Xbox Live Arcade Title
Multiplayer: 2-4 players.
Evolution. In a perfect world it would the word used to describe every sequel: an evolution of what made the previous game great, building and improving upon the foundations layed down previously to create something that is both familiar and yet so very different at the same time. Yet in today’s market sequels are rarely an evolution, instead we get a lot of games that simply feel like they’re a copy and paste job with just enough new stuff to vaguely justify a full retail release. But when Ubisoft and Redlynx named their latest Trials title Evolution, it’s like they wanted to make a statement to the industry: this is what sequels should be, an improvement of what came before with plenty of new stuff to sink your teeth into, something familiar yet different, something better. An evolution.
In case you couldn’t tell from my honeyed words, then, Trials: Evolution is close to being the perfect sequel. Building upon the foundations laid down in the ridiculously successful Trials HD, it’s retained the same addictive core gameplay that amazed so many and added layers and layers of improvements and new features. But enough flattery, because they’ll be plenty more of that as this review goes on. Lets get into the nitty-gritty of it all.
The most obvious change that you’ll see by just looking at the screenshots adorning this review is the shift from dank warehouses to the outside world, opening up and expanding the range of the level designs by allowing Redlynx to incorporate things like the natural landscape into their tracks. Gone are the days of being stuck inside and tracks being made entirely of artificial objects, instead rolling hills, cliffs, trees and rivers all play their part in the track designs lending the game a much wider range of tracks to play on. And of course on the cosmetic level the move to the outside world also makes Trials Evolution a much prettier game to look at, which can only be a good thing! Still, venturing out into the wide-open world does mean that Redlynx have changed up the level design style somewhat. Whilst Trials HD favored, well, trialsy (Yes, I’m aware that ‘trialsy’ is not a word. Shut up) levels that focused more on careful use of balance and stopping and starting, many of Evolution’s tracks are faster, more flowing affairs that often feel like they can be completed by just holding the accelerator down. The diehard Trials fan in me couldn’t help but be a little shocked by this change, but taken in context of the game it makes sense for the track design to have become faster given the use of natural terrain, and I’m certainly not saying that these new tracks are bad because Redlynx’s track-building genius is still well and truly present throughout, even going so far as to include some rather special tracks such as a tribute to Limbo. Once I got used to the change in style I was having just as much, if not more, fun that I did with Trials HD. As an added bonus these more pedal-to-the-metal style tracks have given the game a far gentler learning curve than its predecessor, so hopefully now a few more people will actually make it past the tutorial level and be able to enjoy the game. And some of the later tracks do return to their trials roots, which is to say they’re bloody tough, likely to make you cry and may induce fits of rage that would make the Hulk a bit worried. In other words, don’t panic, Trials is still a bloody challenging game.
But wait, I’m jumping head first into this review under the assumption that you, dear reader, are already familiar with the Trials series and have played Trials HD religiously since it was released, like me! So let’s take a step back for a moment and assume that you’re some sort of freaky weird person that has been living under an extremely large and dirty rock that has absolutely no knowledge of Redlynx or of the Trials series. Ok, so I know it’s unlikely, but let’s just go with this for a minute. The goal of Trials is a simplistic one: using the simple controls of acceleration, brake, lean back and lean forward, you must use your bike to navigate the course as quickly and efficiently as you can. It really is that simple, yet from this simple idea stems an incredibly addictive game that challenges you to constantly improve your skills. As you start you’ll feel clumsy navigating the various obstacles in your path, but as you progress you’ll learn how to hop your bike, get up seemingly impossible climbs and land on platforms the size of your bike. And without ever realising it you’ll go from being a hopeless mess that’s completing levels by luck to a trials riding genius that can hope from rock to rock on your back wheel. Few games have such a palpable sense of accomplishment as Trials Evolution does: every level you complete feels like a massive achievement. But the real draw of Trials gameplay is competition with yourself, with your friends and with the rest of the world. There’s this quality to the gameplay that can’t be put into words that simply makes you want to replay levels over and over to improve your time, to clear that obstacle smoother and to beat your friend who just destroyed your time by two seconds. Evolution will bring out the competitive side of anyone that plays it, and that’s a guarantee.
This core trials gameplay hasn’t actually changed all that much since Trials HD, and for good reason: it was already damn near perfect. Having said that, though, the physics that power the bike and rider do have a slightly weightier feel to them and are arguably more forgiving than we’ve previously seen from the series. Perhaps this was merely an illusion, but it certainly felt like there were more moments whilst playing that I got out of by sheer luck than Trials HD would have allowed, or by simply hitting the throttle and hoping for the best. You know, like real men do.
Anyway, to get back to the topic at hand competition with other people was perhaps the biggest aspect of Trials HD, always pushing you to become better so you could claim the next spot on the leaderboards. To further cultivate this healthy competition, or in some cases hugely unhealthy competition, Redlynx have added in “ghosts” during levels, so now you don’t only just have the leaderboards to look at to see how badly you’re doing but you’ve also got a ghostly dot with your friend’s name on the track so you can see exactly where they’re going faster than you, although sadly it’s not a true ghost so you can witness they’re technique mid-level, although you can still go download their replays if you wish to do a little studying. But that wasn’t enough competition for Redlynx, so they decided to jump on the infamous band wagon and add multiplayer to their beloved Trials series. But wait, don’t go running off screaming, because the multiplayer here is a great addition to the game. Allow me to explain: you and up to three other friends or random people on Xbox Live, because everybody on Xbox Live is random, will race against each other in a series of supercross tracks. Points are awarded based on what position you finish in, with points being deducted for each crash you have along the way. And you will crash, because while the supercross tracks are generally jump orientated with little slow down and balance moments, the sheer pressure of actually racing against three other people on-screen at once is intense! It’s exciting! I had many happy hours shouting at friends as we crested a hill, each trying to get the back wheel down as quickly as possible to get the power on and gain a vital few tenths of a second. Alright, so it would have been nice to have a few trickier tracks to race on rather than just simple jumping affairs. The singleplayer has some fantastic tracks where you drive along platforms suspended in the sky, race up cliffs with sparkling waterfalls and even dodge closing hands made of rock! But in the multiplayer the tracks are pretty simple affairs by comparison, focusing more on simple flowing jumps. Still, though, complaints about the lack of variety in tracks aside the multiplayer is a fine addition to Redynx’s baby.
And anyway, the lack of more trials orientated tracks in the multiplayer, and in the singleplayer to a degree, is a problem that is easily solved thanks to Evolutions new track central feature which lets players upload tracks they’ve created using the games massively improved editor for everyone else to download all around the world. It’s a feature that many, many people felt were lacking in Trials HD, and so its inclusion in Evolution is hardly surprising but extremely welcome. A quick trip to the Track Central screen reveals a host of options for you to browse tracks with: first and foremost comes a section of Redlynx’s personal picks from the bunch, which is pretty much going to be the place that everyone wants to get into! Otherwise you can search for trials or supercross tracks by highest rated, latest added or even by the type of track it is. Of course tracks can be downloaded in mere seconds, so you can simply wander into track central and come back out with ten, twenty, thirty or even fifty new tracks to play through, and because of the range of talent out there on Xbox Live (see, I knew you lot were useful for something) the game is clearly going to have a self-sustaining community. Hell, Redlynx might actually find it hard to sell track packs in the future, because why spend money when you can get amazing tracks for free? Yup, shoot yourselves in the foot, there, didn’t you, Redlynx.
Still, Track Central would be nothing without the famous Trials editor which has gotten a major upgrade since the last time out. Of course the primary reason for the upgrades the editor has gotten is because Redlynx themselves use it to create the games levels. Perhaps the most interesting change is that when you go into the editor you’re greeted with an already formed world that you can edit and mold: think Forgeworld from Halo: Reach and you’ve got it! It’s rather strange to be working with something like this in comparison to Trials HD’s indoor warehouses, but without a doubt it’s a vast improvement To create a track you simply pick a start point and then find somewhere to finish it in the world. Of course this means you’ve also got to build your track around the already formed natural terrain of the world which includes mountains, bridges, rivers, buildings and more, but the terrain can be altered and existing objects deleted, so it’s the work of a moment to adjust the world to your requirements. To further help the fact that you’re trying to build around ever little bit of the scenery you can now actually build turns into your tracks as well. From a gameplay perspective these turns don’t make much of a difference as they don’t require you to do anything while playing, but from a track building perspective it opens up a considerable amount of options and lets you sculpt your track around the terrain. Of course you might be thinking why should I build around terrain when I can just flatten, and the answer is simple: building a track in union with the natural terrain often gives a far better flow to the finish product. As you would expect, as well, a load of new items have been added to the editor for you to play with, especially things like rocks, trees and natural objects. With all of these fairly easy to use tools anybody can create a great looking, fun to play track relatively quickly and upload it for the world to play and rate.
But for the more dedicated track designers out there, the new editor offers a hell of a lot more as well. While it’s easy for somebody to simply sling a track together that plays great, the patient gamer whose willing to learn will find a lot more options to play. In Trials HD there was a limited selection of even tools that allowed designers to do things like trigger explosions, falling walls, etc. and while the dedicated gamers managed to find more and more ingenious ways to utilise these basic tools it’s still fair to say that the system was fairly limited. This time around, however, Redlynx have really gone to town and added an almost mind-boggling amount of tools that let you create min set-pieces for your tracks. You can still do the basics like triggers explosions, but now you can also use the tools to create massive hands that rise out of the water and smash the track, or even turn the game into an FPS or something even more insane. A quick visit back to the singleplayer shows exactly what Redlynx were able to do with the tools available, as does a visit to track central. Simply said, the editor is now an incredibly powerful and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what people can do with it. However, one gripe that must be mentioned is the lack of comprehensive in-game tutorials regarding the more complex operations that can be performed. The gap between building simple tracks and using the more advanced tools is quite substantial and may leave quite a lot of people feeling frustrated. Happily Redlynx have created series of tutorial videos on their site, but they really should have been included in the game itself to help get people going. Regardless, Trials Evolution’s editor is beautiful to behold and gives the community the ability to sustain itself for years to come, or until the next Trials title comes out.
Perhaps the best example of the editors power, though, comes from the singleplayer skill games. Should you get bored with riding your little virtual bike around and crashing into trees, you can take part in Skill Games, a series of levels which not only test your trials skills, but also provide some unusual diversions as well. One game, for example, challenges you with getting as far as you can with limited fuel, while another swaps out your bike for a massive ball that you must guide across a table. Yet another gives you some skis, a downhill slope and tasks with performing backflips. There’s a considerable range of entertaining little games to play, and best of all they’ve all been created using the editor, which means the gamers can make them as well. In fact, just go on to track central and you’ll see that people have come up with some inventive stuff. Admittedly some of the games feel a bit out-of-place and clumsy, but they’re still a fun distraction and a good way to blow off some steam after a hard night of riding, or at least it is until you suddenly find yourself addicted to beating your friends on the Skill Game leaderboards as well.
Moving away from the gameplay, as I mentioned briefly earlier the games move to the outside world is a welcome cosmetic change. On the technical side of things Trials Evolution isn’t a huge leap from Trials HD – there’s been a few tweaks here and there, but there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of difference. That’s fine, though, because while Evolution may not be winning awards for being a technical powerhouse anytime soon it’s still a fine-looking game and having grass, trees, lakes and rolling hills is definitely an improvement over dark, drab warehouses that were seemingly infinite in size. The music this time around is also pretty damn good, featuring some pretty awesome intro tunes that I personally found to be pretty awesome, though I have no doubt that they’ll also gain quite a few haters. The in-game music does repeat pretty often and so you’ll likely not find yourself paying much attention to it after a few hours, but what is there is great and suits the style and tone of the game perfectly. There’s still a couple of dodgy sound effects in the game as well, but for the most part it’s all solid work.
Speaking of aesthetics and such, Redlynx have also tossed in the ability to customise both your rider and your bike. Completing races and earning those lovely medals grants you cash to go spend in the shop where you can purchase new gear for your rider to wear when he face-plants a rock and even some new pieces for your bike, although keep in mind these are merely cosmetic upgrades, people. Sadly, though, the whole thing was a bit pointless. The gear you can buy for bike and rider is pretty boring stuff which didn’t really add anything to the game. By time I was finished up I probably have over $200,000 sitting in the bank and zero inclination to go spend it on anything.
And so we near the end of this review. I’ve spent far more words on Trials Evolution that I would on practically any other Arcade game, but what can I say, I loved it! I loved Trials HD before it and this is exactly as the name implies: an evolution of everything that made Trials HD great. Still, to try to keep things fair here’s a couple of gripes with the game in addition to those already mentioned: the physics system still has the occasional daft moment, track central has a few strange glitches, supercross tracks have some questionable checkpoint positions and I really, really, REALLY, hate it when I ruin a faultless run when I’m close to the finish. I know that’s not technically a flaw with the game, but I couldn’t think of anything else.
+ Addictive as hell!
+ The editor is now all-powerful.
+ No more warehouses! (unless you want)
– Faceplanting things.
– More could have been done with customisation.
Not a technical powerhouse for Arcade, but plenty of lovely scenery to admire as your face smashes into it.
Good music and solid sound effects do the game justice. But there definitely needed to be more music.
It’s hard to find any real fault in Trials Evolutions gameplay. At no point during my time with the game as I not smiling like an idiot, leaping out of my chair as I made a brilliant save or getting sweaty palms as I neared the finish of a perfect run.
Getting through the singleplayer tracks and events should take you anywhere from 6-10 hours, but after that you need to go back and get better medals, and the download more tracks, and play multiplayer, and download more tracks, and then go back and beat that guy who beat you.
Trials Evolution is exactly that, an evolution. It joins the ranks of the very few games I’ve ever awarded this score to, and as such it comes with the same warning: a score of 10 doesn’t mean it’s a perfect game, because it’s not. it just means that this is a truly remarkable game that deserves to be played and that deserves to have a place on your hard drive. It is, quite simply, the best game on XBLA at the moment.