Trials Evolution (XBLA) Review

Has it really been three years since Trials HD was released?  I’ve been waiting for this game for a long time now.  I was a huge fan of the first game and I still played it frequently right up until I got my hands on Evolution last week.  After a few good days of “just one more game” time under my belt I am here to tell you that Trials Evolution expands upon everything that was great in the first game and is one heck of an impressive experience. 

For those of you that may not know what the Trials franchise is all about, think Excitebike back on the Nintendo NES and amp that up to the nth degree and you have Trials.  Take it up another notch and you have Trials Evolution.  The gameplay is extremely simple.  Situated on top of various motorbikes you control your throttle and brake with the trigger while shifting your weight forward and back with the thumbstick in order to safely navigate a myriad of obstacles.  It’s not all about going fast either.  While one track might be all about speed and getting air, another might be about finding just the right tempo while yet another track might contain a series of more technical obstacles where more finesse is required to get through it.  While unchanged from the first game, this variety is one of Evolution’s greatest assets.

Trials Evolution keeps the core experience that made the first game so great intact, but it adds a slew of brand new tracks and circus events to change up the gameplay experience a bit.  Events are still grouped by difficulty.  Between each set of events the game introduces licence tests.  These events serve as simple tutorials that demonstrate the various techniques you need to employ to be successful.  This is a good improvement over the first game, which didn’t offer as clear of a description and it was often up to the player to figure out how to navigate certain obstacles such as super steep hills and gaps.  In regards to the Circus Events, instead of being focused on time you are focused on very specific challenges, such as seeing how far you can navigate a track with your throttle stuck wide open.  These events are not only unique but they offer a fun alternative from the timed events if you are looking for a break.

While leaderboards are back, this time your friends’ performance is displayed real time right on the course itself (instead of a meter).  This is both good and bad in my opinion.  You now see your own performance directly compared to your friends during a race, but having a few names onscreen in various places kind of clutters things up a little too much for my liking.  Circus events also display the gold, silver and bronze medals right on the progress meter.  This is a nice touch when you’re trying for that gold medal over and over again.

Trials Evolution also now supports multiplayer.  You can play locally or online with up to three other players.  It also comes with a pretty robust track creator and editor and the ability to share custom levels with your friends and other players.  The creativity seen in games like Forza and LBP eludes me, but I can’t help but wonder what sort of stuff we are going to see from the community of players.

I have two things to caution anyone who may want to play this game about.  I promise you that you will think to yourself “just one more try” at least a few times while playing this game.  If you have a significant other that wants to be somewhere, or an early morning the next day, be careful playing this game as you will want to keep on playing.  An obsession to finish off a tough level, beat that friend of yours on the leaderboard, or get a gold medal will cause you to do just this.  You will be restarting events over and over again trying to beat or meet certain criteria.  It can get frustrating at times, but I look at this as a testament to just how much damn fun this game is.  Thankfully there are zero load times if you need to re-start a track mid-race.  RedLynx goes even a step further and does away with the three second countdown on restarts.  Could someone please teach EA how to do this?

Visually, while the first game was three dimensional in appearance you really only operated your bike and rider on a two dimensional plane.  Trials Evolution takes things a step further and immerses you in true 3D environments that curve and bend as you travel through them.  This makes for a few adjustments when you are first getting used to the game (don’t worry you still don’t have to steer).  What it does add though is a tremendous sense of scale to everything.  You will see other parts of the track in the distance and some the new perspectives give a great feeling of height.

The simple industrial/warehouse theme that dominated the first game has been replaced by a wide variety of environments and themed tracks that will impress.  You will ride through a D-Day like setting, various outdoor and roller coaster themed environments.  There is even a nod or two to other games that the development team must have really enjoyed.  All in all the new environments is easily the biggest graphical improvement over the first game.  The biggest difference in the character and bike models this time around is that you can go to greater lengths in terms of how you customize them (which all costs money which you earn in game).  And don’t worry the ragdoll physics are still lovingly intact.

The original Trials HD had a goofy sort of rock soundtrack that fit the tone of the game well.  The hair metal music returns in Evolution.  It is a bit more of the same but if it works why fix it?  The music really takes a back seat to the gameplay and is most prominent only in the menus.  The various bikes have subtle differences in engine noise.  This is all really par for the course when compared to the first game.  The most notable difference I heard was plenty of new environmental effects that go along with the all new environments.  For example, the D-Day like level has bombs and explosions going off all around you while another level might have you being buzzed by a low flying jet.  While these new effects aren’t anything revolutionary, what they do best is complement the game’s new environments. 

With a near perfect gameplay mechanics that are simple enough to pick up and play but difficult to master, Trials Evolution is easily an early candidate for XBL Arcade Game of the Year at this juncture.  Adding multiplayer, a track editor, and content sharing to a winning formula might just make this the best 1200 MS points you will spend on an XBL Arcade game this year.  Go ahead, download this game now as there is nothing left for me to say.

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The Bad