Trials Evolution, like Trials HD, is the ultimate proof that great games come from great gameplay. There’s no story here, no proper mascot, no messing about with highly-customisable difficulty levels and settings, no fancy art-style, no dialogue options and no amnesia suffering lead character looking for a way out of a dungeon. There’s just gameplay. Pure, simple, perfectly-executed gameplay.
I love it, and I’m going to stick my neck out and say it right now – this is hands-down the best Xbox Live Arcade available today. And, yes, I’ve played Geometry Wars, Bastion, Shadow Complex et al.
That focus on gameplay gives Trials Evolution a sense of purity that’s missing from much of XBLA’s recent output. This is a game about mastering the deceptively simple mechanics and executing them across courses that range from the leisurely to the outright devilish. What that creates is an atmosphere in which competition between friends and strangers comes to the fore. While you think you may be trying to master the course, deep down you’re really trying to beat those at the top of leaderboard.
If good gameplay comes from 1) teaching players the mechanics, 2) having players execute the mechanics and 3) rewarding the player for good execution, then Trials Evolution is a real winner.
Where Trials HD threw you straight into the deep end with a bike and a prayer, Trials Evolution attempts to soften the blow with license tests that teach you basic ideas and controls. These are sprinkled in amongst series’ of regular tracks so as not to become tiresome, with each test tending to introduce new skills that will be essential in obtaining gold medals in the upcoming challenges.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that the license tests are there to make the game easier. Developer RedLynx is still primarily concerned with making you scratch your head and ask “what the fuck?”. Some of the game’s later tracks are so punishing that if you don’t hold a PhD in psychological patience (or have a natural talent for conquering the impossible), then your chances of beating them with anything approaching a reasonable time is minute.
License tests are not the only expansion. While the core gameplay is more or less identical to the previous game (why change a winning formula?), the track design is far and away more appealing, complex and insane. For starters, courses now take place in outdoor environments with impressive draw distances, bright skies and a wide variety of scenery. The visual impact is enormous, making everything seem that bit more dramatic and special.
The game still operates on the idea of a 2D playing field, but now those tracks exist in a 3D space allowing the designers to incorporate turns and fancy pans/edits with the camera – further adding to the pomp and razzmatazz as you fly across a gap that would make Evil Knievel think twice.
Everything has been dialled up to max and beyond. You’ll be jumping into oblivion on tracks that resemble rollercoasters, riding for your life on crumbling bridges and even tackling a monochromatic course that is a lovingly-produced nod to fellow XBLA game Limbo. RedLynx now what we want and they have more than provided. This is a game that loves gamers just as much as gamers love games.
After you’ve mastered the standard single player tracks, there are skill games, multiplayer and an ambitious track editor to tackle. Skill games, like in Trials HD, are generally good but far from the quality of the regular tracks. Too often the skill game tasks require you to master rudimentary gameplay mechanics and make the best of the dodgy physics to set the best times.
Icarus Factor, for example, more or less comes down to how quickly you can smash the buttons. I haven’t had thumbs this sore this Konami’s International Track and Field on the PlayStation One. Others such as S.P.H.E.R.E., which sees you guide a giant marble across a track suspended in mid-air and without walls, are much better and offer a good change of pace from all the precise jumps and feathering of the throttle in the main game. While Skill Games are interesting from a design and experimentation perspective, their quality is too erratic to keep you consistently entertained.
Multiplayer is much better, though, upping the ante of the original with local and online real-time matches. Up to four players can race side-by-side on specially created tracks in Supercross matches, with points tallied up as you go in a league system that runs for the number of races you specify. While Supercross tracks are nowhere near as complex as those in single player, the fact that there are four bikes on the screen can be incredibly off-putting and force you into small mistakes that become fatal for your points tally.
The track editor is exhaustive to the point of befuddlement, and it’s easy to see how the team built such epic courses once you’ve got stuck into the creation tools they’ve designed. Making a track is easy, making a good one is hard. If you’ve got the time to plough into it, then go for it. If you’re looking for something to pass the next half an hour, move along.
When it comes to the value-to-price ratio, Trials Evolution offers ridiculously good numbers. There’s more content here then most disc-based games, the quality here is better than most disc-based games and I’ll continue to play this more than most disc-based games.
If you’re still looking for an argument as to why we should all be embracing digital console content more than we already are, you’ve found it.