Review: Trials Evolution
By Ben Alford on May 5th, 2012 (3 comments)
The physical feel of video games is an elusive topic. Called a great feeling that can't be described, or the reason one plays but can't quite explain. It is largely extralinguistic yet it is believed to be one of the core reasons a person plays. The slipping of a basketball off of the fingertips and the resulting swish (or clank). The speed, angles, and friction of running and jumping in Super Mario Bros. The swinging pendulum-like body movement in GIRP. The physical feel is part of the reason these games work, and it is the reason Trials Evolution works as well.
Trials Evolution (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: April 18, 2012
In Trials Evolution, one does not control a motorcycle. More specifically, and critical for trying to describe the feel, one controls the rider who is controlling the motorcycle. Small as it seems, this is what makes Trials feel like a skill to master. Governed by physics that are in the realm of realism, it is the rider whose position is manipulated back and forth to navigate the steep rock faces, or to hop over a gap. This body movement is rounded out by the responsive analog throttle and brakes.
When coming off of a jump one has to align the motorcycle with the slope of the next: Imagine coming off a jump, with the only landing zone being a steep, upwards incline. The motorcycle must be aligned with the back wheel down, front up, matching the incline. This requires the rider’s weight to be shifted backwards to bring the back wheel down. But when landing, to prevent the back wheel (the only powered wheel on the motorcycle) from accelerating right from underneath the bike (flipping it over), one must be leaning forward on the motorcycle. But when leaning forward on the motorcycle after landing, the back wheel will kick up, giving no traction. Lean forward in the air and the motorcycle’s angle will be upset. Beyond just getting the landing right, acceleration must be gradual or the bike will go tail under front again, crashing.
Trials is a balance. In balancing all the elements of control and also literally balancing the bike on a precarious log, or across the crest of bumps. Within these mechanics comes a range of experiences from the first few easy tracks that can be quickly mastered with zero faults and the perfect line, to the extreme tracks where success is just passing the track 200 faults and 15 minutes later (and the apparently illogical limits of 500 faults and 30 minutes still remain). Both push the player to seek mastery but at distinctly different skill levels. A promising level editor gives hope that a player will be able to continue to play at whatever skill level they enjoy, and across the range, Trials Evolution holds strong. The tracks this time have added dynamics compared to Trials HD though: a burst of water from a concrete pipe launch the bike upward, a log floats in a desolate shipping yard, a spotlight that flickers on and off, and many more crazier changes. Surprising as these dynamics can be, it also makes the tracks more finicky when trying to shave seconds off of times.
The periphery of Trials is the other area it faults. From oddly leaving out a gender option within the numerous rider customization options, to having almost all clothing options look like they came from an Ed Hardy collection, to a largely mind numbing soundtrack outside of a select few songs. The color of Trials is unappealing, though these cursory elements are mostly transcended.
Finding out how to control the elements and keep them in balance is what makes one not care about those small quibbles as much. Learning to master techniques, and executing on them, is a great joy of playing. The experience of mastering Trials Evolution is not too far removed from mastering a platformer like Metanet’s N+ or Black Box’s skateboarding semi-sim Skate. The abilities of the in-game avatars remain static and immense gratification comes from the building of player skill—developing a deep understanding for how the game works.
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