This is not a biking game; this is a game where you happen to control a bike.
Trials EvolutionPublisher: Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Release Date: 2012-04-18
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.