Formats: Xbox One, PC, PS4 (Reviewed)
Price: $29.99 (Downloadable, Xbox1/PS4), $19.99 (PC), $59.99 (Disc)
Trials Fusion, the fifth in the hugely popular Trials series of motocross games from developer RedLynx, is in many ways the archetypal new-gen sequel, throwing in a coat of extra graphical spangle and a couple of new tricks but is otherwise careful to not reinvent the wheelie.
The Trials games are all about the eternal battle between man and physics, as expressed through dirt bikes. Essentially a modern version of the classic 8-bit Kikstart motocross games, they mine huge amounts of depth from a simple set of mechanics. You negotiate a series of courses on dirt bike, using throttle control and weight shifting to surmount increasingly difficult jumps and obstacles. At the end of each course you’re rated based on completion time and the number of restarts you’ve used following spills – a common occurrence in this game, with parts of the harder tracks often seeing you go tits-up 50 times or more before you finally nail it.
This may sound like brain-numbing repetition, but it in fact achieves the exact opposite, giving Trials a hypnotic quality few games can match and turning the whole thing into a kind of physics-based puzzle. Going full throttle is rarely the way to get the best times; instead it’s about learning where to hold back and positioning yourself for the smoothest landing. Progressing through the game unlocks new and more powerful bikes, with finding new optimal paths through familiar levels providing a great deal of replay value.
While this all falls neatly in line with past entries in the series, it doesn’t mean that Trials Fusion is bereft of innovation. The biggest new addition is the Tricks system, which has you performing acrobatic tricks while catching air. It’s a fun twist on the traditional Trials gameplay, requiring you keep the bike balanced with one stick while flinging your rider into a range of different positions with the other. While there are specific trick-focussed events, you can also do them on standard time trial courses, which has led to accusations that people are using them to lengthen jumps and cheat their way up the leaderboard (meaning that this will probably end up getting patched out at some stage).
The other changes are to do with the game’s new futuristic setting, and are somewhat less successful. The showy but bland ‘test chamber’ levels and shoehorned-in plot concerning a senile AI come across as an anaemic attempt to copy the Portal games, minus the wit and point. Neither is it exactly subtle, with dialogue triggered to particular spots in the levels which means a lot of annoying repetition as you restart challenging sections. Thankfully you can turn off the in-game dialogue, but one has to wonder why RedLynx thought that a dirt bike game needed a dystopian sci-fi plotline.
Fundamentally, however, the narrative shenanigans don’t diminish the finely-tuned gameplay RedLynx can pretty much replicate in their sleep at this point. If anything, Trials veterans may feel slightly underwhelmed, especially since content-wise the game seems slightly leaner than 2012’s excellent Trials Evolution. However, the robust level creator and easily downloadable fan-made tracks should ensure that the game continues to challenge the most dedicated riders, and there’s always the pull of challenging your friends’ times to keep you coming back.
Oddly, the game has shipped without online multiplayer; though RedLynx has been announced that it will be added in the near future as a downloadable update, its current omission is unfortunate with console games generally seeing their most intensive online activity in the first few weeks of release. Hopefully, this patching can also address the minor pop-in and frame rate hitches seen in the PS4 version which slightly mar the game’s otherwise slick presentation.
Trials Fusion definitely has our recommendation, though we would suggest that unless you want the SeasonPass for a year’s worth of downloadable additions, you buy the base game online rather than the pricey disc version that bundles the game and pass for $60. Alternatively, you can save even more by downloading the PC version, which even with the pass will amount to significantly less than on console.
At the end of the day, Trials Fusion is a Trials game through and through; fans already know the finely-tuned gameplay that lies within, and it provides a solid introduction for newcomers. Ultimately however, it serves as iteration rather than evolution, and PC/PS3/Xbox 360 owners who want to try the series out may want to consider the more content-rich and significantly cheaper Trials Evolution for their first run-around. But if you’re a fan looking for a new ride with an extra coat of modern sheen, Fusion will fit the bill nicely.