Controllers worldwide are being wrenched in hands. Exquisite joy spreads from achieving what seemed impossible. Crushing frustration crashes in waves over those who struggle against the challenges laid before them. Friends battle friends in the arena of skill and machines, each vying to come out on top. At the other side of the screen, skilled craftsmen imagine courses to boggle the mind while infusing the heart with joy. All these signs can mean only one thing, there’s a new Trials game on the shelves named Trials Fusion. A question has to be asked of this stalwart of the previous generation though, does it pull the franchise into the next generation?
Riding motorcycles through a three-dimensional environment across a two-dimensional plane is the name of the game in Trials, and Fusion doesn’t step away from this tried and tested system. This continues into the controls, however a minor addition lives in this gearbox. Holding the right trigger for acceleration and left trigger for braking while shifting the weight of your poor rider – who spends more time being a glutton for punishment than a shining example of skill – using the left analogue stick. That’s it. Nothing else is needed and for good reason, adding too much more to the system would be not only unwanted, but unwarranted.
That being said, remember that minor addition? The right analogue stick now has a use. Your right thumb will no longer be hovering helplessly while Mr. Left Thumb and his Index buddies share the glory. Now it has the role of trick-digit. By holding the right stick in a variety of directions the rider can perform death-defying stunts with ease. RedLynx didn’t go over board by making the trick directions over complicated thumb exercises though, instead sticking to a simple method of shifting the stick in a given direction to let loose a stunt. While the bike is level holding the right stick down will perform the Brave Warrior position. Angle the bike at 90 degrees however and you’ll instead be performing Going Up. The magic of this system comes in adding a little extra to the game which doesn’t detract from the core experience, rather adding to it to raise a few smiles and bring variation which could just as easily have been ignored.
At is core Trials Fusion follows the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of sequel design. Tracks stretch out to the horizon in all manner of different difficulties. Trials fans will fall back into the time-destroying gameplay of Fusion, there are no jarring changes to bunny-hop over. In theory it’s possible to sneakily switch out Evolution and Fusion, besides the updated visuals many people would be none the wiser. This is a good thing, what made Evolution and HD perfect was just how well each felt. Experienced players will wheelie through the opening three chapters before having any problems. The first few courses are fairly basic beginner tracks which exist it seems with the sole purpose of edging newcomers into the franchise. Guiding a new player slowly through each course with the holy trinity of attention grabbers: engaging gameplay, clever narration, and eye-snatching spectacle.
The most important part of any game is the first 30 minutes. Some throw you straight into battle with incredible set-pieces but offer no context and little instruction. Others may prepare you for the experience ahead while providing no attention-grabbing reason to bother playing. Trials Fusion manages to nail this in part thanks to the humorous yet informative voiceovers provided by Cindy, paired with enjoyable tracks. Slow climbs pair up with high-speed ramps, all leading to high-speed trailblazing in front of visually astounding backgrounds. Each of the tracks Redlynx have made slot together beautifully, earlier levels let you enjoy and learn as later tracks will throw up a brick wall forcing deep thought.
The final zone in particular is a daunting prospect even for the most experienced among the fan base. Every section of track in this last segment can take upwards of 50 attempts to figure out. Should you get to the end you’re awarded with a nice bronze medal which is all well and good, but everyone knows going for gold is the way to play. Cue hours of lip-biting and suspected brain hemorrhaging which inevitably leads to success. This stands as the greatest design aspect of Trials Fusion, if you work hard and hone your skills victory can be achieved. The impossible can be overcome with a little hard work — plus a few bite marks in your controller/keyboard.
Reversing back to the track visuals for a moment we find everything is in order. Courses are laid out with pinpoint perfection and look more like works of art than simple courses but that’s not where the greatest visual delights lie. They are behind the course. Background action and objects in Trials Fusion make the game look utterly fantastic. Aircraft slam into wind turbines across fields of near-future buildings in one world as the next sits within a tropical rain forest of trees and ancient temples. It seems odd at first for RedLynx to spend so long on these backdrops when most people will be too intently focused on navigating fiendish courses to even breathe at times, but with a little thought it makes sense. The brief glimpses you take in of the backing are often so awe-inspiring that they simply add to the experience, that strange power Trials as a series has held onto across console generations.
It’s also held it across platforms as this is the first Trials game to see release on the PS4. Trials Fusion is the first title in the franchise to properly branch across platforms outside of Microsoft’s Xbox console series and Windows. Spending some time with both versions on next generation consoles as well as PC, they play exactly the same and feel as smooth as their comrades in terms of gameplay. The Xbox One version has been well-documented to run in a lower resolution than the PS4 edition (900p as opposed to 1080p) but that’s ok because it still looks as good and runs just as well right? Well.. sadly no.
The Xbox One version isn’t a bad version by any stretch of the term but there are visual bugs which rear their ugly heads all too often. Textures pop-in when you restart a track or return to an off-screen checkpoint at a frequency which errs on the side of being too common. During busy courses this can resurface in some distracting screen tearing. A decade ago this was excusable but now, especially when you factor in the reduced resolution and the power of the Xbox One, this technical issue glares back from the screen. Especially in Trials Fusion which puts great importance on precise gameplay only to have the screen tear frantically at certain points.
This doesn’t make the game unplayable however and could probably be patched out quickly, fingers crossed Trials fans.
Musical accompaniment takes the form of techno/trance arrangements, the title track in particular is a breathtaking display of how what should be a terrible song with the lyrics “Welcome to the future, man, machine, in fusion” on repeat still rolls a smile across the face. The bikes sound like..well like motorcycles and so do the other two vehicles. Other vehicles you say? Yes there’s a Quad Bike – the TKO Panda – which has incredible power but can only be used on a few tracks and upon completing a certain part of the game a pedal bike named the Rabbit is unlocked. What might appear to be a bit of a joke unlock is actually surprisingly versatile and can be used to great effect on most tracks when you dive back in – because you will.
Trials Fusion isn’t a game you can just play once or leave. Shaving seconds off your time turns from a little light entertainment to your number one priority over eating and bodily functions. Almost like an infection which grasps onto your brain stem, thoughts at work of the daily routine are replaced with course runs from memory to find precious seconds in a track. The best part of this? Every tenth of a second feels like a victory. You may only cross the line one hundredth of a second earlier than in your best run but that hundredth of a second is enough to keep you trying and trying.
Perseverance pays off in Trials through a number of rewards. The most important is getting higher on the leaderboards (obviously) which due to the amount of players online always gives you a buzz. The battle between 600 and 700 can be as tense as 6000-7000, a competitive edge to gaming where you are going to consistently see visible progression with no following sadness from having competitors cheering about their skills at the end of the game. Playing enough will increase your in-game level which opens up more crazy customisation options in the form of outfits. These range from your standard Fallout-esque bandit to what can only be described as a direct rip off of the robot highway patrolman in Star Trek (2009). All items of clothing and bikes can be coloured differently to make you stand out from the crowd. Want to be a bright pink Wasteland Warrior, or maybe wear a green-tinted Hazmat Suit while riding a bright orange pedal bike? Thanks to Trials Fusion, you can!
With this being a modern game, time to look at the multiplayer options. First up there’s the track editor. At the time of writing on the Xbox One version alone player-created tracks number 2937. There are tracks coming out every few minutes, but none of them are vetted so often don’t come close to being enjoyable. Instead a large number seem to be difficult for the sake of being difficult or an untested mess build from a Lego set which can create amazing pieces of level design… assuming the person using it isn’t a ham-fisted halfwit who can’t divine the difference between an arsehole and an air filter. What’s confusing is the lack of a tutorial included in the game. Not that there’s no tutorial, you can follow a link upon first opening the Track Editor which takes you to a series of in-depth tutorials by RedLynx themselves.
The problem? Only the most dedicated creator is going to look at these, everyone else is going to fumble through to try to make half decent tracks. RedLynx could have taken the already existing character of Cindy and paired her with a basic tutorial to make the creator less of a daunting prospect for wannabe track builders. Media Molecule build a fantastic system of tutorials with the vocal help of Stephen Fry to make engaging and informative tutorials because User Generated Content is the basis of Little Big Planet’s longevity. The back of the boxed version states that you can “Enjoy UNLIMITED HOURS OF GAMEPLAY with the infinite creativity of the community” so this is obviously a major focus of Fusion. And yet, the majority of creatives are not going to take the time to try simply because there’s no way to learn the powerful system without taking time away from the game you bought. This is the only serious sin of Trials Fusion, asking the player to stop playing your game is bound to end in tears.
The multiplayer listed as a feature too, is local co-op only, so for a swathe of Trials players this is no longer an option. This is a great shame because the multiplayer courses are great fun even alone. Add to this a Step Into The Light Mode which essentially is a ploy to get you trying Trials Frontier. Not an unheard of method but if you’ve got an Android device in the UK at the time of writing, you’re not getting part of the experience for your money. Speaking of currently unavailable experiences, a mysterious option sits between Track Central and Multiplayer simply called Pyrosequencing and selecting it does exactly jack. Whether this is a yet unreleased mode or part of the Season Pass (which costs the same as the full title if both are purchased separately) remains to be seen.
These problems however don’t detract from the core Trials experience. The explosive joy that can only come from completing that expert course or besting your friend on a course he’s been bragging about on Twitter for the past day are Trials. Fusion nails the traditional experience hard into a wall adding some impressive features and visuals that add more to the game than you might expect. Yes there are a few issues that could be patched out or dealt with in time but as an experience to break up those endless nights on Titanfall or battling against hunger in Don’t Starve, Trials Fusion is well worth the price.
This was a review based upon the Xbox One copy Trials Fusion with a small amount of time on both the PlayStation 4 and PC Versions. The Game is available for PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4.