No game makes enemies out of friends quite like Trials Evolution. I spent about 45 minutes - "one last track" is what I told my ever-suffering girlfriend when she said she was going to bed - last night on the same 30 second long track, cursing bloody murder on two people on my Xbox Live so-called friends list, confounded at how they managed to make it to the end of the run without crashing once.
Trials Evolution is a physics-based puzzle game cleverly disguised as a dirtbike racer, where the aim is to get your little bogan across the finish line as quickly as possible - and without crashing. Each crash - or fault, as the game calls it - respawns you at a checkpoint, and the total is tallied at the end of the run, where your time and number of faults determine your ranking on the track.
On almost all runs a 'Gold' Medal is only awarded when you complete the track without ever crashing. At first I was happy to see a track give me a single fault as leeway - but I quickly learned to despise this, as it only happened on extremely difficult runs.
I needed zero faults for my last run of the night though, and this 'Medium' rated track was nail-pulling torture. Set in an abandoned sewer treatment facility, the course was littered with pipes which shot water, shoving you upwards and changing your trajectory. The game is full of classic platformer traits like this - plus other great novelty ideas, like a track mimicking a rollercoaster, or one based on indie favourite Limbo.
The pipes constantly flip your racer, so you have to lean your rider on his bike to redistribute your weight lest you over-rotate and slam your face into the ground. Ultimately the game is all about four buttons - left and right on a dpad/control stick and the left and right triggers. Using these you can get your rider through any obstacle - the challenge comes in getting into a mindset where you're constantly thinking about your rider's centre of gravity.
The reason I know how my efforts are matching up against my friends is thanks to the game's flawless integration of ghost times. Trials places a marker on the screen pointing to where your friends were on the track at any point in time. Using a point instead of a ghostly silhouette means your screen isn't obscured by the representations of your friends - instead you're just able to keep the pace (or not, if you keep crashing out as I was).
If you do actually want to see how your friends are making it through a course you can watch their replays via your high score screen - or you can watch the replays of anyone else (including those currently ranked #1 in the world) to see if they're doing something different to you. It's a passive sort of multiplayer which encourages you to return to the game later, and it's implemented beautifully.
Active multiplayer makes an appearance in Trials Evolution as well. Now you and three friends can race against one another, trying to to make it to the end of a track as quickly as possible. You can still fault, which costs you valuable tournament points, but there's an element of the classic racer Micro Machines embedded within as well - because all four racers occupy the one screen, if the racer in first outpaces the racer in last by too much fourth place will be crashed and reset to a checkpoint further up the track.
The maps in this MP appear to be inspired by singleplayer tracks - which means you have a slight advantage if you've played the game a lot - but because it's the perfect sort of multiplayer game to kick on after a night out, there's a decent chance any advantage you have will be negated by that great equaliser - beer.
The game isn't all riding dirtbikes over hills though. The beautiful bastards at Red Lynx mix things up with a host of special game modes. My favourite is one where your bike is replaced with skis and you have to do flips off jumps like a downhill skier - all while also making it as far down the track as possible. Others include landing a UFO on platforms, a challenging Marble Madness clone and an unbelievably frustrating mode where your bike's throttle is jammed on and you can't brake - the challenge being to simply survive for as long as you can.
As if this wasn't enough, you can then throw a full-blown track editor on top of the whole shebang, allowing you to create and share your own tracks with your friends. You've got all the same tools as the developers, so you're basically only limited by your imagination and by how much you want your friends to hate you.
Ultimately your friends will hate you no matter what though. Take Sewage Plant - my personal Waterloo - eventually finished by yours truly with zero faults. It took me dozens - no, scores - of attempts, but I conquered it. I mean, I sort of did. I managed to beat one friend by more than a second - and that time will sit there, taunting him. I'm firmly stuck behind the other guy though.
With an intensely addictive gameplay model - the sort usually seen in the likes of Angry Birds - and expertly created tracks and game modes, Trials Evolution is a must-buy. And ultimately I know how this story ends - I'll keep trying until I have the best time. I guess a few more attempts can't hurt, right? What's another 45 minutes mean in the grand scheme of things?