Trials Evolution Review
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On 05/16/2012 at 05:00 PM by Travis Hawks
Climbing the ramp of difficulty is fun until that ramp becomes a wall.
For all gamers who like a challenge.
There’s a delicate balance in game design between challenge and fun. Trials Evolution nails this fragile give-and-take so well right from the beginning that it is a huge disappointment when it all tumbles muffler over helmet into a frustrating set of boring races. Be not deterred, though, because the ride up to that turning point along with gratifying online racing and cool user-created content make Trials Evolution a fantastic game.
For those unfamiliar with the Trials series, they are motocross stunt racers where you only control the gas, brake, and lean of your rider. The courses are set in gorgeous three-dimensional environments, but your controls are limited to a 2-D plane. This simple control scheme allows the courses to get pretty crazy, pretty fun, and pretty challenging.
The responsiveness of the limited controls is to be applauded. Never once did I feel as though my gas or brake inputs weren’t handled perfectly by the game. After the first few races, the motorcycle on screen begins to feel like an extension of your body, one of those Zen-like sensations you can only achieve with immaculate controls. You are moulded into this comfortable spot with the help of some easy to follow training sessions that clearly teach you to climb steeper slopes, jump trickier gaps, and do back flips onto platforms behind you. The actual races gently advance from long straight-aways with baby leaps into courses with dramatic inclines, more treacherous jumps, and flaming trees that become ramps with a quick knock-down kiss from your tires. The difficulty advance is graceful and fun… for a while.
It’s a real treat to land some of the sky-high jumps, sometimes flying over helicopters and catching on fire along the way. The tracks are a nice mix of heart-thumping jumps, high speed close calls, and delicate maneuvering. That is until that difficulty ramp turns ninety degrees straight up. For me, this happened right when the listed difficulty changed to “hard,” but it’s sure to happen somewhere along the way for everyone.
Certainly, I expected the hard tracks to be, uh, hard, but that doesn’t mean they should stop being fun or stop instilling a deep desire to get better. After you learn the final set of skills involving short hops and leveraging your bike over short walls, it’s almost as though the remaining tracks focus on these top-tier tricks and forget the long jumps and speedy treks through the dirt that were so exhilarating. Every track in this final section of the game seems to be designed as one short bunny hop onto a box or rock after another. There’s just enough variation between each obstacle to keep it too difficult and no fun.
Before this point, improving your time on a course, reducing the number of faults, and earning better medals is a rewarding treat. This is the sort of challenge arcades and NES games thrived on, and it’s nice to play a game of that mould until you hit the wall. Once you smack into this difficulty spike, you’ll already feel pretty satisfied with your single player experience and can dig in to the multiplayer and user-created content to keep you entertained far into the future.
Multiplayer comes in both local and online varieties, and both are well done. The online version features leveling-up which is de rigueur lately, but it doesn’t feel like it was hammered in unnecessarily. Leveling up opens up new modes of competition, but doesn’t seem to really be used to better match you with opponents – also standard operating procedure in modern online games, unfortunately. The online races feature two to four players either racing side-by-side on supercross tracks not seen in the single player game, or competing for the best time in the solo tracks you’re already familiar with. You’ll get a nice mix of these two game types as you race the same group of opponents through a set of tracks to determine the overall winner. The local variety of multiplayer sticks to the supercross tracks alone out of necessity, but it allows for that great close-quarters smack-talking good time that is best enjoyed on a shared couch.
Trials Evolution also touts a creation kit to craft tracks and other off the wall mini-games. The tools are pretty easy to grasp and it doesn’t take long to get a race-worthy bike track ready for action. There are already some impressive user-created tracks and games available online to keep you checking back and trying out the latest. The mini-games that aren’t motorcycle races are possibly the most interesting. The developer provides a few oddities that act as inspiration in the single player game like ski jumping and a rolling ball game. The creatively-minded community has already expanded far outside these examples, with entries like a Space Invaders clone and Terminator 2 re-enactments. All of this continuous content will keep you stocked with activities once you get mired in the solo races.
Outside of the difficulty bottleneck, the only other real gripes I have are the texture pop-in and the soundtrack. At this stage in the Xbox 360’s life, it seems like texture pop-in shouldn’t even be an issue, but it happens here frequently and on a large scale. This isn’t nearly as bothersome to me as the soundtrack, though. Musical beauty is in the ear of the beholder, but the licensed, bland butt-rock in Trials Evolution ranges from completely unnoticeable to gratingly obnoxious. I used the volume button on my TV to make the proper adjustments and tried to forget about it.
The challenging style of game that Trials Evolution has harnessed with a modern look makes it easy to recommend to almost everyone. The only players that won’t enjoy it are those who get frustrated easily and won’t have the resolve to keep practicing when they get stuck. For those that hit the track, there are plenty of thrills in Trials Evolution’s single player mode, online races, and amazing user-creation tools and content. Hopefully the next entry in the Trials series will learn how to smooth the difficulty climb all the way through the game and find a way to keep the harder tracks fun as well as challenging.