Version tested: Xbox 360
As much as I love Trials Evolution - and for those of you who weren't around in April, I love it nine times out of ten - I have strayed from its charms in recent months. I've been busy wrapping my brain around Fez, mining the shifting sands of Spelunky, and subjecting my various gaming disc trays to a rotating cast of shooty and sporty pleasures. For a year at the end of a generation where everything is supposed to be a brown shooter with a "3" on the end of it, it's been surprisingly hard to keep up with all the good stuff.
So, if nothing else, the release of new downloadable content pack Origin of Pain is a great excuse to check in on Trials Evolution again and see how people are getting on with the level editor. And you know what? It turns out people are getting on very well with it. The complex tool that developer RedLynx used to make the game in the first place has now passed through the hands of thousands of dedicated amateurs, and their seemingly endless creativity and ingenuity is all available for you to sample. There are challenging new technical tracks to inch your way over tread by tread, and a host of quirky full game concepts that wouldn't look out of place being sold separately on the Indie Games channel.
RedLynx is understandably proud of its community, and draws attention to some of its best handiwork in a boxout on the game's main menu. But the sheer depth and quality of its fans' output does mean that Origin of Pain has a lot to live up to. After all, with so much free high-quality entertainment tucked barely a menu away, why spend another 400 Microsoft Points just to get a couple of dozen official new levels and a few trinkets?
One really good answer is the BMX. For the first time in a Trials game, you have the option to jump on a push-bike rather than the motorised variety, and the difference in weight, balance and acceleration is enough to keep you plentifully entertained as you tour the new levels to work through the implications. The BMX is a zesty little conveyance, squirting you out of the blocks so fast that you risk tumbling over backwards more than ever, but its light weight also gives you extra juice in situations where you couldn't previously locate it. Perhaps the most refreshing thing though is the near-silence that accompanies you; as your rider pedals furiously atop the bike's quivering metal frame, soaring through the peaceful skies above a Japanese rock garden, RedLynx can break out the twinkling piano and let the sound of rushing waterfalls mingle with birdsong.
That's only one of Paine Island's levels, though, and there are barely two that are alike. One moment you're sprinting through the candy stripes, drum-rolls and clown cackles of a rotting carnival, the next you're splashing through shallows under cannon fire from Spanish galleons, and then you're climbing up a hill through the wreckage of a crashed plane. And that's just the first three levels. There's plenty more colour, slapstick and screwball design to come, as well as a few levels inspired by indie games and a couple of nods to the series' past.
"If you're someone like me who returns to Trials at intervals, then Origin of Pain is a great opportunity to catch up"
There are also two new Skill Games, one of which is another fire-you-out-of-a-cannon throwaway, while the other is a more interesting game of seeing how high you can climb through stacked ramps and near-vertical ascents before tumbling over backwards. And of course there are new course editor objects based on the Paine Island level designs, a few new tournaments, and some new multiplayer settings. It will take you a couple of hours to see everything, but the lure of Trials has always been what the guy above you on the leaderboard is doing - and even if you beat most of the gold-medal times quite quickly, you can still lose many evenings to-ing and fro-ing with friends and strangers on the boards and downloading replays to learn new tricks and shortcuts.
Perhaps the most dedicated Trials fans aren't the best served here. They are the ones most likely to baulk at the inclusion of only three new Extreme levels, to feel short-changed compared to the oceanic depths of the existing menus of user-designed tracks, and to quibble over being 'forced' to download the add-on to keep their global score - derived from performance across every track and discipline in the game - near the top of the pile. The game does at least offer different boards to separate those who only have Evolution from the people who own Evolution and the DLC. The prospect of splintered leaderboards is presumably also why the BMX is unavailable in the game's original levels, which is perhaps the most frustrating thing about Origin of Pain.
But then surely the hardcore Trials fans can't begrudge RedLynx a little more income - and 400 Microsoft Points, or £3.40, is less than a pint of beer in some parts of the UK - after extracting so much pleasure from a game that was so very generous with its content and tools in the first place. And if you're someone like me who returns to Trials at intervals, then Origin of Pain is a great opportunity to catch up on months of fantastic user-generated content, explore the possibilities of an interesting new bike, and savour another few dozen challenging and imaginative courses from the team that really put trials riding on the gaming map. Nine more times out of ten, then.
9 / 10