Racers, On Your Marks…
Trials Evolution takes the incredibly fun formula of its predecessor, Trials HD, and opens up the throttle full blast with inventive, gorgeous outdoor environments, fast-paced online multiplayer races, an incredibly deep map editor, unlockable customization options, and even more tracks and jaw-dropping cheer-out-loud moments than the original. In short, it builds upon the first game in the series in just the right ways, expanding and lengthening the experience while remaining true to what made the first one such a riot.
Before the game even reaches its title screen, it’s clear that Trials Evolution has attitude and testosterone to spare. As the publisher and developer logos – Microsoft Games Studio and RedLynx – flash on the TV, a punk-flavored rock/rap track riffs up, signaling a game that has as much freshness as raw power. Thus, Trials Evolution finds its spot among today’s alternative sports games.
For anybody familiar with Trials HD, Evolution is a carbon-copy in the gameplay and control departments. For those using this game as an entry-point into the franchise, like this humble reviewer, Trials Evolution plays like a two-dimensional motocross racer, letting you ride your bike forwards and backwards on a flat plane while navigating over, under, around and through various obstacles. The kicker, and what gives some of Evolution‘s more devilish tracks their bastard-hard difficulty, is that you not only throttle and brake your bike, but also lean the rider forward or backward, shifting your (and your bike’s) center of gravity. This mechanic, which lets you control the velocity and vector of your bike’s jumps and leaps, as well as when to wheelie and when to keep both tires firmly grounded for a vertical climb up a wall, requires pinpoint precision to master, as the game’s learning curve spikes sharply after just a few beginner-level tracks.
Despite Trials Evolution‘s left/right track layout, don’t make the mistake of expecting a flat, boring game lacking all depth. Trials Evolution is, for all intents and purposes, presented in fully competent 3D; backgrounds and environments are not only extremely gorgeous (seriously, for a downloadable title, the graphical pedigree is highly impressive!), but also a very real part of the game world. Each track ends with your rider, having crossed the finish line, meeting an untimely (and often hilarious) end, be it at the hands of a tactical aerial bomb-run dropping nukes on him or via being pancaked by a piano (and even a train car!) literally falling out of the blue sky.
The tracks themselves show no bounds of creativity; the developers have really pulled out all the stops to deliver some racing experiences that are as rich in variety as they are engaging and tough. Racing your bike through the battle at Omaha Beach during the Normandy landing makes way early on for riding the loops and rails of a derelict roller coaster track; there are even special themed tracks based on Playdead’s cult indie game Limbo, complete with giant spider, a medieval Castle Crashers-inspired level, and a race through the Titan’s Graveyard, where not everything is as dead as you’d think. For a bit of a head-trip, try the M.C. Escher-based level, which spins and turns on its own convoluted axis, subjecting you to constantly changing gravity until you reach the end of its twisting maze.
If you get tired of mastering the 60 included single-player tracks (almost twice as many as the previous game!), besting your time and matching yourself against your friends’ performances – the game displays players from your friends list with a moving icon and their name on the actual track, always showing you how you’re stacking up to their best run -, you can head to the immensely detailed track editor built into the game. With a simple (“Lite”) version of the editor or the “Pro” editor (the same one the development team used to create the single-player tracks), you can set out to develop any challenge you so please, on the game’s massive stretch of land. Place ramps, hazards, falls or any of the over 1,500 objects available, and set up custom scripted events and breakaway pieces of track. You can even create all-new game modes, including a FPS view, a Monkey Ball-esque platform experience, and more, and head online to share them with the world. Downloading and rating other players’ creations (for free, might I add) is a cinch, and ensure that, as long as the collective creative juices keep flowing, there’s virtually no limit to the amount of content this title brings with it!
Speaking of sharing the experience with your fellow gamers: Trials Evolution also offers a multiplayer mode both on- and offline via local co-op. When hopping on XBL, you’ll participate in races with up to four players side by side on specially designed tracks for supremacy. Once you’ve competed (and hopefully won) in a few races and leveled up a bit, you’ll have access to additional multiplayer modes. Trials mode lets you compete on some of the game’s actual tracks, racing by yourself, with the other players appearing as ghost bikes when you’re near them.
The Final Verdict (A Photo Finish)
It is a bold claim indeed to speak of utter perfection, and I shy away from it here as well…but begrudgingly. Firstly, the physics of balancing your bike can be a bit touchy, it being often all too easy to overcompensate when trying to rein a rogue wheelie back in, and ending up toppling over forwards on the next incline, or getting caught in a bounce after a death-defying leap that makes it hard to stick your landing and preserve momentum. Remember how you used to make your controller “hop” when you were a kid, tongue clenched firmly between your teeth, when you absolutely just wanted Mario to make a difficult leap? This game is the first time in a long, long time that I can remember actually tilting my arms and my whole body, willing my rider to regain some control over his bike’s balance. And as badass as the soundtrack hits you on the title screen, I wish the in-game track music were heavy enough to match that intensity.
But all semblances of misgivings quickly dissipate the first time you find yourself at the top a perfectly executed jump off a ramp, floating across the bright-red disk of the sunset in the background, hearing your motorcycle driver hoot like the frontman of an Iron Maiden cover band. This is the sense of excitement, the thrill that all games should aspire to, and delivered with style and beauty to boot. With single player, online and co-op multiplayer, Tournaments, Challenges, user-created content, and a bevy of ways to challenge and best your friends, this one will give all gamers something to chew on for quite a while. Hats off, Trials Evolution!