Review: Trials HD
October 14, 2009, Author: Danny Wadeson
Explaining the appeal of the recent XBLA release Trials HD is like describing something funny but complicated you overheard a week ago; you really have to be there to get it. This HD update of the original PC versions is also series developer RedLynx’s first foray into console territory, and it’s a trial they pass with aplomb.
You’re telling me you’ve never seen a giant ramshackle loop-de-loop with flaming barrels and explosives in an abandoned warehouse before?
The game’s premise is simple enough: you have a dirt bike and you’re confronted with increasingly ludicrous-looking obstacle courses to traverse on it. You only have control over the throttle and your weight distribution, a set-up deliciously simple but elevated to sheer brilliance when you consider the game’s strict and admirable adherence to a realistic physics model.
I’m supposed to do what now?!
Of course, you’re eased into things quite gently. Anyone remotely familiar with Trials 1 and 2 on the PC will breeze through the opening levels, requiring as they do only some careful braking and the odd lean. Things, however, swiftly become a little more tricky with the introduction of giant boulders, initially impossible-looking jumps and frankly life-threatening see-saw mechanisms. Oh, not to mention the exploding barrels (and warheads) that the devious track designers have somewhat carelessly left lying around.
For every new difficulty level (the stages are broken up into difficulty categories) you will receive a brief tutorial explaining a central, essential technique based around shifting your virtual body weight. About mid-way through the total track listing (as it were) you will definitely be confronted with an environmental puzzle that makes you stop, put down the controller, and back steadily away from your 360.
The beauty of this game is made evident upon (hopefully…) your completing of each stage as you look back and realise just how skillful you have actually been. When you revisit tracks in pursuit of the gold (and eventually Platinum) medals and shave precious seconds off your time with a perfect run through and a few short-cuts, the course layouts reveal themselves to be inspired.
One of the best features in regards to the much-coveted re-playability factor is the ability to check out replays; not only your own, but those of the top ranked players from the leader-board. If this sounds like it reduces the competition, rest assured; watching someone do the course perfectly in no way translates easily into doing it perfectly yourself. What it does give you is the chance to alleviate some pent-up frustration by having a guideline to follow. You can’t, of course, see these replays until you’ve completed a race so you will still experience the massive satisfaction of working things out for yourself first.
Besides all of this, the extra challenges are inspired. Ranging from trying to traverse a simple track… but on top of a giant mesh ball (or inside it!) from having rockets attached to your bike and skis attached (hilariously) to your feet and gunning for the biggest jump you can manage (by pressing ‘Y’ and bailing at high velocity), they represent a real challenge and crucially, are actually fun. Even better, they all involve some kind of painful end enhanced by the rag-doll physics.
Check me out… NO HANDS!
The graphics are more than functional, and the frame-rate never dips. XBLA titles rarely impress by dint of their graphics, but Trials has some nice bloom effects, nice textures, and enough zip in the hood to make sure that when you’re stuck staring at a giant, insurmountable rock for 5 minutes you won’t at least notice many visual shortfalls. The frame-rate is solid throughout, and the option (though fairly limited ) to customize the appearance of your rider and bike can make the visuals a little more appealing.
The stages themselves, whilst not really having any chance to show off in terms of beautiful rendering, are nicely cluttered; objects everywhere and broken bits of track trailing off in the background don’t distract but give a nice impression of 3D.
Like music to my helmet
Likewise, the music is functional but doesn’t do anything special. The somewhat scary cock-rock sound-bites of the title screen are amusing novelties and the engine sounds are meaty and satisfying. Particularly well done are the grunts and yelps of your hapless rider as you force him to careen around at lethal speeds. I’ll never get tired of the noise he makes after suffering a badly landed drop, his bike and skeleton crumpling under the G force.
I break less limbs less than you do on any given course… so nerrr!
Multiplayer is technically limited to leader board support across all game modes, with the afore mentioned replay option mixing things up a little. However, Trials actually works brilliantly in couch co-op or vs, as you pass the controller around in an attempt to complete a stage or get the best time on one. Thanks to the inevitable, gruesome bails and the fact that it’s such a pleasure to watch (schadenfreude or no), Trials is perhaps best enjoyed with a few friends. Add the fact that laughter (and you will laugh) is a great remedy for any potential frustration you might (will) feel and it becomes very easy to recommend Trials HD as a multiplayer game.
Worth the Trial?
Trials HD won’t initially appeal to every gamer. RedLynx have however developed a rare thing: a game that can be enjoyed by hardcore and casual gamers alike; the simple to pick up, (extremely) hard to master core gameplay, the fantastic physics, more than 50 unique stages (plus level editor) and utter uniqueness make sure of that. A trial by fire certainly, but one you will emerge from unscathed and grinning broadly.