Trials Evolution is truly that; an evolution of a franchise that is more physics experiment than arcade game. I still remember the countless hours I spent on the original Trials HD back in 2009, some of them pleasantly rewarding, but most in pure frustration, because Trials is one of those games that is incredibly satisfying when you do good and equally infuriating when it takes you 128 attempts to finish a single level. And now we get to do it all over again in this newest installment that is bigger and prettier than I could have possibly dreamed and just as challenging as ever.
Trials Evolution takes the physics lessons to the great outdoors with some of the most spectacular levels designs of any such game in the genre. If you are afraid of heights then expect plenty of sphincter-clinching moments as you sail over jumps high above the clouds or quite literally free-fall down 178-degree slopes. The levels are a fantastic mix of real-world terrain and manmade clutter – your worst Tony Hawk nightmare come to life only with motorcycles – and they require expert use of gas, brake, and deft control of the analog stick for shifting the weight of your rider at every step along the course.
Trials Evolution exploits an exaggerated physics system, not entirely unrealistic but exaggerated enough so the player can see the results of their input in real-time. The first few tutorial lessons teach you the basics of gas and brake and how to lean back for a wheelie or lean forward over the handlebars to climb steep inclines. And unlike most racers where you can simply mash the throttle, Trials requires careful degrees of pressure depending on the situation. From a dead stop, if you mash the gas on a 450cc bike without leaning forward just a bit you’ll likely just flip over backwards from the torque.
Therein lies another piece of the grand puzzle – bike selection. While you will earn bigger and faster bikes as you progress through the challenge series, the biggest bikes aren’t always the best ones suited for the particular track you’re on. If you find yourself going too fast or over-extending your jumps you might want to try a smaller bike – it’s all part of the trial and error process that is the core of Trials Evolution.
The one major feature that saves this game from utter disaster is the “instant restart”. When levels are only 1-2 minutes long and you often know you screwed up within seconds, you certainly don’t want to sit through any sort of reload or restart screen and Trials Evolution has the fastest restart of any game on the planet. Just tap the BACK button and your 3-second countdown to green light begins instantly. The game also checkpoints after pretty much every significant jump or stunt, so if you aren’t worried about a no-fault perfect run (required for Gold Medals) then you can simply hit the B button to restart from the last checkpoint.
Trials Evolution is structured with your typical modes that include quick races, multiplayer events, and the career mode that takes you through a lengthy series of tiered challenges sorted by various license tests that will award you with new bikes when passed. The trials start off easy enough then the difficulty starts to ramp up (pardon the pun) significantly until you eventually hit those impossible challenges near the final third of the game. But even if you only make it through the first 65% of Trials Evolution before giving up you will have still gotten more than your money’s worth.
Trials Evolution has the perfect formula for enticing you to keep playing with Bronze, Silver, and Gold medal rewards for completing each event within certain time limits and minimal faults (wrecks), but even better is the personal level of competition when your friends start playing this game. Anyone on your friends list who has previously played the level will appear as a dot on the screen with their Gamer Tag, and you can see their position in real-time while you are racing the same course. This is a great concept as you aren’t distracted by another bike or ghost image on the screen – just a simple tracking dot, and you know that there are gamers out there for whom gold isn’t enough. They will have to dominate that friends’ leaderboard.
In addition to just tracking a dot there is also rich multiplayer component for both local and online play with support for up to four players that allows gamers to race on a single screen on in-game and user-created levels. The local online is quite clever in that if anyone falls behind (off screen) they will rejoin the pack at the expense of a fault. Some matches are as comical as they are chaotic watching everyone try to make they same jumps using slightly different techniques.
Another great feature that serves as both bragging rights and useful tutorial is the ability to go into the leaderboards and see how any other gamer actually made their run to achieve their position. This means you can go to any event, pick the number one player in the world and watch them make their run, complete with real-time animated stick and trigger display, so you can see what controls they were using on each part of the track – BRILLIANT!
For collectors out there; there are 20-some squirrels hidden throughout the game, most of which are so insanely hidden you’ll need a guide or FAQ to find. Some are found during a race by taking an alternate route that will surely mess up your time, and others are found in menus and post-level cinematics. I normally zip through all the post-game screens once I cross the finish line, but one time I watched all the extra explosions and such and then the camera pulls way back and reveals a squirrel in the foreground.
The game rewards you with cash that you can spend on rider gear like helmets, gloves, boots, etc. but these have no statistical value. They are merely minor ways to visually customize your appearance and your bike for multiplayer and replays. You’ll eventually end up with way more money than you have things to spend it on. It would have actually been a better idea to require you to purchase various construction kits for the impressive stunt course editor.
Oh…did I forget to mention that RedLynx has generously included the same editing tools they used to create the core set of tracks in this game? Yes, once you get through the slight learning curve and figure out the GUI weekend track designers are going to keep us flush in new content for years to come.
Trials Evolution has some stunning graphics that puts this at the top of the XBLA library when it comes to next-gen visuals. The animation, textures, colors, lighting, and effects all come together at silky-smooth framerates to create something we rarely see in a $60 title. The sense of vertigo is staggering on some of the levels, and I caught myself holding my breath on numerous death-defying jumps. The sound effects are pretty much engine revs and the occasion grunts, groans, and cheers of success from your rider. I fell in love with the soundtrack instantly from the opening rap song to the rest of the petroleum-grunge music used throughout the game. The music slips into the background when you focus on the tracks, but it’s there when you actually listen for it and it’s great.
The longevity of Trials Evolution is limited only by your patience. I’ve yet to finish the first game after three years, and now we have this monster with even more core content and the endless library of user-created content that is sure to flood the servers within days. I can’t think of an XBLA game with greater value or replay potential than this assuming you have the dedication to stick with it. Trials Evolution is a must-buy XBLA game for anyone who loves racing, physics, puzzles, and addictive competition...with yourself and others.