Review

Trials Evolution

Ramping Up

When Trials Evolution gets tough, it gets tough in a hurry.

By Scott Jones • April 30, 2012

With its wailing dirt bikes, neck-snapping crashes, and Dukes Of Hazzard-like presentation, Trials Evolution has all the trappings of your standard-issue redneck motocross game. But underneath that shopworn exterior, as anyone who played 2009’s Trials HD already knows, is something more complex and sophisticated. Evolution, like its predecessor, isn’t really a racing game at all. Instead, it’s a digit-straining, physics-based puzzle game that’s frustrating enough to bait even the most sedate player into a controller-throwing frenzy.

Your goal in Evolution is simple: to reach the finish line as quickly as possible. Traversing the game’s 60 levels requires a delicate combination of gas and brake—right trigger and left trigger, respectively. As the stages grow increasingly Byzantine, the careful management of your rider’s weight becomes paramount. Steep incline up ahead? Goose the gas and shift your weight forward. Steep decline? Feather-touch the brake and shift your weight to the rear of the bike. If you mishandle the throttle or shift the rider’s weight off balance, the result will almost always be an over-the-handlebars crash.

Trials Evolution

Those crashes, which are more comic than cringe-inducing, are commonplace in Evolution. After you’ve eaten dirt, you have two options: Teleport back to the most recent checkpoint or return to the beginning of the track. Using a checkpoint means sacrificing valuable seconds, which will also likely cost you a medal (gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded based on your race time). Meanwhile, a return to the starting blocks may mean losing your progress up to that point, but it also wipes the slate clean, giving you a chance to avoid your mistake the second time around. This turns every wipeout into an intriguing fork-in-the-road dilemma, one that may leave your thumb hovering over the controller, tense with indecision.

The previous game took place in a hermetically-sealed warehouse that always made it seem as if you were participating in the world’s loneliest X-Games event. The bulk of Evolution’s tracks are set in the great outdoors. Barreling through a pine-tree forest at dusk or seeing your bike’s tires skim through the swirling eddies of a creek bed makes for a more vital experience than the crates and girders of Trials HD. Evolution’s tracks are also rife with inventive touches like roller coaster-caliber drops and working machinery like automated elevators. There’s even the occasional bit of supernatural whimsy. During a race on a track named “Titan’s Graveyard,” a massive stone hand slowly emerges from a murky lake to menace you.

Trials Evolution

A big part of the pleasure in Trials HD was the realization that the game wasn’t what it initially seemed to be. Playing it for the first time was like sitting next to a bucktoothed, overalls-wearing cousin at a family reunion and slowly discovering that he’s a Rhodes Scholar. Games rarely offer that kind of bait-and-switch surprise. In the sequel, there’s obviously no need for us to once again reconcile the game’s incongruities. So the novelty and surprise that were so seductive in the previous game are missing in Evolution.

That leaves a single burning question: When will Evolution go from being challenging and engaging to downright impossible? Trials HD was a notoriously difficult game, a game that seemed less interested in being liked or enjoyed in a traditional sense and more interested in being demanding and obtuse. And though the edges have been sanded off the sequel thanks to a somewhat gentler learning curve, Evolution, in the end, is another nasty piece of work. There’s a difference between penalizing players and punishing players, and Evolution skews towards the latter. Indeed, there’s an Old Testament logic woven into the DNA of Evolution, a logic that says that the only path to salvation is to suffer the game’s silly cruelties until—hallelujah—you’re rewarded with the soul-cleansing, borderline miraculous “One Perfect Run.” After a breezy, thoroughly pleasant opening hour—after which the “challenging and engaging” bits expire—Evolution turns into the gaming equivalent of donning a hair shirt.

Trials Evolution
Developer: RedLynx
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $15 (1,200 Microsoft Points)
Rating: E

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

  • Mike Mariano

    I played the Trials HD demo so many times, it was so much fun watching my biker eat it, then have a barrel fall on his head.

    I never bought the game, though, because too much of the game seemed like it depended on memorization.  You wipe out on each obstacle, learn your way around it specifically, then repeat until you reach the end of the course.

    Now that Trials is outdoors, does that help in any way?  Do you get to see more of the track?

    • sirslud

      Not really. Although I dont’ consider the need to memorize what’s up ahead as a strike against the game. Yes, you need to memorize it, but it sure as hell ain’t knowing what’s coming up that leads to you passing the course fault free. (As in, on the later levels, even after you know the course backwards and forwards, you will still need to ritualistically sacrifice a few goats in order to appease the muscle memory gods.)

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      I had the same experience.  The demo was briefly fun, but not enough to pay for the full game.

      • Effigy_Power

         I think that’s generally a strange thing with demos sometimes. They are obviously meant to bait the player into buying the game and developers don’t seem to shy away from making demos that are so tangentially connected to the actual game that they bare no real connection, similar to movie trailers.
        In this case however, just like @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus , I was less inclined to buy the game after the demo than before. I don’t mind a hard game, but just the thought of having to redo the same sequences a million times simply made me want to give up.
        And I played MLB2K10′s MyPlayer mode with a starting pitcher for 8 seasons, so… What does that say?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Your description of playing this game is eerily like the description of playing Dar Souls from the feature posted this morning…

  • Chip Dipson

    Apparently the first Trials game had a whole-game easter egg hidden throughout the levels (as briefly discussed on The Indoor Kids). Here’s a video for those interested in that kind of thing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg4lg7T7Zgs&feature=youtu.be

    Pretty heady stuff for a dirt-bike game. It makes me wonder what existential imagery was hidden in my old copy of Excite Bike.

    • Aaron Riccio

      That video would have been more interesting had it starred the Insane Clown Posse. Though I did like the tag at the end: “Enjoy the ride.” So, yeah, life is a process of adaptation, trial and error, and mystery. And the sequel’s title “Evolution” is only feeding into it. And yet, none of that makes me want to *play* the game, any more than “The Truth” of Assassin’s Creed or the “revelations” of Lost satisfy me: questions without answers are gaming’s version of being a cock-tease, if you’ll pardon the language. 

      In any case, I find it remarkable that Trials and Dark Souls were both posted about today, and yet nobody has drawn a parallel between ‘em yet. I like my games to be a little meatier than memorization (mental and muscular) . . . although the brevity of most levels in Super Meat Boy has kept me coming back.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      A dirt-bike game that started on Miniclip, no less.  The 4 prequels to HD are still up there.

  • MSUSteve

    After hearing much rejoicing about this game on various podcasts and message boards, I downloaded the demo.  As of now, I have yet to actually play it.  I know it’s going to frustrate and irritate me (hair shirt) but I hate missing out on the zeitgeist of a new and popular title.

  • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

    I’m kind of disappointed that insane Uncharted fans aren’t stalking Scott Jones.

    • MSUSteve

      They’ll have to get in line behind Borderlands fans.  Of course Jones got it wrong on Borderlands, but hit the nail on the head, at least with his summation of Uncharted 2.  

      I tried finishing Uncharted 2 recently in order to finally play Uncharted 3 and remembered why I had put it down.  Ugh.  It still mystifies me that the Uncharted games are so highly praised.  If I could watch the Uncharted series as a movie, I’d certainly do so because the characters are so damned charming.  It’s too bad that actually playing the games is mediocre at the very best and actively frustrating and chronically unfun at worst.

      • Effigy_Power

         I hear that a lot. Mind you, it’s one of the few games I can’t play, since I don’t own a PS3, but I am not sure I could get into a trilogy that descends into mediocrity. Maybe when the PS3 gets real cheap… but since 360 has MLB.tv, I just don’t see why anymore.

        • Mookalakai

           Product placement!

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

        I’ve played them all on my brother-in-law’s PS3 (I’m a 360 owner myself) and I don’t disagree at all.

        • Effigy_Power

           So, you non-protest with the strongest of agreements? Sheesh, that’s harsh.

        • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

          @Effigy_Power:disqus Why would I protest? You’re confusing me.

        • Effigy_Power

           It was sarcasm. I forget how badly that sometimes translates in pure text.
          Ignore the whole thing.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        I thought Uncharted 2 was pretty boring too. I don’t think I ever finished it, and I don’t really care. It just wasn’t very fun.

      • Raging Bear

        I’m pretty sure Jones didn’t write the Borderlands review. I think it was David Wolinsky.

        • MSUSteve

          He wrote the Borderlands review over at Crispy Gamer, which caused some consternation over there.

        • Raging Bear

          @MSUSteve:disqus Oh, gotcha.

        • Effigy_Power

           Didn’t read it, but also didn’t care at all for Borderlands, so I am probably right on the money anyways. I just am not of the age-group where me and 3 friends can devote the same amount of time on a game, especially not synchronized.

      • Staggering Stew Bum

        I don’t mind admitting, but I love the Uncharted games. Well, I love Uncharted 2, the first one is pretty good as well. The third is the weakest, and Jones’ AV club review was spot on. Uncharted 2 had the best multiplayer I’ve ever played. Pure, simple fun. I lost hundreds of hours of my life on that multiplayer.

        I think the critical praise for UC2 is due to the fact the first one, coming out exclusively on the PS3 early on in its life with not much competition on the console, was very pretty and mostly fun to play. The second one takes all of this and nails the gameplay and throws in nonsensical but fun setpieces, and has the great multiplayer. So when compared to the first, it’s a masterpiece. On it’s own, it’s great but not as great as was hyped.

      • Brian Stewart

        All of the Uncharted are good games but when I sat down to write home to my mother about them, I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm that dipping the quill in the inkwell required. I really liked Uncharted 3 in 3D. In that way it was sort of the Underworld: Awakening of the series in that the special effects made up for plot holes and a so-so narrative.

    • http://www.onelinetaxcode.com/ root (1ltc)

      I’m kind of disappointed that there are people implicitly asking for insane Uncharted fans to post here.

      Let them go shit up gamefaqs or neogaf or whatever the hell else. Fuck them.

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

        It was a joke. I don’t actually want that shit here.

  • cowtron

    Not an insightful review :(

    Sorry you got frustrated after an hour of play Scott. In reality, this is a very deep game, and that rabbit hole goes impressively deep. You might take a moment to wonder why so many people have put a large amount of time into learning to do the most challenging things in the game with relative ease. Being rewarded with a miraculous “One Perfect Run” doesn’t quite capture it.  The answer to your single burning question (hahaha) is “Never. It doesn’t do that. You learn and you get better, and the progression is itself rewarding.”  Gaming has been doing this for decades Scott. Why? Why does that happen Scott