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Trials Evolution [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Trials Evolution takes the simple concept of riding a motorcycle though a series of obstacles and elevates it to frustrating and satisfying new heights. There’s a great wealth of content here, from a lengthy single player career, to online multiplayer and one of the most robust track editors ever. Aside from some minor issues with gated progress and an overdramatic camera, Trials Evolution stands as one of the most addicting games available on the Xbox Live marketplace.

The Pros: 

+ Great locales and level design

+ Track editor provides infinite content

+ Simple, addictive gameplay is easy to learn, hard to master

The Cons: 

- Extremely frustrating at times

- Learning curve is solid up through Medium difficulty, but rises sharply thereafter

- Gated progress means replaying tracks for better times and fault counts Rating : 

According to the best times posted for Way of the Ninja, one of the Extreme difficulty tracks in RedLynx’s Trials Evolution, the ride should only take about two minutes. It’s just a trip around a short racetrack with some obstacles scattered between the goal and I. Fifteen minutes later, I’m given the warning that I can only fault 250 more times before I automatically fail. That means I’ve faulted about as many times already, and I’m still only on the second jump.

Yet I keep playing. At this moment, I hate Trials, developer RedLynx, and everything associated with both of them. I want to smash my controller into fine confetti and let plastic rain from the walls. It’s frustrating beyond belief. Yet I keep playing, because an hour ago, I couldn’t even make it past the first jump. Even though it kicks your ass and makes you feel like the worst gamer in the world at times, Trials Evolution, the sequel to the smash hit Trials HD is one of the best games on Xbox Live Arcade.

Like most addictive games, Trials Evolution starts with a basic premise and builds subtly on it. All you need to do to win is get your motorcycle from point A to point B across a variety of tracks strewn with ramps, beams, and barrels. Control is as simple as using throttle and breaks, as well as forward and backward leaning, to control the balance of your rider. Tilt too far back on a slope and you’ll backflip and crush your skull. Forget to take your weight off the front tire, and the next time you leave the ground, you’ll topple over like a bowling pin. Figuring out how to position your rider and control the speed and acceleration of your motorcycle is the key to solving the puzzle/platforming hybrid gameplay that Trials Evolution offers.

If you’ve played Trials HD, or seen motorcross trials on TV, you have some idea of what to expect. Rather than be confined to a warehouse like its predecessor, however, Trials Evolution ups the stakes by staging its levels in some interesting and exciting locales. From a Normandy beach storm complete with bunkers and falling bombs, to medieval castles populated by rickety bridges and giant spiked balls, there’s a lot of variety in the scenery. Each track is full of enough insane jumps and big explosions to warrant repeat playthroughs. That’s fortunate, because you likely won’t be getting a perfect run on your first try. Or your twelfth.

In Trials Evolution, you’ll die. A lot. That’s the hardcore nature of Trials and its slightly exaggerated, somewhat wonky, but ultimately fair physics engine. When you spill, it’s generally your fault, and in most cases, you’ll have at least some idea of what you did wrong. Learning when to let up on the gas or feather the breaks takes precedence over speed in most of the later levels. There are times where the physics or environment act unexpectedly and cheat you out of a perfect run, but at least the limp, flopping ragdoll body of your racer is amusing to watch time and time again.

The single player career runs on medals, and new races are gated behind different medal requirements. Bronze medals are awarded for track completion, while silver, gold, and platinum medals are reserved for some ungodly impressive performances. The gating is slightly annoying, because the game basically forces you to get higher than bronze on most of the tracks in order to get the number of medals required to reach the end of the career. In a game where simply making it from one end of a course to the other is an achievement in itself, it’s a little frustrating that some of the most thrilling levels remain locked behind barriers that new players will have a hard time crossing.

License tests wait after every difficulty level, serving as tutorials for the game’s more complex maneuvers. They’ll teach you how to bunny hop, mount ramps, and perform backflips. They do a good job of visually teaching you what you need to do to handle your newly unlocked bikes, some of which are so unruly and twitchy that hitting the gas full throttle causes them to flip out of control. You may not need all of the techniques that a license test teaches you right away, but safe environment for learning the ropes that they provide is definitely welcome.

Knowing how to complete and track and executing the plan are two different things, though. When you master a course and can head through with momentum, hitting every stride and maintaining optimal speed, Trials Evolution is an utterly exhilarating experience. The game practically slaps you in the face with excitement as you rip down mountains and escape exploding dams. There are times when the camera pulls in a little too close or at an awkward angle in an attempt to be dramatic, forcing a fault, and a lot of the dressings of each level can make it difficult at times to tell what you’re about to land on. Thankfully, these slight affronts can be solved by simply learning the tracks, which is as enjoyable as playing them for the first time.

Aside from the single player career, there’s an amazing amount of ancillary content crammed into Trials Evolution’s $15USD price point. For the player who wants to unwind and do something silly, skill games that put the player on skis or inside a giant steel ball offer an interesting diversion. RedLynx even pays homage to ‘Splosion Man with a level that takes a ragdoll rider bursting and flailing through a deadly factory. The developers have a great sense of humor about their game, and it certainly helps alleviate the frustration you’ll experience on some of the later tracks.

For online players, there’s a series of supercross and trial modes that let up to four players compete on various tracks, some unique, some taken from the single player campaign, to see who can finish with the best time and the fewest faults. Some of the track choices, like the 12-minute long Gigatrack, don’t always make sense for multiplayer, but hosting private games using custom tracks made with the in game track editor can easily solve that problem.

The track editor included with Trials Evolution is one of the most flexible development tools ever offered in a consumer product. Using the Lite editor, players can easily drop in ramps, checkpoints, and slopes to create unique racing experiences. For the savvier user, the Pro editor contains more detailed logic tweaking that essentially stands on par with Little Big Planet in its potential and complexity.

With a little bit of work, it’s possible to create tracks that feature working cars and modified physics and effects. You can even turn the game into a 2D overhead shooter or a foosball table, based on the downloadable examples given by the developer. The editor offers an insane level of customization, so much so that it seems criminal to offer it in such a modestly priced package.

Sharing and downloading tracks is also surprisingly intuitive. Even the most complex creations take only seconds to download, and can be played directly from the download screen. The download interface, sorted by track type and user rating, makes finding the kind of experience you want easy. RedLynx has already posted several of its own in-house tracks, hinting at what might very well be infinite DLC. It’ll be really interesting to see what people can come up with given enough time with the editor, if the early offerings are any indication.

Trials Evolution is definitely a title with some serious legs, and that’s not something that can often be said for downloadable titles. It’s a quality game that, while frustrating, will keep bringing you back for more punishment. Never has being stumped by a pile of wooden boxes and tires ever been so masochistically satisfying.