If you’ve never played one of several games in the trial bike racing genre, you’re seriously missing out. It’s one of those simple concepts that’s as addictive as it is fun to play. Trials is a current-gen series of such games most well known for Trials: Evolution on the Xbox 360, but now RedLynx and Ubisoft are bringing both this and Trials: HD to the PC as a single package dubbed Trials Evolution Gold. But with so many lackluster console-to-PC ports on the market, can Trials beat the ultimate challenge of remaining great despite the platform transition? Read on to find out!
(UPDATE 3/23/2013 – The final build of the game was released two days ago, and it appears Ubisoft has heard the complaints about Uplay, as there is now a feature to link a Steam and Uplay account together. This means Steam friends will be carried over into Uplay seamlessly. It’s not the solution we would have liked to see, but it does address the issue. Unfortunately, other issues don’t appear to have been addressed at all. The game still occasionally stutters even on high-end hardware. I cannot say whether the graphical glitches some players experienced persist because my test computers never had the problems in the first place. Suffice it to say that while the final release is significantly cleaned up, there’s yet work to be done before this can be considered a solid port.)
“Trials Evolution Gold Beta”
If that sounds a bit weird to you, it’s because it is. We’re used to seeing betas for online arena shooters and MMORPGs, but for just another console port? Highly unusual. And yet, that’s exactly what we have here. The final build of Trials Evolution Gold doesn’t land on PC until March 21st, but a beta version is open to all who pre-purchase the game. A lot of bugs have been reported by users and the developers seem to be listening intently. There are certainly a few rough edges left to be ironed out, but as far as console ports go, hopefully the user/developer relationship this one has had from the beginning will make it end up being one of the better ports we’ve seen. In this review I will not be factoring in beta issues as cons–perhaps after the official release I’ll do an update if the problems remain–and instead I’ll be focusing on the core aspects of the game, since this is what will really be the deciding factor for gamers considering Trials Evolution Gold. Lets get started.
Not a positive note to start out on, I know, but the reason I do so is because the first thing you’ll encounter with Trials Evolution Gold is Ubisoft’s poor attempt at a social service and store client called Uplay. It’s not optional, but considering the game already uses Steam–a far superior service that accomplishes the same things as Uplay–it’s completely unnecessary as well. Yes, you read that right: in order to start Trials, you have to open your Steam client, open your Uplay client, and only then get into the game. This means that you’ll have two in-game overlays to work with, but only Uplay has achievements and friends–these have been withheld from Steam. the result is an annoyingly fragmented experience that didn’t have to be. Tracks built in Trials cannot go into the Steam workshop, Steam users cannot compare achievements, play with other Steam friends, and so forth…even though the game uses Steam. Big Picture Mode users will also find that Uplay breaks the Big Picture experience, as there is no way to navigate Uplay with a controller. It’s a layer of unwanted, poorly made software forced on gamers in a situation where a far better alternative is not just available, but already built into the game…and intentionally avoided!
At any rate, once you’re actually in the game, what can you expect to find? Well, for those who don’t yet know what the trial bike racing genre or the Trials series in particular is all about, basically you will be dropped into an obstacle course on a motorbike and have to make your way from start to finish. Sound simple? It’s not. The game is two dimensional in function, meaning that while there are certainly 3D graphics, the game’s camera is off to one side and your only options are to go left or right (which are equated to backwards and forwards). There’s no driving around or otherwise avoiding what’s ahead. The courses feature increasingly insane challenges that will see you pulling off all sorts of equally impossible moves to keep from crashing and reach your destination. It all comes down to developing a sense of your bike’s physics (which are excellently balanced) and how to apply gas and lean your rider (which is all the steering you’ll need to do in a 2D game)–all at the same time. It’s tons of fun, addicting, and satisfyingly hard without being too frustrating.
Mastered all the included levels? Try your hand at the very feature-rich level editor, download levels that others have made, or compete against friends locally or online! Also factor in remarkably extensive bike and character customization, and what you have is a very well-rounded experience capable of providing almost unlimited hours of play.
Pro: The Engine
Modern game engines can be pretty impressive. While the graphics in Trials may not be more realistic than you’ve seen before, they’re certainly pretty enough to look at. But what impresses me most is the sheer scale that this engine can draw. While attempting one challenge that takes place high in the sky, I thought I was looking at a 2D skydome behind the elevated track…until I made a mistake and bike and rider alike plummeted to the ground. It was then that I realized the game engine was actually drawing an entire vista of scenery even from a thousand feet in the air! That is a sure sign of solid programming. Normally I wouldn’t include a category for a game’s engine in a review, but this is one case where it significantly affects not just the game experience (graphics) but the gameplay as well. For the concept of Trials Evolution Gold to work in practice, a solid engine is absolutely required, and a solid engine it has…so long as some beta issues can be worked out to avoid the unnecessarily bad performance or graphical glitches that some users are experiencing.
Call me old-fashioned, but I for one prefer not to listen to someone wrecking their vocal cords to the sound of a cacophonous backing track. Not all the music in the game is this way, but what is there is prominent and unavoidable short of shutting music off entirely. I’d like to think I’m not alone in finding this sort of music obnoxious, but if I am, then I suppose this con won’t bother anyone.
As seems to be the case with every Ubisoft game, Trials Evolution Gold is not without flaws, but as is not the case with every Ubisoft game, the flaws in this one are well worth overlooking. Fun, solid gameplay, pretty graphics, and rich and extensive extras combine to make this nothing short of a must-have for any PC (or Xbox 360!) gamer. Just be prepared to deal with minor annoyances like Uplay along the way.