Trials Evolution by developers Red Lynx, is the latest in a series which started out as a flash based game, and most recently helped to transform the image and perception of the Xbox Live platform with 2009’s downloadable release. Prior to this, the arcade was largely seen as a place to buy throw away games which (while addictive) had no real depth or substance, just leaderboards and minimal levels. Now the marketplace is thriving, probably thanks in no small part to the fact that Trials HD was, and still remains, one of the best selling XBL games of all time.
In terms of the premise, it was very simple. The right trigger was the throttle, left trigger was the brake, and you adjust your rider’s position by nudging the analogue stick. The reality however, couldn’t have been deeper. After the initial few courses, this game transformed into one of the most difficult and unforgiving experiences available. It was a dark, brooding game almost entirely based within a barely lit warehouse. Your only objective was to get your rider from point A to point B, negotiating obstacles en route. The tutorial was almost non existent, so much relied on your ability to learn from your mistakes and your ability to manipulate your rider with only the deftest of touch. Falls were frequent, with many players giving up at some unreasonable difficulty spikes. Trials indeed.
It appears Red Lynx have been taking notes on these issues. When you fire up the single slayer career mode, you are greeted with a licence test in order to get your first bike. After a short load time, as indeed they all are, you are placed outside on a training course. Trials has never looked better either. It’s bright but not garish… welcoming but not patronising. Most importantly, it’s accessible to everyone. The tutorial is genuinely helpful and stands you in good stead for the first handful of levels. The first bike feels more forgiving than any in Trials HD ever did, but this should not be seen as dumbing down. Whereas in the first there were difficulty spikes which may as well have been walls, Evolution eases you in and ramps up the difficulty gradually, and with expert precision in terms of knowing what to expect (and demand) from the player.
The career mode continues in this vein as well. The levels in each difficulty get progressively more challenging, until you are given your next bike which is invariably quicker and more responsive than the last to allow for more varied levels, and audacious challenges to the laws of physics. The further you go, the more difficult the levels are, yet the more engrossed you become. It’s rare for a game to produce any sort of physical reaction, but here, it’s a regularity. You feel the tension, you struggle with the bike and you will be moving yourself to try and coax the bike over the ledge and away from the precipice.
The levels themselves are frequently outstanding. Yes, there are a few which are average, forgettable at worst, but these are far outweighed by memorable and formidable tracks. Many of them, particularly the later stages, are more akin to a platform game, which is what Trials is at heart. There are numerous charming references to other games as well. Everything from Shadow of the Colossus, to Limbo, via Half Life is covered. Then there are the themes; there’s a war zone to tear through, an oil rig and an almost Inception-like reality defying stage amongst others. See how much things can change when you step outside?
There is a massive amount of single player content in the career mode which, coupled with the pitch perfect difficulty and responsive handling, is a pleasure to play through. It’s essentially a platform/puzzle game which will sometimes leave you wondering how best to make it to the next checkpoint. This isn’t an issue though, and that owes largely to the simple yet deep control system, and the physics engine which accompanies it. With the later bikes and levels, if you’re too heavy with the balance or throttle, you will be on your back before you know it… or on fire, or flying through the air. this is another trait of the Trials series in that it takes pleasure in the way that it dismounts you from your saddle, before instantly respawning you at the last checkpoint. The fact that it is instant is hugely important, as it makes all those falls and errors so much easier to take. This becomes all the more important on the extreme tracks, where for at least your first attempt, you will come extremely close to the 500 fault limit on a regular basis. Veterans need not fear, as accessibility does not always mean dumbing down.
So the single player is deep and well-structured, with plenty of courses and plenty of variety. Contrasting with this is the new and fully fledged multiplayer. That’s right, no more relying on the leaderboards for company as in Trials HD. If you feel like competition, you can race online in what is a surprisingly robust suite. There’s the new Supercross mode, where you race side by side, along with Trials mode, racing on the single track courses where you can see the ghosts of the other three players. Towards the end of each course the tension is tangible, and more mistakes are made. There’s not much more exciting than a scramble to the finish which decides the mini-championship. There’s a full ranking and matchmaking system to compliment the modes as well, so you will never be struggling to maintain your interest.
If all that wasn’t enough, the level editor makes a return. One of the major issues with HD was that you could only play levels made by people on your friends list, but that has completely changed here. The overhaul brings the editor and the content right up to echelons of Little Big Planet, with searches based on level type, community rating and upload date. This turns an already generous package into an endless one. There are countless levels already waiting to be played, plus the community is already huge and dedicated. The editor itself is simple to use and you can create a rideable course in minutes, but with some effort you can make stages on par or better than those in the main game. Red Lynx say that the editor is how they made every level in the game, and it stands to reason.
There are some minor niggles as you would expect. The music is still terrible, but luckily it’s confined to the background, behind the roaring and buzzing of engines. Some of the later levels also border on sadistic, and take more patience to get through than most will have. The gameplay is also very dependant on trial and error, which simply won’t appeal to everyone. Then there are the skill games, which are throwaway fun, but are sometimes lacking in the fun department.
These are just minor issues though, in what is one of the finest downloadable titles created so far. The way it plays is a measure of beautiful precision and patience, and when you couple the community aspect to the near perfect gameplay, it makes for a package which is one of the strongest of 2012 so far, and we have a feeling that in terms of Evolution, the best is yet to come.
This review is based on a copy provided by Ubisoft.
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