Trials 2: Second Edition Review (PC)
You know you are dealing with a relatively unknown developer when its most well-known titles are a pair of turn-based strategy games for Nokia’s infamous N-Gage.
But despite developer RedLynx’s inexperience on "standard" gaming platforms, or even with the racing genre in general, Trials 2 still ends up being one of the most unique, enjoyable racers in recent memory, in part because it is more than just a racing game –- it is also an obstacle course, a stunt arena and a reminder of just how difficult it is to control the forces of gravity and inertia when your 150 pounds of flesh are high in the air, holding onto 250 pounds of bone-crunching metal.
Separating Itself From the Pack
Like most racing games, the primary goal of Trials 2’s 55 "normal" tracks is to make your way from the starting blocks to the finish line as quickly as possible.
But even before you can finish your first "easy" course, you will likely discover that getting from start to finish in Trials 2 requires a lot more than proper braking and turning techniques.
In fact, there are no turns to speak of in Trials 2, as the game takes place inside a limited 2-D plane, where the only direction you have to worry about is to the right.
You will not have to worry about other riders messing you up either, because like rally racing, Trials 2 is all about a lone rider trying to navigate a series of obstacles that he must climb, jump or bounce his bike over without crashing.
However, as you progress from the relatively flat and smooth "tutorial" tracks to the steeper, bumpier "easy" tracks, you will soon discover that it is not so easy to "go right" when a small piece of plywood becomes the only way to propel your bike over a fiery stack of oil drums.
Then as you move on to "medium" and "hard" difficulties, you will come to realize that getting your bike airborne is only half the battle in Trials 2. In fact, the game starts to feel more like gymnastics because how you land often becomes more important than what you did while you were flying above the ground.
Learn To Fly
Like a lot of great racing games, controlling your vehicle in Trials 2 is as simple as it is difficult. It is simple because the game only makes you use the four arrow keys –- "up" for the throttle, "down" for the brake, "left" to lean back, "right" to lean forward. It is difficult, however, because knowing how to use those four keys to get your rider up, over and safely down obstacles is either going to require a strong knowledge of motorbike physics or a willingness to experiment with trial and error.
As you progress through the 65 total tracks, Trials 2 will force you to learn just about every skill and stunt you can think of on a motorbike. Each course will take you on a roller-coaster ride of loops, bumps and jumps until you mercifully cross the finish line or your rider is impaled, crushed or launched to his death in a sadistic, but humorous fashion.
Given how demanding the game’s obstacles can be at times, it is definitely a positive that the crashes are just as amusing as they are defeating. Trials 2’s rag-doll animations and accompanying sound effects are guaranteed to get a reaction out of you, and anyone else who happens to be within earshot of the "OOOHs" and "UH-OHs" you will catch yourself hollering as you watch the poor rider get crushed and thrown around like gravel on a kindergarten playground.
Heck, you can break pretty much every bone in your rider’s body -- there is even an achievement for doing so, and sadly, it is the only one of the 25 I have been able to get. And thanks to the game’s generous checkpoint system, which marks each individual obstacle on the course, your rider will still get back on the bike as quickly as you can press the Backspace button.
Since there are no "lives" or "continues" to worry about, and there is no real penalty for crashing other than losing time on your run, Trials 2 really has a nice system set in place. It allows you to focus solely on clearing the obstacles in front of you, rather than dealing with any of the superficial annoyances that can be found in other racing games (e.g., running out of time/extra lives/continues or having to replay the easy parts to get to the hard parts).
"I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light"
Make no mistake about it, as great as the checkpoint system is, Trials 2 still is not a game for the short-tempered, the easily frustrated, or anyone who cannot stomach heavy doses of failure and defeat.
While this author is fortunate enough to not be one of those people, Trials 2 still needs to be recommended with the above Shakespeare quote in mind. Honestly, some people who have merely watched me play the game have become so frustrated that they had to get up and leave the room.
And if someone can get that mad from simply watching another player fail, I can only imagine how much angrier that person could get when he/she had to experience the failure firsthand.
But for the players who have the patience and persistence to keep propping their lifeless rag-doll back on the bike, there is a real sense of reward that comes from understanding how to maneuver your bike and finally make it over that one nagging jump you have been calling dirty names for the last five minutes.
After a few hours of ripping off profanities at the expense of inanimate objects, you might even reach the point where the "easy" difficulty courses start to feel more like exciting roller-coaster rides than sadistic experiments where you are trying to figure out how many different ways you can crash into that "stupid (expletive deleted) tire!"
Who knows, after the hour clock starts creeping closer to double-digits, you might even start showing off a little by turning normal jumps into killer backflips.
And if the time ever comes where your global rankings have gone from the tens of thousands to the just-plain tens, you can even upload videos of your best runs onto the game’s website so the rest of the world can see what it is like to be able to make it more than a checkpoint or two without breaking any bones.
Go Big or...Go Back To Playing
Sadly, replay uploads are the only real way that the community can interact with Trials 2, as there is no track editor available at this time. The developers have said that they do not want consumer-made courses to mess with all the hard work they do to maintain the integrity of the excellent individual and team leaderboards that did make it into the game.
But even if the feature list is fairly bare, the simple, addictive gameplay is deep enough, challenging enough and rewarding enough to make me look past that. You probably will not make it through all 65 of the game’s courses for quite some time -- and that is OK -- because every jump, every bump, every loop you come across could potentially mean something amazing is about to happen, whether that be a spectacular double backflip or a ridiculous face-plant.
Really, it is the face-plants that make Trials 2 the success that it is. In a game where failure is common, the ability to make failure at once humorous and also painless (for the gamer, at least, the rider, not so much) goes a long way towards making Trials 2 a memorable challenge whose rewards far outweigh the costs ($10 via Steam).
Racing fans, here is your Everest, should you wish to conquer it.
Gameplay: The realism will break you. And you will love it. Show this one to your science teachers as proof that physics experiments can be fun.
Graphics: For an "indie game," it actually shows off some great lighting and particle effects on high-end machines; it scales well to laptops and older machines, too.
Sound: Sound effects contribute good humor, but the music is a forgettable mix of MIDI metal and techno.
Entertainment Value: A game that is as fun to play as it is to watch, recommended to everyone with low blood pressure and a high threshold for failure.
Learning Curve: Steep, but rewarding once you start to figure things out. Success often requires patience, persistence and a good bit of trial and error.