Thursday, August 28, 2008

Byte: Our last, best hope for fun times

My fingers hurt. I spent last night playing Trials 2 Second Edition, after being tipped off about how good it was in a comments thread on RPS (I know this is old, but it didn't form a blip on my radar at the time it came out). For any of you who haven't heard of it, it's basically the old TV series Kickstart as a game, except with more extreme tracks, broken bones, crazy physics and fatalities,and rather less Peter Purves. Have a look at the videos, if you're still a bit fuzzy on the concept.

I'm only really starting to make headway with the medium difficulty tracks now (I FINALLY completed one track last night after twelve minutes bashing away with a craptacular ONE HUNDRED faults), and despite having a degree in Physics, my poor brain struggles with some of the coordination required to time leaps, suspension bounces and flips. The only achievement (not that I give a crap about "achievements", as you know) I have so far is the one for killing the rider in a single fall. Actually, I'm very good at killing the rider, in some of the most gruesome ways. Falling into fire-filled pits, getting brained by overhanging pipes, face-planting into walls... you name it. The game has the most evocative pain grunts since Porrasturvat, and I have to stop myself from crying in laughter at some of the ways my poor rider smashes bones.

It's just as well that failure is so much fun, because otherwise the game could be a pretty frustrating experience, as some tracks are very hard to complete in anything other than a single fluid ride. You often don't seem to always get enough track to build up sufficient momentum to clear the next section if you restart from a checkpoint, which really ups the fault rate until you get so pissed off you restart the track from scratch or quit the track entirely. And just to make you feel really inadequate, you can watch replays of other people on the high score table, to see how it's done without breaking the rider's back. The mind boggles as to how much time some of these guys must have put into the game to be able to nail hard tracks without a single fall - I'm barely capable of doing the easy tracks without faults, and even then I'm a good five or ten seconds off the pace. (I think my best time on one of the tracks puts me up around the 3000 mark on the worldwide scores table) But being able to watch replays for everyone who's ever completed the track is a fantastic way of learning how to tackle the tracks, and you'll see that people with similar scores to you often approach tracks in a completely different way to you and wipe out at completely different points.

The best thing for me, however, is the simplicity of control. You control the bike using just four keys: throttle, brake, lean rider forward, lean rider back. It sounds simple, and it is, but within that there's a lot of subtlety as you balance the throttle against your centre of gravity and the adhesion and slope of the track. More complex techniques, like spring jumps (using the compression of the suspension as a catapult effect) require a lot of work to get the timing right, but just feel so awesome when you pull them off, such as when you use a spring jump at the end of a ramp to launch yourself fifteen feet into the air onto a raised platform. Even better are the loop ramps, which often require you to get your speed and momentum Just So, in order to do a backflip onto a platform from which you perform the next jump.

The track design is brilliant - fiendish in places, and judging from the standard of the medium tracks which I've unlocked so far, incredibly unforgiving at times. I was close to weeping last night when I failed one jump (the final obstacle on the Too Many Tires track) for the thirtieth time in a row, but that only made it all the sweeter when I finally cracked it. Despite the incredibly steep learning curve (more like a learning cliff), the game's a lot of fun to play, and because the tracks aren't too long, you can play it in bite-sized chunks, making it compulsively moreish. If you've not tried it yet, I heartily recommend it. You'll play it until your fingers ache.

And just to console you while you're getting your rider's legs, here's some reassurance that even the well-practiced stuff it up every now and again. Classy.
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