Trials Evolution finally came to PC shores a couple of weeks back. Rebranding itself the Gold Edition, and adding in a bunch of features unique to the PC, RedLynx has once more returned to the platform that gave them life, that they so cruelly spurned. Has it been worth the wait? Does it survive Uplay integration? Here's wot I think:
Trials Evolution is such a huge, overflowing bucket of fun to play. Utterly great. The most fun I've had with a game in ages. But wow, it's also a mess. The PC conversion of the long-imprisoned Xbox version is described as being the "Gold Edition", but I think it maybe should have awarded itself a Silver, and taken another run at it.
The core premise remains the same as its previous PC and XBLA incarnations - you're on a motorbike, jumping ridiculous obstacle courses. Pure, perfect idea, delivered absolutely splendidly. Great physics, refined controls, and a quick ramp up (fnarr) to monstrous difficulty, the formula is followed once again, and yet again improved upon. Hurrah!
Inside such a clusterfuck of a maze of menus, options, types of play, unlocked levels, bike types and race information. It's as if RedLynx had carefully built the game out of a tower intricate glass poles and playing cards, then calamitously tripped up when carrying it over to the PC, the resulting spilled disaster landing on our screens. Just getting to a race requires going through a ludicrous six menus, each spiralling off in multiple directions. Starting, you sort of guess your way to what is probably the beginning point, but eventually working your way through the simple - and absolutely fantastic - courses, you realise that's not enough to unlock the next bits. So off you go hunting again for where the rest of the game is. And so on.
Which is all very silly, since it's obfuscating an utterly brilliant time. As ever, Trials is wondrous in its execution, and this time out the courses are more brilliant than before.
What it gets so right - and never more so than in this edition - is recreating those childhood moments of building elaborate obstacle courses for toy cars and bikes out of books, plastic lids, spare bits of drainpipe, etc, and then seeing if your wind-back-and-let go playthings could make it across. Except here, as if the best fairy ever had visited, it's come to life!
Everything is hyperbole-to-the-ultra-max. Things meaninglessly explode around you as you race - vast quantities of nothing blowing up behind you, and maybe the track you're on disintegrating and exploding after you've ridden it. It's Richard Donner directing Jean-Claude Van Damme starring in your imagination aged 6: THE GAME.
Enormous, improbable routes go through construction sites, factories, parks, forests and the sky. Your path through them is two-dimensional, but elaborately so. You accelerate, brake, and balance your man (and it's only a man, for no discernable reason) on the bike, sitting back and leaning forward, intricately flicking and nudging your motion to pull off exquisite moves. Or more likely falling flat on your face into a landmine before screaming at the ceiling and stabbing 'restart' for the forty-seventh time, grimly determined that you'll clear it this time without a single fall, elated when you do.
The enormous numbers of checkpoints on each track ensure that you can get back on your bike within the split-second, and continue to the end. But that's never enough - you'll want perfectly, to start over. And here there's a small and enormously important change from Trials HD - it doesn't insist on running the countdown each time any more, instead giving you a single beat before a new run. Perfect again.
The tracks are so much more involved and varied this time out. While all the previous factory tracks seem to be in there (I haven't double-checked, but I certainly recognised a lot of them), there are dozens of completely new ones of a much greater scope. Longer, dafter, even taking enforced corners as you weave through the deranged courses, you're now able to soar madly into the sky, plummet hundreds of feet, and ride the moving parts of a construction site's machinery. There's less emphasis on the tiniest, fiddliest details of movement for much longer, giving a very important greater stretch of ambling fun before it gets down to its feverish difficulty levels. Which is to say, it doesn't get so hard, so quickly, meaning the average player is going to get a lot more out of it before they hit walls of frustration.
It's also packed with so many more completely extraneous details, little set pieces taking place in the background, invariably involving pyrotechnics. One level is set hundreds of feet in the air, with the ground below laid out like a map. Falling from an obstacle, I was waiting for it to fade out, but it didn't, my ragdoll avatar tumbling and tumbling and tumbling before hideously smacking into the field below. Not a texture, actually there.
And once you've worked out how the various groups of levels are so stupidly scattered about the menus, you can nip back and forth between them, garnering enough medals to unlock 'driver's licenses', that earn you better bikes, perhaps something more suited to going back and turning a few earlier silvers to golds, to see that all-important "100%" written on the group of tracks. It's always clumsy, but eventually less distracting.
Which cannot be said for the litany of bugs the game has shipped with. Even after a couple of weeks on sale, you'll find any number of forums filled with huge numbers of issues, mostly involving lag or texture issues. I've had both. Loading the game for the first time, I was bemused by the horrendous textures, staircase edges to everything, and blurry, PS1-looking feel. I had all the graphics set to the max, and yet was looking at something that looked like it running on "software". Eventually, hidden away on a RedLynx forum, I discovered that the current fix is to set the resolution to below 1280x1024, and then back up again to what you want. And idiotically, that works. And necessary every time I launch the game.
Worse, I simply can't run it at my desktop's native resolution of 2560x1440. After a few minutes of working fine, it will start to lag, only slightly, but instantly unplayably. Shifting things down to 1920x1080 sees it all running perfectly, but now of course in a smaller window on my monitor. That's been fine, but obviously not good enough.
Both issues have clearly arisen in the port from the 360 version, but neither should have been allowed through, especially not in something calling itself "Gold". Although neither is as egregious and arse-punchingly unacceptable as when bloody sodding Uplay put up an in-game message telling me my internet connection had dropped, midway through a run, completely obscuring the screen and meaning I obviously crashed. Never mind that my internet connection hadn't dropped and Uplay itself was still happily connected in the background. I could choose to quit the game, or carry on offline. I obviously chose the latter. Next race the bastard-faced window popped up again. Every single person responsible for this needs to be forced to spend the rest of their life having someone poke them in the eyes at every crucial moment in every film, TV show and videogame they see.
There's lots more on offer here too. There are "Skill Games", which give you challenges such as seeing how far you can get on a course with minimal fuel, no brakes and permanent throttle, on skis, and so on. Each is a little gimmicky, but they're a fun variation as you go along. There are tournaments, which string together a group of previous tracks in a row. There's a track editor, with two version - simple and complicated, for generating your own routes. And there's multiplayer, both local and online. I'd tell you what's in the online, but Uplay, despite being connected, is still claiming to be offline in the game.
Harrumph. But it's all worth it, because Trials Evolution is just raw, purest fun, freshly dug from the fun mines and shipped to your computer within the day. It's all-you-can-eat fun, and if you can eat the 5lb funburger, you get a prize of a giant pile of fun. It's a tour on the funbus around Funtown, Funopolis, Funtopia. It's pick-your-own fun, where you're allowed to eat as much fun as you like while you're picking. What I'm saying is, it's really fun. You should probably play it.