It's ten years since a physics-based motorbike game pushed a Swiss telecom company way past its bandwidth limits. A free Flash game on Miniclip.com became fatally viral around the Netherlands, Belgium and the Ukraine. The secret was a combination of simple controls, and the ability to use those controls to pull off stunts that ten minutes ago seemed impossible. The problem was how to make money out of it.
This was before Half-Life 2 came out, so PC gamers had yet to have an elegant digital distribution platform forced onto them. And the nascent Xbox Live Arcade had yet to attract much in the way of credible titles. So for a few years, Trials suffered from epitomising a mid-price game tier that didn't yet exist.
Trials is now a two-wheeled juggernaut, but the essence is still the same as that Flash game. Go faster and slower, and lean forwards and back. The grey factories have exploded into a world of blue, red and black skies. The physics have been refined to make every bounce on the suspension more believable, and every ragdoll crash more absurd. And one of the industry's most generous and surprisingly flexible track editors has tested the creativity of the community, who've proved themselves to the point where more than one RedLynx fan has become a RedLynx employee.
But with that excess of player-created levels, and the fact that Trials is such a tightly-defined game, it's natural to question what purpose a sequel could add to the current tally of 650,000 levels. There's no bunny-hop or switch jump we haven't achieved, and no steep incline we haven't desperately lunged forward on, praying that our back wheel doesn't come off the track, sending us plunging backwards into a packet of C4. But Trials Fusion offers more. More spectacle, as dams burst and planes swoop overhead. More skill games, that use the physics engine for leaderboard-led party games. And bizarrely, for a game about just riding on a bike, there's more... story.
That's not to say there are cutscenes, beyond the spectacular nonsense that happens in the background of the levels. And you'll be reassured to hear that no one's going on an emotional journey. But RedLynx has always given players layers of hidden depth - Trials Evolution involved a ridiculously involved meta-game that will only be resolved in 2104, when the people who discovered four keys in the real world meet under the Eiffel Tower. So expect more in the way of meta riddles, scene-building commentary, and tongue-in-cheek philoso-psychology in phrases like "when you wake up, are you the same person who went to sleep?"
If you're not playing the game, you're in a position to enjoy the background action, as dams explode, fighter jets sweep overhead, and wind-farms collapse. The sense of humour has been nailed, with increasingly ridiculous fates befalling our hero at the end of the levels: he's minced by fans, carried away into a furnace, and set upon by five cruise liners. This is a team that knows how to ride the sine-wave of repetitive comedy. Three would have been good. Four wouldn't have been funny at all. Five ocean liners landing on a man's head is comedy genius.
Trials Evolution's secrets were mostly in the form of well-hidden squirrels. For Fusion, RedLynx is testing the limits of how much you can legitimately conceal in a 2D plane. Each of the tracks has three unique challenges attached. From the limited tracks we played, a pattern emerged: one challenge will be something acrobatic, such as trying to pack in a certain number of flips. Other challenges are more involved, with greater rewards.
One secret involves falling into a hot spring, where you're investigated by a group of penguins who look suspiciously like they're wearing penguin suits. Better still, 'Darkside' involves finding a button on the map, and reversing onto it for ten seconds. Do so, and you'll find yourself on a much tougher night version of the map. It's on this level, and the Inferno levels, that you'll be thankful RedLynx has upped the maximum number of tries for a level from 250 to 500. Don't laugh. You'll probably need them.