|System: Xbox 360|
|Pub: Microsoft Studios|
|Release: April 18, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
Trials HD wasn't for everyone, but a lot of people loved it. Including DLC, the 2009 Xbox LIVE game moved more than two million units. And at last we have a proper sequel, Trials Evolution.
Fundamentally, this is the same game you played three years ago. You face a series of increasingly difficult courses, and your goal is to pilot a dirt bike along a two-dimensional path in as little time as possible. For controls, all you can do is accelerate, brake, and lean forward and back. That may sound simple, but thanks to the ingenious level design and the awkward physics of bicycles, it's anything but. Keeping both your wheels on the ground is a challenge in itself, to say nothing of hitting all the jumps at the right angle. When you screw up—which will be often and will look incredibly painful thanks to ragdoll physics—you can return to the beginning of the track or a recent checkpoint with the push of a button. If you return to a checkpoint, your crash counts as a "fault," which affects the medal you get when you complete the track.
As you progress through the fifty tracks, the difficulty slowly rises until it becomes flat-out ridiculous. If anything, the level design is even more elaborate this time than it was before; thanks to a constant barrage of explosions, water jets, and other features that throw off your bike's momentum, it can feel like you're playing time trials on the most difficult Donkey Kong Country levels imaginable. One particularly clever track is a tribute to Limbo, complete with shadowy graphics, and even includes a nod to the saws in Super Meat Boy.
Other single-player modes include tournaments and "circus" games. In the tournaments, you'll need to do well on several tracks in a row, which certainly ups the challenge (as if that were necessary). The "circus" mode is a series of silly games that take advantage of the Trials physics engine in various ways. Some are just variations on the regular game—you might have to get as far as you can with a limited amount of gas (which isn't a factor in the normal races), or navigate a course without being able to lean, or even pass a course on skis instead of a bike. Others will have you attending to weirder tasks, such as piloting a UFO with awkward controls. These games are a fun distraction, but some of them can be as tough as the main time trials.
Fortunately, this time around the developers worked a little harder to ensure a smooth difficulty curve. Put more bluntly, whereas Trials HD became infuriating unexpectedly, Evolution takes its time in working you up to a homicidal rage. It even makes you qualify for "licenses" to unlock courses, via brief tutorials that preview the basic techniques you'll need to handle the challenges ahead.
Best of all, Evolution features expanded multiplayer options. Locally or online, up to four players can race against each other in real time. Some tracks are designed specifically for multiplayer and allow players to race side-by-side. Others are just single-player tracks that multiple players can race on simultaneously; online, the other racers will appear as ghosts to avoid distracting you. Hands-down, multiplayer is the coolest new feature—it's great to take a break from the often-enraging single-player experience to go head-to-head with real people, and no doubt the local option will be a lot of fun for dorm rooms and parties across the world. There's something about real-time competition that makes it so much more gripping than leaderboards, even though it's the same thing at heart and all your bikes can pass right through each other. Perhaps the only downside is that matchmaking takes a bit longer than it should. Hopefully that will be improved with a patch.
Trials HD was famous for its level editor—in fact, it was the very same editor the developers themselves used to create tracks. That feature naturally makes a return here, and it's as good as ever. There are two different versions of it now: a simplified one for newcomers and a detailed (and somewhat tedious) one for real artists. In no time, countless user-made tracks should be ready for download via the new hub, Track Central.