Nobody could have predicted the gargantuan success of Trials HD. A high definition remake of a crudely-animated internet flash game that did well to distract me from insipid IT lessons, its debut on home consoles brought an addicting formula of bikes and physics-based puzzles that proved to be a runaway hit on Xbox Live, selling over two million units, garnering critical acclaim and winning community awards.
And so, inevitably, a sequel was born in the form of Trials Evolution. In principle, the premise is identical: ride your bike across a series of increasingly challenging courses in the fastest time possible with as few faults as possible. The clue is in the title, however, as Trials Evolution is a significant leap forward resulting in a more ambitious, expansive and ridiculously addictive game.
Whereas Trials HD confined you to samey levels set in a dingy warehouse, Trials Evolution introduces your rider to the great outdoors, resulting in some truly inspiring and imaginative level design. From traversing ancient ruins and scaling urban city rooftops, to meandering through water-logged sewers and speeding off insane sky-high loop the loops, there’s no shortage of variety in Trials Evolution which makes for a thoroughly engaging experience and makes repeating levels less tiresome than in Trials HD. And just when you thought you had seen it all, they throw in a level that plays as an ode to Trials Evolution’s next door XBL neighbour Limbo.
They’re all beautifully rendered, too. It may not be one of the prettiest downloadable games to date, but despite its limited isometric viewpoint, each environment sports an intricate level of detail and vibrancy and the action consistently runs at a buttery-smooth 60fps.
While you’ll spend most of your time trotting about on these expertly-crafted levels, the career mode also introduces Skill Games, a set of wacky mini games that, while fun in their own right, are certainly less compelling than the main course. Tasks range from a FlatOut-inspired long jump where you must hurl your hapless rider, who is comically attached to a pair of wooden wings, as far as possible whilst tapping buttons to keep him flying, to seeing how long you can survive with a stuck throttle and, bizarrely, rolling a marble ball across a maze.
Completing a level earns you either a bronze, silver or gold medal, with platinum medals later available once you’ve progressed. For obsessive completists, earning the coveted gold medal requires a near flawless performance – completing a level takes practice, but mastering them requires some serious perseverance. Fortunately, Trials Evolution actively encourages repeated plays, as you often have to accumulate a set amount of medals before you can access later levels.
Trial and Error
It goes without saying that Trials Evolution can become face-meltingly difficult at times. Mercifully, the difficulty spike is far less jarring than in Trials HD as Evolution eases you in at a comparatively gradual pace, introducing new skillsets via license tests, which unlock faster bikes. and starting with short, accessible treks that help you learn the nuances of controlling speed, timing jumps and shifting your rider’s momentum. It all helps you to prepare for the dauntingly difficult levels such as “Gigatrack,” a standout endurance stage that takes almost 20 minutes to complete on a good run.
Earning 130 medals unlocks a final batch of levels that will test even the most hardened of players that religiously tackled Trials HD – it soon becomes apparent why these hellish levels are labelled under “Extreme” difficulty when successfully reaching the next checkpoint within 100 attempts is an achievement in itself. Climb that near-90 degree vertical ascent, you say? You must be joking.
Even 500 available attempts and a 20 minute time limit wasn’t enough to finish some of the Extreme levels. In one instance, after repeatedly failing a seemingly impossible jump onto a near vertical climb the sense of achievement when I finally conquered it was a scene of unbridled triumph. Imagine, then, the sheer rage when I failed at the last hurdle, trying in vein to clamber over a deceptively step air vent plonked mere metres before the finish line. After repeated attempts spanning 5 minutes, the clock counted down as if it was mocking me for my ineptness and, inevitably, it was game over. At times, it’s enough to push you to the edge of reason.
Indeed, the trial and error nature of the game will surely cause some to crush their controllers in frustration (truth be told, I probably could have done with a swear jar at some points), but the addictive gameplay compels you to persevere and soldier on. It’s something of a godsend, then, that checkpoints can be instantly restarted with a swift press of the A button, which is a smart design decision on developer RedLynx’s part. Occasionally the placement of the checkpoints doesn’t give you enough speed to reach the next obstacle, but they’re frequent enough to counter the frustration.
It’s a testament to the controls that Trials Evolution’s more taxing levels are actually feasible, as the brilliantly precise physics allow you to diligently feather the throttle with the trigger, whilst balancing the momentum of your rider with acute agility using the analogue stick. Simple yet intuitive, Trials Evolution befits that old cliché of ‘easy to learn but hard to master.’
VVV’s Zeragon shows us how it’s done
As if Trials Evolution wasn’t already life-consuming, its online component adds a whole new level of competition. Leaderboards once again spur you on to beat highscores, but Trials Evolution introduces a more personal touch by constantly comparing you with your friends.
Your Xbox Live buddies, represented via a floating dot and gamertag, shadow your rider, as their best time plays out in real time alongside you. It’s an ingenious touch, making an already tense trial all the more frantic when you feel like you’re a biking god, only to be outclassed by a fellow friend speeding past obliterating your record.
New to Trials Evolution is the addition of online competitive multiplayer, and while it isn’t terribly fleshed out, having up to 4 players simultaneously performing all manner of tricks is quite a spectacle.
Custom Supercross tracks make for a mad dash to the finish line, whereas any of the 60 main tracks in the single player can be played online. It’s an absolute riot if you have a headset handy, particularly when you inevitably buckle under the pressure to successfully land a trick to the amusement of unsympathetic friends.
Then there’s the surprisingly advanced level creator. Expanding on Trials HD’s basic tools, Trials Evolution raises the bar for user generated content on Xbox Live, with a potential for creativity akin to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet.
Delving into the Lite or Pro Editor tools (which are apparently the very same tools used by RedLynx to map out the single player stages) allows you to create levels that are as simple or as complex as you desire.
It’s in the Pro Editor where things get interesting however, as Trials Evolution’s advanced tools can utilised to venture into other genres – yes, the Xbox 360 finally has its own version of LittlebigPlanet 2. There’s a massive scope of potential that the community has fully embellished – a take on table football, an Angry Birds clone and even a functional first person shooter can be downloaded, to name a few.
Combine this with Trials Evolution’s exhaustive single player, and you have a downloadable game that’s positively brimming with stacks of content to the point it wouldn’t have looked out of place as a full priced retail game. At just 1200 Microsoft Points, it’s incredible value and proves what a lucrative market the digital download space has become.
Trials Evolution does everything a sequel should to improve on its predecessor. Often teeth-grindingly frustrating yet relentlessly addictive and compulsively challenging, Trials Evolution takes what made Trials HD so endearing in the first place it and expands it into a polished package that goes above and beyond expectations, packing in notable new features that enhances the core gameplay tenfold.
Whether you’re reeling in frustration over a tough track, revelling in triumph after beating a high score or marvelling at the latest creation the kooky community has cooked up, no other downloadable title evokes that “just one more go” mentality quite like Trials Evolution, making it one of the most essential and easy to recommend XBL titles in recent memory.