I made a huge mistake. "So help me, Richard, if I don't review Trials Evolution," I said back in March, "I'll start walking to Oklahoma right now."
That was when I was younger, more foolish and willing to march to someone's house to get a downloadable game.
The Ben of mid-April, however? He knows better. He knows that a sequel to 2009's Trials HD, expanding greatly on the finely tuned physics masterpiece of the first game, would be a dangerous game to review. Not because it isn't good – sweet lord, it's glorious – but because reviews are things that happen quickly after release. What I want to do with Trials Evolution is play it for another decade. Maybe then – maybe! – I could speak to all the content RedLynx added this time around.
But here we are, and this is a review. So here it is: Trials Evolution is excellent. Where to even begin? Let's start with what hasn't changed. The physics system from the first game remains largely untouched, if at all, making racing just as frenetic as the last entry. Riders are still angling their body and bike in order to snag more velocity on downhill runs, and tracks are still built with close attention paid to flow. You could just go as fast as possible, but you probably shouldn't if you want to consistently dominate leaderboards.
My love for the Trials series spawns from that simple formula: precision over speed, and intelligence over brute force. Trials Evolution riffs on that formula more than ever before, constantly reminding me to drive more carefully if I want to stay ahead of the bastard on-screen dots representing my Xbox Live "friends." Moreover, the huge selection of tracks ramp in difficulty more gradually than the last game. Yes, there are levels that are seemingly impossible on the first try, but this time they're not dropped in the middle of the "medium" difficulty level set.
A limited selection of motorbikes is once again available, each corresponding to varying levels of track difficulty, though locked away until various license tests have been passed. As an experienced player, I would've liked to jump right to the fastest bike possible, but RedLynx is apparently set on its license-locked meting out of said bikes. A variety of license tests require certain skills be displayed before faster bikes unlock, slowly introducing newcomers to each bike's power level. That's fine, but replaying older levels with newer, faster bikes loses some of its luster with such a huge amount of available tracks.
The first game's hokey faux-metal soundtrack is replaced with ... yet another hokey faux-metal soundtrack. I'm told it's meant as a joke, but to me it's still the game's only real fault. Thankfully, it's a fault easily remedied (I promptly switched the in-game music off).
Now, for additions. A full level creation suite is included in Trials Evolution, which takes the first game's editing tools and blows them out to LittleBigPlanet proportions. Which is to say that the editor can be applied to concepts beyond 2.5D racing, such as, say, first-person shooters. Yes, really. Said tools aren't given quite the same loving tutorial that they are in LBP2, but a variety of skill courses help to demonstrate what can be created. If you're willing to commit to the trial-and-error process required to learn it, good for you. There are also these seven tutorial videos, if that's your kind of thing.
If, like me, you can't be bothered to create your own levels, the game counters with a robust level sharing functionality (also making a return from the first game), and RedLynx thankfully loaded the store with some concepts of its own to get folks started. Like LBP, the experimental levels are a bit rough, but impressive nonetheless. Given that Trials Evolution hasn't been out for very long (just over 24 hours as of this writing), the fruits of the community's labor have yet to be seen, unfortunately.
In the meantime, however, there's the unending multiplayer mode. Isn't that terrifying? It's endless trials. For a series that relies on a "just one more try" mentality, multiplayer trials is a legitimately frightening concept. With the last Trials entry, I hit a point where I'd wrung the game's content for all it was worth. In Trials Evolution, that content is seemingly without end. This is quite worrying for my free time, not to mention any personal relationships I'm interested in continuing.
As my girlfriend can attest, I've been doing a lot of swearing this week. More than usual, even. Between the crushing difficulty of certain levels, and the urge to perfect others, Evolution has its grip on me. That grip was only galvanized when I started in on multiplayer.
Despite the potentially confusing image above, rest assured that multiplayer doesn't mean you'll constantly bump into other racers. Whether you're racing against other people or against ghost data, the most interaction you'll have with other players will be seeing them race along in the fore or background. That can be a bit difficult to deal with if you're depth-perception challenged (I am, apparently), but not so irritating as to ruin the mode.
The same draw of outclassing my XBL friends in the campaign transfers easily to multiplayer, whether I'm playing total strangers or the aforementioned XBL buddies. If anything, seeing the ghosts of said players speeding ahead of me (or floating to the back of the pack) adds another level of panic to an already tense experience. What I'm saying, essentially, is that multiplayer Trials is probably bad for my heart.
But perhaps the addition of multiplayer doesn't do it for you, and you simply want more maps? There are many, many more maps in Trials Evolution. Compared with the DLC released following Trials HD, the $15 asking fee for Evolution is a pittance for the incredible amount of content on offer. Levels like the ominous sounding "Giga Track" extend well beyond the usual three-minute fare (around 10 minutes in my best run, sadly), and there are plenty oflower level tracks to keep the less hardcore sticking around.
In short, every addition RedLynx has made to Evolution serves to bolster the offerings of Trials HD, while continuing to highlight the game's base: a fantastic physics engine that drives a flow that is simultaneously simple, addictive and frantic. Now if you'll excuse me, I have another nine years of mastering Trials Evolution ahead of me.
This review is based on review code of Trials Evolution for XBLA, provided by Ubisoft. It launched on Wednesday, April 18, for $15.
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