Trials Evolution follows last year's Xbox Live Arcade smash hit Trials HD. The new title evolves all aspects of its predecessor, including a bigger single player, a refreshed multiplayer and a more sophisticated level editor enabling players to create and share their own tracks, as well as try out other people's creations.
Finnish studio RedLynx (now part of the Ubisoft Group) launched Trials almost a decade ago as a dirt-bike racing online game, but the series really exploded with 2009's hugely popular Trials HD. Follow up Trials Evolution continues the same unique take on racing - think TV show Kick Start meets Burnout - as players must test their skills and reactions while navigating explosions, elaborate obstacles and enormous jumps.
Almost as crucially, it retains the franchise's crazy sense of humour, including the famous 'big finishes' to each track. After all, not many racing games end their levels with the rider submerged in a toilet...
Trials Evolution's single-player brings more levels, more skills and more carnage…
One of Trials Evolution's biggest steps forward is the size of its world. No longer are players confined to the interior of warehouses, as they now have a 2km by 4km, beautifully designed and illustrated world in which to burn some rubber. The craziness in the levels has been ramped up, including tracks suspended in the air, an Inception-style gravity mind melt and a D-Day beach assault replete with explosions.
All levels also end with a madcap climax, usually involving your rider being wiping out in ridiculous fashion. But the core essence of the game has remained pretty much the same since the series started - it is a side-scrolling dirt bike racer that uses complex physics to inject dynamism in the racing.
Players must lean forward and backwards on the bike navigate the various jumps and obstacles at speed, while trying to avoid the bone-crunching crashes. Indeed, you will crash frequently in Trials Evolution, particularly on the merciless 'Extreme' levels. The game is just as tough as its predecessor, but it is also more accessible with enough fun for the novices, and enough challenge for the hardcore.
The more than 60 levels in the single player are laid out in a new events-based structure, and you unlock new stages by earning medals, and completing Grand Turismo-style licences, meaning tracks are not made available until you have the skill level to tackle them.
New features in the single-player game include bigger jumps (the bikes are more durable to cope with heavier landings) and a new system of curving tracks. Trials Evolution is still a side-scroller, but the bigger world enables Red Lynx to play around with this. It starts you off at a point where you can actually see your finish point in the background, adding greater dimension to the play space.
Players can now more easily compete with their friends, seeing ghost bikes showing how others have done on courses (including any racers selected from the leaderboard). A new in-game currency enables you to earn cash and then spend it on customisation of your rider and bike. Alongside the main levels, there are loads of 'Skills Stages' which range from the challenging to the downright bizarre, such as skiing, UFO flying and even a ball rolling game.
Think you can do better? Prove it with the level editor…
The more esoteric level creations in Trials Evolution have been made to show off the possibilities of the game's new level editor. This tool was present in Trials HD (indeed, a RedLynx level designer got his job at the firm after his level creations were spotted by the studio), but Evolution really takes it to the next, ahem, level.
The basic "lite" editor is a simple drag-and-drop affair that allows you to place various objects from the thousands available anywhere in the Trials world. You simply select a start and end point for your course, place the objects and then get racing. But more adventurous and committed level creators can use the "pro" mode, which gives you virtually all the tools that RedLynx uses in its own level design.
Essentially, what the system enables you to do is stipulate all the physics in the world. By using parameters, triggers, events and other tools, you can make barrels fall off ledges when a rider goes past, or explosions go off at key moments. RedLynx showed this off by creating a version of Angry Birds, the hit mobile game from fellow Finnish studio Rovio, featuring the rider being launched at stacked objects with the goal of exploding red barrels.
The studio admits that the system is challenging to master and it only expects a few people to really use it. But these people will most likely drive the level creation community, making some incredible creations and inspiring others to take the plunge.
The level editor system has already drawn parallels to LittleBigPlanet, and there are signs of potentially limitless possibilities when the community gets its hands on the tools (RedLynx has already created a first-person shooter and top-down racer with the system). A Track Central hub has been designed to help users navigate potentially thousands of different levels, and then download the ones they want to play.
This includes tabs such as 'Highest Rated', 'Most Downloaded', and 'RedLynx Picks', featuring a mix of editorial and automatic selections. But much will depend on how this community creation centre is managed by RedLynx going forward, as the potentially thousands of levels created by users could become hugely challenging for the average player to navigate.
Crashing is just as much fun with friends....
Trials Evolution again makes it immense fun to race with others. The game supports up to four players in side-by-side contests played locally. All racers always remain on the same screen, so if you crash or fall behind, you are respawned at the next checkpoint. This means you can have a disastrous run but still place first, but the system then penalises you for your crashes and so on, so that the real winner is always ultimately crowned.
Online matches are available for four players, or two players going head to head in 'Supercross' tracks. This can be either via the other player appearing as a real time ghost on the track, or there are some stages where you will play side-by-side in courses that cross paths at key points. You can send invites to players you want to race, and then set the ranking and the rules of the game, including how many stages you want to play.
Alongside the 36 multiplayer levels, you can also play various Supercross tracks from the level editor. Contests are always quick and immediate, which means that Trials Evolution is an easy and hugely enjoyable way to eat up the hours.
One of the best new aspects of the Trials Evolution multiplayer is the 'bail out' finishes. This genius little feature involves players clicking the Y button when they get close enough to the finish line to launch their rider forward out of the saddle for a grandstand finish. This could gain an advantage over rivals but it must be timed right, as once you are off the bike you can no longer race. It is humorously dispiriting to watch your rider flail about the ground like a fish out of water, awaiting the dreaded 'Did Not Finish'. Unfortunately, this marvelous feature is not available in online matches.
Trials Evolution appears to have a fitting suffix, as RedLynx has genuinely evolved all the aspects of Trials HD in a seemingly bigger and better game. There is a massive amount of content in here for a downloadable game, but it really seems that the level editor is where this game could blow up, just like LittleBigPlanet did on the PS3. Concerns remain over how Red Lynx will manage the ensuing community, but really the possibilities are limitless for what gamers could create.
> Read our Trials Evolution interview with RedLynx
Trials Evolution will be released for Xbox Live Arcade in spring 2012.