiculous amount of features and possibilities, even down to the type of game you can create. Beyond motorbike racing, table football, emulated arcade games even first person shooters have been made. While I imagine that most of these will end up being novelty rather than fun or entertaining games, it does at least show the potential of the editor. With the ability to rate each track in time I imagine we will see some fantastic tracks matching, if not bettering, the game's own lineup.
Even before I sat down to play Trials Evolution I had a feeling it would be a hard task to find any aspect of the game to rip to shreds in the name of criticism. Fortunately RedLynx seemingly read my mind and left a small chink in their otherwise impenetrable armour in the form of the introduction song - a terrible, headache inducing, rap that is barely acceptable even in the name of satire. Worse it cannot be switched off, meaning one has to sit rather embarrassed as the game loads trying to avoid the confused glares of friends you are introducing to the game. The sound design in general is actually fairly awful. Filled with forgettable tracks, bike noises that bear a faint resemblance to bored wasps and ludicrous screaming from the rider that could be recordings of rants by the local town drunk - none of the sounds are really deserved of the excellent game they inhabit. The aesthetics of the menu screens are also rather uninspired, bearing a similarity to that of Colin McRae's Dirt series but with rather less polish.
None of that really matters though. The addiction is not going to withdraw simply because some irritating noises get in its way. Trials Evolution is the most compelling, entertaining and habit forming game on Xbox, arcade or otherwise. Once the obsession bug bites there is no stopping it as the hours and days disappear into that dark abyss as you race ever quicker to the fastest times and unreachable gold medal perfection. For some Trials Evolution will be a way of life, for everyone else it will still most likely be the best action and skill based game released this year.