Also On: Xbox 360, PC
Developer: RedLynx, Ubisoft Shanghai, Ubisoft Kiev
For many, the long-running Trials series is the kind of videogame that gamers love to hate. It can be a fun and/or frustrating experience depending on how you play it, your level of patience, how much of a perfectionist you are, and possibly the phase of the moon. Some days, you feel like one with your motorbike and can tackle the most difficult platforming elements with ease (and a dash of luck); other times, you'll want to fling your controller after failing what should be the most simple of bunny hops over and over. That's the beauty of the franchise, and Trials Fusion doesn't veer away from that formula much at all.
When Ubisoft picked up RedLynx and announced that the next Trials game would expand onto other platforms beyond the PC and Xbox, fans seemed excited yet skeptical. The cash infusion and developer support of a big publisher could help polish up the series and also pull in more fans that play primarily on other systems, including PlayStation and iOS gamers. That strategy appeared to have worked out pretty well for all parties so far, and although Fusion may not grab the platinum medal from Trials Evolution, it certainly puts up a great fight.
As the catchy/cheesy Trials Fusion theme song instructs us to do ("Welcome to the Future… man! machine! the fusion!"), the latest Trials game jumps into some bizarro future where motorbike events take place in environments with drones, rocket launches, wind farms, military bases and rampant (sometimes accidental) destruction everywhere. The stages are fun and varied, and feature just enough eye candy to keep it interesting without being overwhelmingly distracting. With a greater than average level of concentration required for each run, one thing that Trials doesn't need is distractions — though the occasional glare of the sun will probably do you in a couple of times.
The concept of Trials Fusion is simple enough: select a level, choose a bike (or a quad), and try to make it to the end without failing too many times. Trials is not Excitebike however, since these courses are littered with jumps, floating platforms, inclines and assorted obstacles of varying difficulty designed to kick off flips and tricks or cause a dramatic wipeout. Trials Fusion is more physics-heavy platforming than racing at one point, and the sooner players get accustomed to leaning, speed control and weight shifting, the "easier" the game becomes. There is no "easier" in Trials though, and beyond a few simplified skill-based courses (or player created levels), the stages are essentially designed for players to fail and restart over and over until they learn from their mistakes. The few times that you absolutely ace a difficult level, especially the first time racing through it, you feel like the king of the world. That reality usually comes crashing down pretty quickly after spending 10 minutes and 99 restarts just trying to make it up a particularly steep, uneven incline or over a gap which seems nearly impossible to traverse (at first). Of course you are timed and ranked on each stage, and can earn a bronze, silver, gold and/or platinum medals on each, along with XP which contributes to your Trials level, cash and unlockables.
If you have friends that play the game, Fusion automatically loads up their ghosts when replaying stages as to give you a little extra incentive to best their times on the leaderboards. Each stage also has a trio of challenges which can earn you a little extra XP and cash, and can range from simply(!) performing a perfect run while pulling off 10 flips, to playing a ragdoll game of tennis with a penguin, or finding secret areas. All of this is pretty much par for the course for the Trials series, though Fusion takes it a little further with the FMX trick oriented events which are largely hit or miss. Most players should be able to unlock around 2/3rds of the tiers available by casually earning the requisite number of medals by completing each run. At one point however, many will likely hit a bit of a wall and need to replay earlier stages and earn more golds to unlock the final Skill Showcase and Expert tiers. As expected, this is where the frustration and potential controller-throwing tantrums come in to play. Even with the most precise bikes and the best intentions, there are some obstacles that seem nearly impossible to clear especially when just restarting from a checkpoint. Being able to swap bikes without quitting a level to experiment with the best potential solution could have streamlined the process, though load times are pretty snappy so it’s not much of a deal breaker. Oddly enough, even though the machines have different stats (lighter, faster, more stable), the game never communicates this data in a meaningful way either.
Trials Fusion seemingly benefited from a bigger budget than previous games in the series, and visually, the game is fairly nice looking at times. Even on the PS4, which runs at 1080p and a mostly solid 60fps, the engine isn't as polished as expected with a dash of texture and geometry pop-in while the levels load or during a restart. Once you begin strategizing and concentrating on not failing or bailing, it’s something you forget about rather quickly. The lighting is probably the best looking part of the game, though the wacky physics-heavy ragdoll animations when flying off your bike or wiping out are definitely right up there too.
Beyond the amazing title song (good luck getting it out of your head), and the occasional motion picture-style background track, the audio in Fusion doesn't really stand out. The super dramatic, agonizing screams of your rider as he gets launched off his motorbike is pretty much hilarious no matter how many times you hear it.
Ubisoft and RedLynx worked enough unlockables and incentives into the game to keep players coming back for a while even after the frustration sets in. The ability to create, share and download popular tracks from the community helps keep it fresh, and the eventual infusion of half a dozen themed, official DLC packs from Ubisoft won't hurt either. The leaderboard integration and game alerts when friends beat your times most certainly will pull you back in from time to time. There is no online multiplayer (at the moment), but there is support for up to 4 players to challenge each other locally. It's not exactly the same thing but it's better than nothing.
With the dust settling and our blood pressure returning to normal levels, Trials Fusion ends up being a solid addition to the franchise, and certainly the best looking so far. Along with the potential for new features and functionality, we have high hopes for future content, especially with the price to purchase the season pass being as much as the game itself. For now, Trials Fusion should satisfy those masochistic, perfectionist gamers who adore the challenge of Trials.