The more I play it, the more I’m convinced that ‘Trials’ is meant to be an acronym. The first three letters surely mean ‘Trauma Rendered Interesting’, but what of the ‘als’ part? ‘Absolutely, Ludicrously Savage’? Perhaps ‘Always Look Sideways’, which is good advice for when you inevitably hurl your controller across the room. (Tip: don’t throw it straight at the TV.)
This is also, I suspect, a game that aims to turn me against my friends and colleagues. The Leaderboards attached to each level are ostensibly there to chart your successes, but when 40 of your friends have posted a better result than you the resentment builds up, and you inevitably end up jumping back in and trying to be less of an embarrassment. These statements are, if it’s not clear, all meant as compliments – Trials Evolution is more than worth the rage strokes you’re risking by playing it.
Evolution is basically Trials HD, plus the kitchen sink. The game has been expanded in just about every way, and your anguish is no longer confined to factory settings. There’s a great visual variety to Evolution’s levels, with several of them paying direct homage to other games (the Limbo level in particular is awesome). More importantly, though, the level-design has really opened up in some fantastic ways, and it features some of the most inspired examples of level-design I can think of in any modern game. The level of creativity on display is outstanding, and although certain tracks were clearly intended to be played with certain bikes (which can be a frustrating thing to discover midway through a run), they’ve clearly been crafted by artisans at the very top of their game. This is the Gummi Venus de Milo of videogames.
As with HD, the difficulty settings are smart. The ‘Easy’ tracks are fun to quickly knock over, while the ‘Medium’ tracks will take a while to get a Gold medal on (this requires you to make a fast run with no checkpoint restarts). By the time you hit ‘Hard’, just passing each level can be an achievement in itself, and aiming for the Silver and Gold medals will require a fair bit of dedication. Your incentive, of course, comes from your friends list. Here’s a tip – add people who are better than you at the game. Their progress is visualised as you play, so you’ll have a bunch of white dots floating around in front and behind you as you go. I have spent hours cursing the white dot of Kotaku AU editor Mark Serrels, with his numerous gold medals and his ability to actually complete the frankly ridiculous Expert tracks. It’s all part of the fun, although the profanities you’ll direct at the screen are sure to be creative and numerous.
A few weeks in, the beauty of Trials Evolution’s LittleBigPlanet-esque creation system has truly become apparent. With games like these, there’s sometimes a risk that the community won’t use the tools on offer, and that the content being offered up will stagnate. This wasn’t a real issue for Trials, as the content included in the original download is substantial, but it’s the player-created material that catapults the game into the upper echelons of Xbox Live Arcade offerings. People aren’t just creating awesome tracks, but also clever skill events (which often improve on RedLynx’s offerings, which are honestly a little disappointing compared against the ones in HD). Skill events aren’t just limited to activities on bikes either – it’s more like LittleBigPlanet 2, in that you can build just about any sort of game you set your mind to. The ratings system and promos make it easy to find the good events and tracks, and they take all of a second to download. If people continue using it, Evolution has potentially unlimited content.
In online multiplayer, you and up to three others compete across tracks simultaneously. It’s a simple affair, but enjoyable nonetheless, although I did notice some slight lag and my stats got reset at some point, for some reason. Gather a few of your friends together in a game and the rivalries you’ve formed may boil over into genuine, glorious hatred.
Trials Evolution is one of the most complete packages on the Xbox Live Arcade. Were it a full retail release, I’d still have no qualms recommending it. As a cheap downloadable release, it’s an incredible reminder of just how good we have it as modern gamers.