By Kieron Gillen on December 9th, 2008 at 8:16 pm.
For the third game of Christmas my true blog gave to me…
…a motorcycle crashing repeattttteedllllllly.
Imagine Sisyphus, if you will. Standing at the bottom of his hill, with his boulder. He has to think of them as “his” now he’s had them so long, in the same way he thinks of the sky as “his” view and the ground beneath his feet as “his” soil. Surely an infinity together denotes possession?
Imagine Sisyphus surprised to find himself released from his bondage. He’s guided to a computer screen. A kindly god gives him his new task: “complete this”. It’s a videogame. He doesn’t know what a videogame is, of course, but he soon picks up the general gist of things. Tiny motorbike – not that he knows what a bike is, and it takes him a while to work it out, but when he learns he never forgets. Four keys. Lean forward, lean back, accelerate decelerate. Hmm.
Even on the training levels, it takes a while to get it down. Even the simple task of accelerating in a straight line can end with him spinning the bike in the air and cracking open his head if he gets the balance slightly wrong. Which he does often. Many broken bones, which Sisyphus, after all these years, finds hilarious. He suspects he’d have found it hilarious anyway. He suspects seeing the slack-limbed fool twist as he rebounds around a landscape is amusing in the same way that the gods find toying with him. This realisation doesn’t make him question the pleasure – it just makes him glad for the holiday in this infinite sense of power. The amusement of the death certainly takes away the edge away from the frustration of working through the level for the forty-second thousandth time.
But eventually he succeeds. He tries to leave. The god laughs – no, that’s not what he meant. He meant complete the whole game.
“YOU WOTTT,” screams Sisyphus, “ARE YOU PISSING WITH ME? THE LATER LEVELS ARE JUST IMPOSSIBLE, YOU BAST!”
The god shrugs waiting for Sisyphus to turn his back and return to repeated crashing, so he can show a little smile. He doesn’t mean complete all the levels – and he knows that the developers have a tendency to release new ones, meaning that task may be endless. He means top the score tables, where thousands of other, fellow Sisyphuses struggle to get the best runs. And even when they’re at the top, and walk free from the chains of videogame suffrage, when another fellow Sisyphus deposes them, they’re dragged back to reprove merit, re-earn their freedom. Pushing some stones up a hill? Child’s play. This is next-generation sadism for the gods. He sits back and relaxes, watching replays of simulacra of humans in physical pain and thinking of the actual humans in mental pain they represent. And he laughs.
Red Lynx Trials 2 is a lot like that. In that it’s a Sisyphean rock. It also rocks.
I’ve written a mass about Trials 2 over the year, well before it hit Steam and reached a whole new audience. If you haven’t returned to it in some months, its worth booting up – there’s a mass of new courses to play, including lots of extra “Easy” ones for you to rush through rather than just banging your head against the wall in frustration at the harder ones.
Chatting to Erik at Valve, he noted this is a game he likes more in theory than practice. By which he REALLY means, he doesn’t like to practice. Which seems like an insult, but with Trials 2 a lack of practice understandable. It’s only practice in the same way that marching across no-man’s land in WW1 was practice for winning the war. Bodies stretching out as far as the eye can see, all expended for the chance of a distant victory.
How does it get away with such (aha!) trial and error gameplay, when it’d normally be eviscerated for it? Easily. Literally easily, through integrating a single function based on a single button press. An instant restart. Mixed with expertly judged respawn points, the masochistic challenge of getting a bike to go over a ramp is the only thing which frustrates you – there’s no intro scenes, no loading pauses, nothing external to the the experience of actual play which inevitably turns it poisonous.
Trials 2 is a videogame folk-standard executed with 21st century elan. Of all our games of the year, it’s the one which has moved on least from the fundamentals of what videogames used to be. All this proves is that the fundamentals are fundamentally awesome.