Version tested: Xbox 360
Did I like Trials HD? This tentative email enquiry from Eurogamer editor Tom Bramwell was more loaded than he perhaps realised. Yes, of course I like Trials HD. I love it, because I have a soul and people who do not love Trials HD are hollow, empty creatures. Would I like to review the first dose of DLC, the boastfully titled BIG Pack? Again, the answer was an emphatic yes. But professional duty meant that it came with a humiliating confession: as much as I love Trials HD, I'm very, very rubbish at it.
It can't have come as a surprise - after all, Tom sits atop my Friends leaderboard on virtually every course, his inhuman dexterity writ large with brisk times and impossibly few faults. I'm somewhere near the bottom, with times that are more tortoise than hare, and faults soaring into triple figures (current record: 172 faults on Technique!). My shame is there for Tom - nay, the world - to see.
Thankfully, the fact that Trials HD apparently turns my usually skilled fingers to floppy rubber doesn't matter. Not just for Tom, the kindest, most gentle taskmaster in the history of games journalism, but for the game itself. Trials HD is that most wonderful of things - a game where it's not just okay, but downright fun to be crap.
It's a game that shines for those lofty God-like beings striving to shave an extra second off their perfect runs, while also thrilling mere mortals like myself, clawing our way through each track from checkpoint to checkpoint, each green light a desperately needed resting place, spending more time flailing at the edge of control, crushed and splattered rather than roaring majestically to victory.
Either way, it's a hoot, offering the sort of immersion that even the biggest, most detailed RPG world can't hope to compete with: being able to feel the thing under your control, involuntarily moving along with it, so complete is the connection between player and game. To be able to cater to the best and worst among us, offering these tangible pleasures for all while also rewarding dedication and the persistent application of skill, is truly something to applaud, and so it goes without saying that this temptingly priced expansion (400 Microsoft Points) continues to showcase this rather breathtaking precision design from developer RedLynx. Is it more of the same? Mostly yes, and that's why it's so great.
New courses make up the meat of the package, effectively doubling the Medium and Hard tiers of the game and adding a couple of extra Extreme challenges for the truly masterful to boot. They're an agreeably eclectic selection, covering most of the subtle variations that make Trials so much fun. For those who enjoy the technical challenge of mastering tricky jumps and manoeuvring a bike up and over simple yet devilish obstacles, there are the likes of Workshop of Secrets, Pro Speedway, Final Flashback and Junkyard.
If you prefer the more woo-hooooo levels, with the massive leaps, explosions and other action movie ballast then the pack also provides for you. Condemned Complex and Prison Break find you racing through blazing and broken environments, hurtling through plate glass, dodging flames and negotiating tilting floors.
There are even a few levels that take the game into even more outré directions. Dangerous Ride involves surfing on cars as they rattle down makeshift tracks. 1 Bit Trip recasts the game in the form of its retro inspirations, retaining the physics but swapping the graphics for bold neon green and black angular shapes. It's sly, witty and a fine way of shutting up those irritatingly smug detractors who dismissively bring up Trials' debt to games like Kikstart and Wheelie, as if that was a) some sort of dirty secret or b) a bad thing.
Space Station is another quirky level, and shows off one of the new physics tweaks made available by the BIG Pack. Played entirely in low gravity, navigating this Alien-inspired location is made trickier by the way small movements now have big effects. Seemingly designed to test those who've grown complacent in their bike handling, it's both challenging and entertaining.
Elsewhere, less showy courses still provide their moments of brilliance. Wheels of Misfortune is all swooping ramps and rotating monster tyres, stretching your ability not only to maintain momentum but to use sudden shifts in direction to your advantage. Skyway uses springboards, trampolines and giant fans to create a dizzying aerial gauntlet which offers little room for error.
But I'm going to stop myself there, since the temptation to rattle on about every inspiring moment is strong and YouTube is no doubt already groaning with footage of every new track. Truly expert riders may only find a few of these fresh courses offer a genuinely tough challenge, but for the vast majority of players it's a shrewdly pitched selection. Some you'll breeze through but have a whale of a time doing so. Others you'll obsess over for weeks, trying to crack some fiendish obstacle or improve on a score you know isn't good enough. For all its great ideas, Trials HD is nothing if not a motivator for self-improvement.
The only area where this pack disappoints is in the Skill Games. 12 more are on offer, but they're all new versions of the old standards. Given the new physics objects, and the multitude of crazy gameplay avenues they open up, repeating the same bone-breaking, ball-rolling, ski-jumping challenges feels less exciting this time around. All these new objects are unlocked for use in the editor, however, so there's no reason why you can't make your own fun with them.
That small quibble aside, the BIG Pack is DLC done deliciously right. It not only expands the game in the right way, but does so in the right places, at the sweet spot where challenge and vindication overlap. For the price, there's no reason why anyone besotted with Trials HD shouldn't jump in.
9 / 10