|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: RedLinx||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 12, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
Before plunking down 15 hard-earned dollars on Trials HD, what you should know is that it is, as its name suggests, a time-trials game. Is it fun for you to run the same 30-second race for half an hour, restarting constantly until you get the perfect take? Did you find the TrackMania PC game so addictive you couldn't believe it was free? Does your patience know no bounds? If you answered no to these questions, you can probably stop reading here and forget about it.
If you answered yes, you should also know that the gameplay in Trials HD is two-dimensional. You can't steer left and right; you can only accelerate, brake, lean forward and back, and bail out. Anyone looking for a thorough simulation of piloting a high-powered bike should look elsewhere.
That said, what Trials HD does, it does very, very well. Your goal is simple: keep the bike moving as fast as you can without tipping it over. Thanks to the superb physics engine and ingenious level design, however, achieving this goal requires a ton of subtlety and precision. Since each attempt takes so little time, we found ourselves constantly compelled to try just once more.
The physics are nothing short of astounding. The bike's movements always look and feel right, even if they've been deliberately exaggerated a little bit. Those who haven't handled a motorbike before will quickly catch on to all the little tricks needed to make the bike's engine, its wheels, and the ground work together harmoniously. For example, if you're balancing on your back wheel and accelerate too hard, the whole bike shoots out from under you. If you lean forward too far during a jump and end up riding on your front wheel, breaking only makes things worse, pitching the whole apparatus forward. Before long, it's second nature to lean forward and back as needed to make your bike hit the next ramp at the right angle. When you crash, ragdoll physics (with a little blood and a comic book-style "CRASH!" text thrown in) take over, so get ready for some awkward and painful-looking positions.
It's good that the physics are so predictable and fair, because the tracks provided require absolute precision. There are five skill levels, and even the "Beginner" tracks will take a few tries for newbies to master. Many of the jumps are designed to throw off your momentum, and getting one even slightly wrong can put you in a bad position (too fast, too slow, wrong angle) for the next one.
Some jumps lean you so far forward or back that, rather than lean in the opposite direction to counteract your rotation, it's best to rotate even faster, flipping your bike a full 360 degrees in the air. Sometimes you have to drive through Sonic the Hedgehog-style loops, or even let your bike roll down a ramp backward. As the levels get more and more demanding, it becomes more important to memorize the best way to handle each jump. Even when you've figured out how to navigate everything, hitting every jump just right in a single take can entail lots of work.
Therefore, before taking a gold medal (or even a silver; you get the bronze just for finishing), you'll be crashing a lot. This will infuriate those with short fuses (guilty), but the game makes restarting as painless as possible. A simple push of the "back" button puts you back at the track's beginning with no load screen. The B button restarts you at your most recent checkpoint, though it penalizes you with a "fault" (meaning you can't get the gold). If you're not obsessive about earning gold medals all the time, it's possible to progress through the first few skill levels at a reasonably swift pace.