Everyone looks for replay value in games these days. Gamers want it so they can justify spending money on them. Critics want it so they can give their reviews higher scores. Publishers want it so they have something to brag about on the back of the box and stop you from trading their games in once you’ve completed them. It is in this quest for adding replay value that so many games seem to tack on competitive multiplayer or horde modes. Trials Evolution has replay value too, but it isn’t tacked on, and this replay value doesn’t come from adding extra modes. It stems from the game’s core mechanics. It possesses the rare quality of making you want to play even single-player events again and again.
In most games, you’ll be content to move on once you’ve earned first place or a gold medal, but not in Trials Evolution. Here, even once you’ve achieved the top prize, the very nature of the track design and controls will encourage you to play again so you can shave off a few more seconds; maybe with better weight balancing or better use of speed and momentum. A few adjustments can be telling on your overall times. No matter how well you’ve done on a track, the game has a way of letting you know that you can still do better. But rather than being demoralizing, it does it in a way that makes you want to do better. I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so let me track back a little bit.
For those new to the Trials series, it is a unique, genre-defying series that has found its home on the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade.
I believe I can fly
Remember Excitebike, the NES’ sideways motocross game? Think of Trials as Excitebike, only with punishing physics and infinitely trickier tracks, so much so that it is more of a puzzle platformer than a racing game, even if getting to the finish line as quickly as possible is your end objective. Obstacles on tracks can be anything from ramps and rocks to tractor tires and walls. Obstacles vary in size and angle and your ability to negotiate them will depend on your mastery over your bike. The dirt bikes at your disposal will increase in power as you progress through the game and some of the later bikes are so powerful that if you accelerate too much, they’ll throw you into an uncontrollable wheelie. Besides intricate throttle control, you’ll also have to lean the ride forward or back depending on the obstacle you’re about to face.
All of this might sound complicated and daunting, but that’s what makes Trials Evolution so great – it isn’t. The game’s single player mode eases you in and there’s also a brief tutorial before every new gameplay feature is introduced. But even without it, gameplay feels natural and instinctive. You start off with simple tracks and lower powered bikes, and the difficulty ramps up as you progress. The objectives in most of the early events involve you getting to the finish line in quick time, awarding you one of three medals based on your time. Later on, there are more variations and complications thrown in, such as the inability to lean or deactivating your brakes and having your bike on full throttle throughout the event. Then of course, there are those events that totally ditch the bike-riding aspect of the game. You’ll be flying space ships; getting tossed off a giant ramp with wings strapped to your arms, which you must flap to get as far as you can; swinging and jumping from one trapeze to another. It can get pretty absurd.
The single player campaign is quite expansive, and you’ll surely play most of the tracks multiple times to get your best possible time. Connect to Xbox Live and there’s even more incentive to replay single player events as you see times set by your buddies on the friends leaderboard. One major area of improvement in Evolution is the variety in environments. While earlier you were confined to the same depressing industrial setting, this game mixes things up, with tracks featuring backdrops like canyons, forests, and even some suspended high in the sky. There are scripted set pieces thrown into some tracks as well.
This probably won't end well
The single player events are great, but Trial Evolution is at its best in multiplayer. You can play offline or online multiplayer with up to four players, and the great thing here is that even in offline mode, there’s no split-screen; all players appear on screen at all times. You can play through single player events online, where your opponents show up as ghosts, but the main draw is supercross. Each player is given his own lane on the track, a la Excitebike, so there’s no contact between players, and it’s just a matter of who’s the quickest to the finish line. As in single player, there are frequent checkpoints for players who fall too far behind to respawn.
A platformer is only as good as its levels, and developer RedLynx has outdone itself with some truly stunning tracks. But they didn’t stop at that. All the tools they used to make the tracks have also been given to the players via Trials Evolution’s comprehensive track editor, allowing users to create virtually any type of track and share it with the world. Everything from the environment, to the player perspective, to the set pieces and obstacles can be fine-tuned. In fact, the creation tools are so powerful that you can create levels from different game genres entirely. Already there are some great levels available to play, including tracks based on Inception and Limbo. There’s even an FPS level, complete with explosions and set pieces. The Track Central section provides a near limitless supply of user tracks with the ability to search for tracks based on your criteria. If you’d just like to sample some of the best tracks, you can head straight to those handpicked by RedLynx.
Long way down
Trials Evolution’s biggest success is its ability to make something so complex and difficult so accessible and fun. This is not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, but RedLynx has designed it in a way that even through countless retires on its trickiest tracks, the game always makes you want to do better. It is a game you will want to play again and again even if you never venture online to try the user created tracks or play multiplayer. This is what replay value is all about.