The quintessential Trials moment comes just after a mistimed jump which has left the angle of an obstacle wedged between your front and back tire. As you teeter on the edge, wobbling between a state of triumph and faulting-failure like some kind of Schrodinger’s motorcycle, you start to feel yourself rocking your actual body back and forth; willing the machine onwards with exterior physical force. For a videogame, Trials Fusion really offers quite a varied range of impromptu contortion exercises.
Creating a Trials sequel is an unenviable task. The ideal control scheme and progression formula came together some time ago, which doesn’t leave RedLynx a whole lot of options. Releasing a new set of tracks with some extra graphical flourishes is the safe choice, but risks legitimate criticism about a lack of ambition. Attempting to add a bunch of new features, though, could dilute the series’ straightforward structure with unnecessary baggage.
Trials Fusion kind of does both, and comes out of the sequel spin with a somewhat inelegant but successful landing. It should be of particular interest to PC players, as the stand-out of the Trials series (Evolution) made a clumsy jump to our platform and was beset by technical problems. This one seems to be an improvement in that area.
I’m hardly a universal sample, but Trials Fusion held a solid 60fps on my i3-2100 / 8 GB / 7870 machine and, aside from a spot of texture pop-in when restarting races, didn’t exhibit any technical issues of note. There were, however, atrocious loading times for getting to the Outfits and Garage pages, which dissuaded me from doing much in the way of customising my attire as the 30 second wait wasn’t ever really worth it. It’d be easy to blame Ubisoft’s Uplay platform (once again required for the game) for this, though neither downloading replays or loading fresh tracks took anywhere close to that length of time.
I did encounter a problem with viewing leaderboard track replays where a “replay data is incomplete” error would pop up part way through, but it’s claimed that a release day patch will fix this issue.
It’s also impossible to say how well Uplay will handle online multiplayer at this point, as Trials Fusion plans to include that option at a later date. The launch version of the game will only include local multiplayer.
Success and a larger budget haven’t blunted the off-kilter sense of the bizarre that RedLynx brings to the series. Trials Fusion has a plethora of inventive, post-finish death sequences, weird mid-race objectives like playing a round of tennis against a Penguin (Roger Featherer?) and a very silly storyline about AIs, cloning and whether a disembodied voice could ever find true love with a Trials rider. The in-race quips are amusing in a ‘dad joke’ type way a couple of times around, and it’s (fortunately) possible to turn them off when it comes time to replay and replay and replay the course. Even the unlockable outfits (with names like Enforcer and Excavator) hint at some strange backstory that’s never really explained beyond “it is the future.”
Speaking of which, the intro song to this game is a work of cheesy, brain-infecting joy. An anthemic peon to motorcycles, evolution and utopian living. Welcome to the future indeed.
The theme permeates the level aesthetics, without dominating it entirely. You’ll be riding through just as many archaeological temple digs (I guess that’s what the Excavators do) as semi-futuristic park lands. From stages that take place in full silhouette to those which have you flipping over giant blimps onto neon tracks, the Trials Fusion design team have put plenty of variety into their tracks. Each one also has a huge variety of background detail, if you can find time to look for it between trying to nail another perfect bunny-hop landing.
The basic controls feel unchanged (accelerate, break, leaning,) but Trials Fusion is kind enough to include a gradual incline of training tracks hosted by amorous AI Cindy, so newer players are assured of some schooling in more advanced techniques.
However, one of Fusion’s main additions does expand the control repertoire, with mixed results. FMX tricks are introduced after the opening third of the career mode and get a handful of their own trick-centric tracks. Once you know how to perform them it’s possible to break out FMX tricks on regular tracks as well, but this is only really useful in a few specific circumstances or if you’re trying to eke out a superior time (intentionally or not, certain tricks seem to give you a slight speed boost.) There’s a certain comedic value in striking a “Proud Hero” pose at every possible opportunity as well.
In fact, comedy is most of what the FMX system has going for it. Flicking the right stick (or pressing whatever key you defined for it, if you’re brave enough to use a keyboard for Trials) while the bike is in flight will send the rider into a different trick pose, depending on the concurrent angle of the cycle. So, if you bike is level(ish) in the air and you push left on the stick, he’ll hang off the back of the seat in a “Superman.”
The wobbly rider physics tend to make this look hilarious, but the problem with the whole system is that it demands precision in where the bike is positioned but doesn’t return the favour. Trials Fusion seems a little inconsistent about the tricks it actually decides to register while you’re in the air, and doesn’t really offer the kind of close control you’d need to pull off specific FMX styles. It’s different enough to provide a temporary distraction from the regular tracks, but I get the feeling that this is a feature that in future Trials reviews will be praised for how much its been tightened up.
The introduction of an ATV works better. It’s a heavier vehicle than the bikes and has its own set of fairly straightforward tracks. You can also go back and use it on certain earlier stages. I welcomed these levels as a relatively easy opportunity to rack up a few more gold medals, but the point of their introduction (half-way through career mode) contributes to Trials Fusion’s inability to progressively scale up the complexity of stages.
Like the absurd slopes the game loves so much, the progression from “Medium” tracks (which you’ll still be tackling 30-some stages in) to “Hard” is steep and perilous. Having tracks this punishing is no bad thing at all, but their introduction is sudden and quite jarring. If you’re a Trials veteran, sleep-walking through the tracks presented up to this point may seem quite dull, and if you’re a newcomer or occasional Trials player you’ll hit a brutal wall. What’s missing is a series of tracks to bridge the gap, perhaps in place of some of the Beginner courses that you can finish by just holding down accelerate.
Then there are the stages labeled Extreme. Now, we have a general policy here at IncGamers that we’ll make every effort to finish every game we review. Folks, I did not complete all of the Extreme tracks. I’m sorry. Nor am I ever likely to see the special super-Extreme tracks that are said to open up if you do a faultless Extreme run. These stages are so sadistic and punishing, that I found myself going back to the Dark Souls 2 PC review code just to relax.
As an incentive for more experienced players to revisit the earlier, simple tracks, Trials Fusion adds a triplicate of challenges to each stage. Sometimes these demand the use of a bike that can only be unlocked later, and they include tasks like playing through the level in a ‘behind bike’ third-person view, finding secret portions of the track, or doing specific tricks and flips at certain points. Completing challenges earns additional experience points, so if you’re desperate to unlock every single outfit this is your best bet.
The return of the Trials level editor also adds a great unknown quantity. In prior games this (relatively) easy to use tool has led to impressive track longevity as people craft their own devious stage creations. This should be the case again, but in this pre-release PC code there are only about four tracks knocking about and half of them are just a straight-line cruise to the finish line. It’s safe to say this will change after release day, but it’s never too wise to judge a game on the amazing extras it might get later.
Given that it launches with less in it, it’s difficult for Trials Fusion to justify its price increase over Trials Evolution. That seems to be a unfortunate side-effect of just how successful the series has become (as is the inclusion of an always-unpleasant $20.00 ‘Season Pass’ DLC lottery.) But Trials is successful for a reason, and the factors that make this bike-gymnastics formula so addictive are just as present in Fusion as they were in previous entries. With Trials Evolution Gold a bit of a technical mess on PC, this latest edition should (post-launch servers permitting) actually present the better option; despite it being a slightly weaker game overall.