Some of us in the office are old enough to remember Kick Start; the BBC's legendary combination of show jumping, obstacle courses and dirt bikes. Most of the time, the younger members of the team just humour us whenever we attempt to regale them with stories of teenagers balancing on inexplicably narrow planks of wood. Then the Trials games came along and someone suggested it would be a good subject for a TV show; there's no winning with this lot!
PC gamers last got in on the action with Trials 2: Second Edition, which, although successful, was a mere bunny-hop compared to the stratospheric jump, back flip and perfect landing that was Trials HD on XBLA. Throughout the series, the game has retained the same simple, yet devilishly hard gameplay; last year's Trials Evolution is no exception.
Players are tasked with successfully riding a series of increasingly complex courses, comprising ramps, jumps and, on later levels tilting and moving platforms. Whilst it may sound straightforward enough, the challenge lies in maintaining the careful balance of throttle control and shifting the rider's centre of gravity, lest you allow the bike to rear up or catapult your budding crash test dummy over the handlebars.
Whereas previous Trials games have been set within inexplicably expansive warehouses, Evolution finally heads out into the great outdoors, complete with a wide variety of level styles and themes. It's not just the addition of new textures and statics that sets Evolution apart from its predecessors; the change to open landscapes introduces the opportunity for a multitude of background details seemingly designed to distract the player.
Each level has three medals up for grabs, starting at bronze for reaching the finish line, regardless of time taken or resetting the bike at a checkpoint. Successfully completing a level is one matter; completing it within the time required to obtain the gold medal is another. Earn enough medals, and you'll unlock new stages and a handful of customisation options, for both bike and rider.
Fancy a break from racing against the clock? Additional medals are available from a variety of Skill Games, ranging from the relatively sensible task of travelling as far as possible with the throttle stuck on full, or without adjusting the rider's balancing; to the ludicrous situation of trying to fly with planks of wood strapped to your arms.
Find yourself in the unlikely position that this is still not enough content for you, and you could try your incredibly fussy hands at the level creator. It's not just basic ramps and jumps that can be thrown together on one of the default landscapes; the advanced editor allows players to create scripted events or even replace the bike.
Multiplayer is largely prevalent throughout the game due to the leaderboard (assuming you have friends); but, if there are scores to be settled on the spot, players can hop into the online mode to go head-to-head on any of the regular tracks, or a handful of multiplayer specific courses.
"So why are we only now reviewing a game that came out on XBLA best part of a year ago?", you may well ask. To this we would bring your attention to the fact that what we have on our hands here is, in fact, Trials Evolution: Gold Edition.
What is so 'Gold' about this particular release then? Well, besides it being the first game to return to the PC since Trials 2; RedLynx have looked to apologise for skipping their original platform with Trials HD by throwing in all of the levels from THD as an additional game mode.
Whilst the game may have awarded itself a 'Gold' for content, unfortunately it only gets a bronze for execution. For all the lovely graphical upgrades since Trials HD, the explosion-packed new levels are prone to frequent frame rate drops; the HD Warehouse levels seem unaffected, largely due to their relatively sparse backgrounds.
The problems extend beyond the visuals to Ubisoft's back end. Clear a level without achieving the required time for the gold medal, and the obvious next step would be to replay the stage to try and beat your previous time. Whilst the theory is sound, the same can't be said for the servers that host the leaderboards, as it often takes upwards of 20 minutes for a time to be posted; as such, no ghost rider appears to compare your time with.
Should you manage to secure a time worth sharing with friends and/or the wider internet, it is possible to export a replay to YouTube. Quite how accurate the resulting video is remains up for debate; we did try saving one 30 second clip that converted into 1 minute 45 of extremely low quality footage. Some users have even reported the game hanging indefinitely during the export process.
RedLynx have stated that they are working to resolve the numerous issues, however, players who had access to the beta did flag up a number of the problems prior to release. If you can live with the occasional performance blip, then Trials Evolution: Gold Edition will give you plenty of challenge for your buck; if you also own an Xbox 360, you'd be better off venturing onto XBLA to get your copy (albeit with Trials HD as a separate purchase).
Trials Evolution (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Some of us in the office are old enough to remember Kick Start; the BBC's legendary combination of show jumping, obstacle courses and dirt bikes. Most of the time, the younger members of the team just humour us whenever we attempt to regale them with stories of teenagers balancing on inexplicably narrow planks of wood.