Reviews

Trials Evolution

This is not a biking game; this is a game where you happen to control a bike.


Trials Evolution

Publisher: Microsoft
Format: XBLA
Price: $15.00
Players: 1-4
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: 2012-04-18
URL

There comes a point -- right about when the Hard levels arrive -- at which Trials ceases being “fun”. And it doesn't matter. The player remains compelled to keep playing, even in the face of constant confusion, frustration, and failure. It's an experience that lives up to the game's name. That developer RedLynx called it Trials and not, say, Thrills, means that this experience was likely intentional, rather than an idea taken too far. The early tracks in a Trials game are simply training for the moments that RedLynx are likely still cackling over, moments like the one where you land a jump on an incline so steep that you're 99.9% certain to fall over or the one where just a little too much speed leads to you falling off the side of a skyscraper.

As the player, these failures are so constant and so expected that it is only the successes (and sometimes the near-successes) that come to matter. This is Trials Evolution's greatest achievement.

Of course, none of that is to say that Trials -- and particularly Trials Evolution, the latest entry in what is sure to become an ongoing series of Trials games -- is without its thrills, it's more the matter that those thrills aren't really the point. They're a hook, if anything. When you're riding your bike around a roller coaster that would be completely and utterly illegal in any remotely realistic world, you may be laughing at the absurd excitement that the loop or the vertical drop or the ridiculous last jump inspires, but be aware: the game is prepping you. It's prepping you for when half of that loop isn't there, it's prepping you for the moment you have to flip your bike just to get enough forward momentum to clear an obstacle.

In a very real way, everything in Trials Evolution up to the point at which you get the most advanced license (and with it, the most versatile bike) is gaming's longest tutorial. Slowly, steadily, you are introduced not only to different types of jumps and obstacles but to different types of environments and terrain. You are introduced to the differences between bikes and schooled in the ways that landing a long jump leaning forward does different things than landing while leaning back. While all this is going on, you're even introduced to the sorts of levels and even game types that you can make in the game's level editor.

And once you get that license, well...Trials starts to happen.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the original Trials and its sequel are the environments. By allowing for biking outside the seriously large warehouse of the original game, RedLynx has made its game more memorable -- more social, really -- and this is even before you start playing multiplayer or designing tracks for friends. You can talk to people about specific courses like "Lab Rat", the star of an achievement whose most notable requirement is that you spend most of it on fire, and "Gigatrack", a tremendous outdoor beast of a track that tests every skill the player has learned to that point. You can namecheck tracks on Twitter as you attempt them and garner instant empathy from others who have, you know, been there. It's more than just "the one in the warehouse". The environment inspires conversation.

Despite tracks that inspire knowing nods and affectionate groans, however, there's never a sense that Trials Evolution is impossible. This is "one more try" gaming at its finest with challenges in which you will try the same jump 200 times only to come back for 201. An extremely forgiving checkpoint system and a single-push-button do-over mechanism makes failure feel entirely insignificant. Constant failure is the norm, made no different than moving left-to-right in a platformer. Make a jump or avoid an obstacle -- that becomes the thrill. By the time that you reach the latter stages of the game (not to mention some of the most inventive of the user-created tracks that are now out there), you don't need loops, ridiculous jumps, or high speeds for thrills.

When you fail to climb a hill 100 times and you make it on your 101st try, that's the thrill. It's just a hill, like any other hill in the game, except steeper. There is nothing inherently exciting about it, but its difficulty makes conquering it the thrill. Eventually you'll become so confident in your ability to climb that same hill, the one you failed at 100 times, that you'll feel as though you can compete in the various multiplayer modes on that same track. You'll climb that hill on the first or second try, and you'll glance nostalgically at the fellow that you're competing against who just can't get past it. There's little smack-talk you can offer in a situation like this; somehow, it feels better to be encouraging, to tell that competitor that you know, you know how hard that hill is. You're telling your competitors that it gets easier, and you can't believe the words coming out of your mouth.

That hill becomes one of many "trials" in the game, none of which are impossible. This is not a biking game; this is a game where you happen to control a bike. It's a game that anyone can play, because anyone can identify with achieving a goal that at one point looked impossible. That's why this series is called Trials, and not, say, Bike Hard or some other inane name. Everyone can identify with conquering a trial. Likewise, everyone should get at least one shot at this game.

Chances are, nearly everyone who gets that one shot will be begging for a second.

9
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9

South Pole Station is an unflinching yet loving look at family in all its forms.

The typical approach of the modern debut novel is to grab its audience's attention, to make a splash of the sort that gets its author noticed. This is how you get a book deal, this is how you quickly draw an audience -- books like Fight Club, The Kite Runner, even Harry Potter each went out of their way to draw in an audience, either through a defined sense of language, a heightened sense of realism, or an instant wash of wonder. South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby's debut, and its biggest success is its ability to take the opposite approach: rather than claw and scream for its reader's attention, it's content to seep into its reader's consciousness, slowly drawing that reader into a world that's simultaneously unfamiliar and totally believable.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image