Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Also on: M/A (Xbox 360 exclusive)
Console Played on: Xbox 360
Release Date: Wednesday August 12th 2009
Age Rating: PEGI 16
There are 206 bones in the human body. After ten minutes with Red Lynx’s Trials HD you’ll have broken all of them. Which is considered a good thing: it nets you an achievement, for starters.
If you’ve not played Trials 2 on the PC, essentially we’re dealing with a souped-up, modern version of yesteryear Spectrum classic Kickstart. You ride your motorbike along a 2D plane, manoeuvring your way through, over and under a plethora of nefarious obstacles. The bells and whistles are provided by shiny 3D graphics and the game’s robust and completely insane physics engine that, despite often feeling like you’re popping wheelies on the moon, is deceptively grounded in a bizarrely understandable logic.
Controlling the bike is a simple matter of tweaking the right trigger to accelerate and nudging the left analog stick to shift your rider’s body mass. Positioning is crucial, so the challenge comes from doing the correct thing at the right time, which should hopefully ensure you don’t hit the ground head first or land on an explosive barrel. The game cheerfully describes its often-brutal fatalities as ‘faults’, and getting one ensures that you won’t be obtaining the gold medal for the course in question. Boo.
All of Trials HD’s stages have their own particular gimmicks. Red Lynx’s inventive track design is a genuine treat, and their levels rarely include the same trick twice. One level, half-way through the game, forces you to drive slowly over a series of explosive barrels; go too quickly and you’ll feel the full impact of their volatile contents. Just as you get the hang of it, you’re whisked off to another stage with its own niche and the process of learning begins anew. It’s always keeping you on your toes.
You start the game with a brief tutorial, which nicely explains the game’s controls via a scattering of signs, and quickly move onto tracks such as “Logosplosive”, which gleefully dishes up a bounty of aforementioned logs, straight lines, loops, upward-facing ramps and explosions. There’s also “Mother of all Jumps”, a track loaded with inertia-defying flips and massive chasms, and if you hit a certain part of the scenery exactly right your bike will be propelled with the speed of a rocket. The game considers this the easy difficulty, and for the most part they’re right. Easy is filled with nice, pleasant stages; ones where you can hold down the throttle most of the time and not end up impaled on a jutting pipe. You’ll also be weaned into the game by some of the friendlier choices of bike: the hogs you’ll be driving in later levels are so wild you can fall off them by simply driving too fast.
Then it’s off to medium difficulty, and you’ll start to understand some of Trials HD’s more difficult nuances with stages like the fantastic “Where’s the Ground”, a course which involves performing a loop-de-loop straight into a floor which explodes a millisecond – revealing the next section of track – before the potentially fatal impact. You’ve got to be more careful than before, now, as in medium difficulty there’s plenty of bits that’ll cause you a grisly death if you keep the engine revved. Lean with too much force here and you’ll also spin the bike around and crack your neck.
Once you make your way to the harder stages the game takes an especially cruel turn and starts throwing its most devious challenges at you. It’s exceedingly tricky, complete with a late-game extreme difficulty level that really, really is.
There’s no game over screen at any point, just an ever-increasing clock and faults counter. To help you to the finish lines there are, thankfully, plenty of checkpoints dotted around the stages, providing much-needed points of relief at difficult moments. You won’t get a gold medal if you’re forced to return to one, but on some of Extreme difficulty levels you’ll be more than satisfied if you even manage to finish the stage. Inferno II, the game’s final level, is a course so difficult that most people will only ever be able to experience it vicariously via handily downloaded replays.
End up with a score in the top 5000 and your replay is made available to all on Xbox Live, and it’s by studiously perusing some of these – complete with an on-screen display of which buttons are being pressed – that you’ll find yourself picking up tricks on how to move through areas that previously left you baffled.
So much of the game is about repetition that you’ll frequently use two other buttons: back and B, which resets the level and takes you to the last checkpoint, respectively. You’ll become intimate with these parts of the controller when you attempt obstacles that take well over 100 attempts to clear on your first try. A perfect run of any single course can take anything from twenty seconds to three minutes, but more often than not you’ll be happily plugging away an hour or two into replaying the same stretch of track, deducing the perfect routes, and trying to make it to first place in your friends’ leaderboard. It’s all about the golds, after all.
More challenges come from the game’s tournament mode, where you play through a series of tracks in sequence and the game adds up your total time and faults across them all. Gulp. Finally, nip into the ‘Skill Games’ menu and you’re introduced to the sixteen most ludicrous courses the game has to offer. These are unlocked by completing the main mode and distil some of the game’s more prominent challenges into their own mini-game. One imitates a ski jump by having you fling your rider – complete with comedy skis, of course – off the bike, with explosive force, and seeing how long his exaggerated ragdoll body will fly before gravity forces him down. Another encourages you to propel the bike through rings of fire, each giving you a boost of rocket fuel. One makes you climb an increasingly vertical track, giving you a score when you finally slip up and fall to your doom. And there’s even one where you’re suspended in a rolling metal ball. Like the rest of the game, it’s madness is nothing short of brilliant.
Final Thoughts: As with Geometry Wars 2 last summer, Trials HD encourages you to compete for scores with the occupants of your friends list. It’s clearly not the most sophisticated game on the marketplace, but it contains more than enough wit, challenge and opportunity for bravado to make it more than worth the 1200 point asking price. An essential summer purchase.
Gameplay – 9: By keeping the core game simple, Red Lynx have produced an easily accessible title with a wicked streak. It works, and it works well. Online leaderboard features practically guarantee you’ll be replaying the stages for hours on end.
Graphics – 7: 3D graphics are functional, and there’s a surprising amount of colour and variety for a game set entirely inside a dingy brown warehouse. It’s also got snazzy motion blur and explosion effects.
Sound – 7: The bike’s engines all sound suitably choppy, although the generic rock soundtrack is very much background music.
Overall – 9: Trials HD is another fantastic instalment of a cult favourite. It might not have some of the extra trimmings of its PC brother, such as multiple camera angle or ghost replays, but neither have a detrimental effect on the finished product. Trials HD is one of the most compulsive games of the year.
Note: Stay tuned!
We have an interview going live with the guys at RedLynx sometime next week. Look out for that.