Years after the release of Trials HD, RedLynx has unleashed another monster upon Xbox Live Arcade. Trials Evolution is the next step for the franchise, and a true "EVOLUTION" of the...ugh. Nevermind, I'm not even going to sink low enough to make that pun. Trials Evolution is a goddamned son of a bitch, and I mean that in the best way possible.
At its core, Trials is a lesson in repetition, futility, and memorization. Normally, this would cause me to run away screaming in the opposite direction. However, the tight controls, innovative level design, and deep stat tracking all blend together into quite an addictive cocktail. My XBLA game library is fairly deep and varied but I find myself coming back to Trials far more than any other game I own. I frequently referred to Trials HD as a "broken piece of shit" and "a goddamned godless fuckin' garbage douche". I loved Trials HD. And now, Trials Evolution picks up all the great pieces of the original and throws a good sized helping of bat-shit crazy in there for good measure.
|Trials in Limbo. Get it?|
Trials Evolution is, basically, a time trial mini-game collection. But, that is selling it incredibly short. The main hook of Trials is its Super Meat Boy-like difficulty. If you've played Team Meat's platforming-nightmare inducer, you have some idea of what to expect with Trials Evolution. Levels are short, and death (or at least crashes) are expected. In order to curb player frustration, restarts are near instantaneous, leading to constant attempts to shave precious tenths of a second off your best time. Better times earn better medals, medals unlock more events, you know the drill.
The main obstacle in Trials is the level design, and the incredible physics engine at play. Steep hills thwart your attempts to climb them, wooden crates can be near-impenetrable obstacles, and exploding ramps do everything in their power to slow you down. I constantly found myself cursing the day Trials HD was created, but the superb gameplay got deep under my skin, until I craved the brutal punishment of the Hard or Extreme tracks. It's safe to say that it'll probably be months before I can consistently finish the Extreme tracks, although I love the challenge, I have something of an Irish temper. Which leads to a lot of dropping the controller and powering off the Xbox.
|Sunshine, glorious sunshine!|
The original Trials HD took place entirely within the confines of warehouse environments, which sometimes lead to feelings of deja vu as the player progressed further into the infuriating depths. Evolution abandons this entirely, trading in the stale, dim indoor setting of the first game, for a generous assortment of far-out outdoor playgrounds. The team at RedLynx has really gone out of their way to make the new tracks as crazy as possible, as you'll notice fairly quickly in Evolution.
It's not long before players will make their way through time trials in the midst of World War II, or in the middle of some sort of dream sequence that seems straight out of Inception. In as much as these level designs are mind-blowing the first time you see them, I occasionally got the feeling that the new tricks got in the way of gameplay. Courses will now occasionally run in circles, which leads to an on-rails camera swinging around at the most inopportune times. The track design is so intricate in spots, that it's a total bummer to crash into a barrier or fall into a gap you didn't notice due to the movement of the camera.
Other times, the stark lighting and explosive um, explosions, caused such an epileptic fit that I found myself squinting and the screen. For visuals' sake, it looks amazing, when you're trying to beat a friend's time, it's frustrating as hell. The levels with the least amount of peripheral action end up being the most fun to ride, at least until players adjust to the newer settings. For what it's worth, the spectacle is pretty amazing, especially tracks such as Meltdown, which begins with a massive nuclear explosion.
|Things get weird here. Very weird.|
Beyond the basic time trials, Evolution has a lot more to offer players. Mini-games were present in Trials HD, and even more outlandish games await in Evolution. Beyond typical runs such as limited gas, stuck throttle, etc, things get super weird. UFO has the player attempting to pilot a, ahem, UFO and points are earned by touching down in designated zones. S.P.H.E.R.E. is a Super Monkey Ball clone, in which a giant marble is attempted to roll across varying obstacles, all the while battling the signature Trials physics. My personal favorite, Icarus Factor, is similar to the long jump Skill Game from Trials HD. This time, the rider is equipped with wooden wings, and upon bailing out of a ramped jump, players must alternate button presses in order to flap their way as far down a freeway as they can.
The courses provided by RedLynx are quite good, and this time they've taken giant leaps forward in allowing LIVE users to share their own created tracks. Previously, created tracks could only be shared with others in your LIVE friends list, and this led to most people simply not even bothering to use the editor. This time around, Trials Evolution has a straight-up Track Central, in which created tracks can be uploaded, voted upon, and shared by players the world over. Just a few days into Evolution's release, there's some gems to be had for sure. Tracks are broken up into several groups, and if you're not into digging through the rubbish, RedLynx Picks is your go-to source for the best the community has to offer.
Another area in which Evolution has made a massive leap forward is in the Multiplayer suite. Both local and online multiplayer are available, and while not as crazily varied as the single player options, it's nice to be able to race against friends. Whether it's Supercross or Trials, going up against a rival provides even more tension than usual. There's nothing quite like beating a foe by 1/10 of a second, jumping up and screaming "FUCK YOU!!!" in your sad lonely apartment to make you feel like a man.
I occasionally found myself "losing" my rider in multiplayer Supercross races, though. Which, in turn, led to me not being able to line up my bike correctly and missing crucial ramps. This could be solved by simply "ghosting" the other players, and is possibly something that could be patched in later. It's a damn shame, and I found myself choosing not to participate in Supercross events after a while. Losing because you're not skilled enough is one thing, losing because your rider is obscured by another player is frustrating beyond belief.
Here, we see my general reaction after coming in second in a multiplayer race.
In spite of the few problems I had with the newer aspects of Trials Evolution, it is a great addition to the Xbox Live Arcade. When you take a look at what Evolution offers for $15, it's tough to pass it up. There's more quality content here than there is in a disturbing amount of retail games. Not to mention the fact that Trials has some of the highest replay value of any game this generation. Combined with the new multiplayer and track editing options, Trials Evolution is a beast. Do yourself a favor and drop some Microsoft SpaceBucks on it today. And then be prepared to lose sleep while trying to cut precious seconds of your runs.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Christopher Linendoll has the need, the need for crappy catchphrases. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.