With Trials Evolution’s potent popularity still regularly resonating with XBLA players, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the successful series originated on the PC. And it all started with a crudely animated online Flash game hosted on Miniclip that did well to distract me in laborious school computer classes.
Its success was thanks to decidedly simple premise that evoked the timeless gaming cliché of being deceptively easy to play but hard to master: navigate a bike along a series of increasingly hazardous levels set in a warehouse, using concentrated taps of the accelerator, brake and balance to avoid getting maimed. Unless you were me and went out of your way to impale your rider on every ramp for a cheap laugh.
A sequel was born in the form of Trials 2: Second Edition, the series’ first retail release that sported upgraded 3D graphics, physics and notoriously challenging levels. It was critically acclaimed, but it wasn’t until the release of Trials HD that the series suddenly gained significant spotlight, which saw RedLynx abandon the PC market and focus on making a name for themselves on the XBLA.
It paid off in spades, too. Trials HD spawned a little known sequel called Trials Evolution, which went on to become the best-selling XBLA game of all time. The levels were zanier, as RedLynx ventured outdoors into Crash County, an expansive environment which made for some lavish level designs that were absurdly creative at times, online multiplayer made its debut in the series and the all-important balance between fun and frustration finally felt balanced with a gradual difficulty spike that slowly eased newcomers in.
In an attempt to gain an even wider audience, we now have Trials Evolution: Gold Edition, an enhanced and belated PC port of the XBLA favourite that also bundles every level from Trials HD as compensation for PC players who have been sorely left behind over the years.
Gold Edition will spark some serious deja-vu if you’ve already played Trials Evolution on XBLA. This is by and large an identical experience, with all the same levels, progression system, trashy thrash metal music and thumb-bleeding gameplay that made Trials Evolution such a runaway success, but being able to finally play it on a PC does have its perks.
For the PC port, RedLynx took the opportunity to spruce up the graphics somewhat, but while Gold Edition does benefit from the ability to play in a higher resolution and tinker with the graphics settings (you can turn foliage on and off for example), it’s not the drastic overhaul we were perhaps expecting, despite some slightly sharper textures and optional anti-aliasing.
Unfortunately, Gold Edition has been plagued with performance issues upon release. Community complaints have been flooding the official forum about its less than stellar frame-rate, which stuttered even on high-end machines that are perfectly capable of running intensive games such as Battlefield 3 and Crysis 3, while other users reported numerous graphical glitches that severely tarnished the game.
While my issues weren’t as severe as other player’s seemed to be, installing the recently released patch seemed to address the problematic performance, as the game now runs smoothly with only occasional hitches whilst running on the highest resolution and graphics settings. I can’t vouch for how it fares on other machines, but it’s fair to say you should see improvements given that my system isn’t a top-of-the-range gaming PC.
Despite the lack of analogue control, Trials is still perfectly playable on a keyboard, requiring modulated taps of the arrow keys to control the acceleration of the bike and the balance of the rider.
It’s a testament to Trials’ masterfully refined physics that the limitations of the keyboard don’t hamper the gameplay too much, although I did occasionally struggle in some of the later, more challenging levels that demand a level of finesse a keyboard simply can’t deliver. Playing on a keyboard isn’t very ideal for some of the extended steep hill climbs you’ll encounter, for example – your fingers won’t thank you when you inevitably get cramp from strenuously mashing the arrow keys like a Tech Deck finger skateboard.
Trials handles remarkably well on a keyboard considering its limitations, but it’s no substitute for a controller with proper analogue control, however. We therefore highly recommend connecting an Xbox 360 controller for extra precision.
Gold Edition also benefits from some added social integration. At the end of each level, you are given options to share times on Facebook and export replay videos, which can be directly uploaded to YouTube. For a game that relies on player skill to excel at the later levels and achieve top scores, the ability to share those perfect runs after hours of practice should be a handy tool for competitive comrades.
It’s a great idea in principle, but its execution currently leaves a lot to be desired. After completing a level you’ll be prompted to share your replay on YouTube, but you’ll have to sit through the lengthy process whilst the game exports a compulsory offline video file onto your hard drive before it can be uploaded. It’s a shame you can’t resume play and let it save the file in the background, because it can often take several minutes to save – even on shorter runs that are only 30 seconds to a minute in length.
You can change the output resolution and video quality settings, but videos saved on the higher settings were noticeably choppy, whereas videos saved in lower quality settings were heavily pixelated. Granted, when viewed in a small window on YouTube these issues most likely won’t be as apparent, but users tend to have higher expectations when full HD videos are readily available on YouTube. Clearly, Gold Edition’s video compression needs to be optimised.
Many will also be dismayed to learn that Gold Edition requires Ubisoft’s unwanted Steam substitute game client known as Uplay to launch, meaning you’ll need to have both Uplay and Steam open if you purchase Gold Edition through the latter. You can at least now link friends from both accounts thanks to the latest patch, but being tied to Uplay feels wholly unnecessary. Uplay also powers Gold Edition’s online multiplayer, but you have to invite friends through the Uplay overlay separately before being able to join an in-game party which feels excessive.
The extra levels from Trials HD are a welcome addition to an already packed package. Replaying Trials HD reminds you just how accomplished Evolution is by comparison, however. Gold Edition adds some extra sparkle to the graphics and also upgrades the physics so that they match that of Trials Evolution, but being confined to the same dingy warehouse in every level becomes samey compared to Trials Evolution’s lavish outdoor environments.
Unlike Trials Evolution, which eased you in gently and ramped up the difficulty at a manageable pace, the Trials HD levels have a far less forgiving difficulty spike, and some of the later levels still rank as some of the most relentlessly punishing levels you’ll encounter in the series. They’re a fun diversion nonetheless that help bolster the campaign, and RedLynx’s intricate level designs still impress, even if they’re a tad primitive when paired with Evolution’s spectacular levels.
It’s also worth noting that, as opposed to being a standalone game, the Trials HD levels live in a separate ‘HD Warehouse’ map within the main career, and aren’t accessible until you earn enough stars in Evolution’s Crash County map. Stars earned in Crash County or Warehouse levels contribute towards your overall career progress, allowing you to hop back and forth between maps at will – if you’re short on stars to unlock the next tier of levels in Evolution’s Crash Country, you can complete levels in HD’s Warehouse to access them, for example.
Trials Evolution was bolstered with a healthy helping of post-release DLC with the Origin of Pain and Riders of Doom packs that added additional bikes, levels, skill games and achievements, but they sadly didn’t survive the transition to Gold Edition.
Granted, there’s more than enough content on offer here (there’s well over 100 levels at your disposal plus custom community levels) to keep you occupied, but labelling this PC port as a ‘Gold Edition’ implies you’re getting a definitive version of the game akin to ‘complete’ editions of games that bundle every piece of DLC with the original game for the same price as the standalone game was originally worth. It’s a tremendous shame, because both packs contained some genuinely imaginative levels, and their absence is sorely felt.
Of course, this is where the community comes in. Trials Evolution is renowned for its community support, with the introduction of a level editor transforming it into something of an XBLA LittleBigPlanet for bikes with unlimited replayability, where users can play, create and share custom-designed levels.
And despite the fact that none of the levels created in Trials Evolution on XBLA were ported over, it’s not taken long for Gold Edition’s online portal to fill up with a plethora of quality levels. Meanwhile, the editor, available as both a basic construction site which lets you add jumps, ramps and obstacles or an advanced editor that gives you complete free reign to carve a track of your wildest dreams, is more versatile than ever since navigation is far slicker and intuitive with a PC mouse.
If you’re a newcomer to the Trials’ series, Gold Edition is an absolutely essential package that retains everything that made the original games so special, especially for the meagre asking price of £15.99. It may not the complete package it could have been and there are still some PC-specific niggles that need addressing, but the expanded social integration and easier level editing help enhance what is already one of the most chronically addictive games of this generation.