Reviews

Trials Fusion Review – Designed To Induce Finger Cramp, And Rage

 

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Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, and PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Developer: RedLynx
Publisher: Ubisoft
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Local only

It’s some time in the early morning and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, palms sweating and eyes squinting. I gently squeeze the trigger and…damn, too much throttle!  The bike flips straight over, and I’ve just screwed that perfect faultless run I’ve been working toward for the past 30-minutes. Rage is flowing through my veins and I really should just go to bed…but this is Trials, and it’s always just one more go. Addiction isn’t pretty, but it’s rarely this damn fun.

Let’s assume for just a minute that you’ve never played the previous games, or even heard of them. In Trials Fusion the goal is to navigate from point A to point B  as fast as you can along a 2D plane using a bike, preferably while minimising the amount of crashes you have along the way. At your command are simple inputs; lean forward, lean back, gas and brake, and using those you need to traverse jumps, hop over gaps, climb insane heights and much, much more. From this simple premise and set of inputs grows a game of immense complexity with what often feels like an infinitely high skill ceiling. It doesn’t matter how long you play for, or how long you study replays, there’s always something new to learn.

In today’s world of games it’s rare to come across something like the Trials series which emphasises pure player skill over all else, creating an immensely compelling and satisfying experience that relies solely on your own drive for improvement to keep you playing. The learning curve has been somewhat tempered since the last outing and the level design slowly introduces you to more and more ways of using the bike, but never once does it feel anything less than terrific or like it’s holding your hand. You may be taught some of the basics, but you’ll never stop intuitively learning new ways to move the bike in order to maximise speed or progress over obstacles you once thought impossible.

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At the core lies the impeccable physics and handling, neither of which feel like they’ve been tweaked very much since the days of Trials Evolution, which is fine by me as it’s hard to see any room for real improvement at this point. The controls are precise and the bikes responsive, while the physics system is constant and predictable, thus ensuring that every crash, screwed up section and horrendous fumble are entirely your fault and never the game’s. It can be an incredibly frustrating game and before you’ve gotten through every level you’ll likely have crashed hundreds, if not thousands, of times and abused the restart button, but never once will you ever feel like Trials Fusion is being unfair. It’s a harsh mistress, but a just one, and it wants you to get better. It wants you to learn.

The initial barrage of tracks emphasis more flowing lines, high speeds and absurd jumps which can easily fool you into thinking that Fusion is essentially a racing game. Even more than Trials Evolution there seems to be a focus on these sorts of faster, more fluid tracks, the crew at Redlynx continuing with the concept that the more spectacular tracks sit well with the majority of the audience, while the more technically fiendish tracks are focused into the later hard and insane stages. While I admit that as a veteran of the Trials series the shift toward more less technically demanding tracks is slightly disappointing, it’s an understandable decision, and it must be said that when Redlynx do focus their attention on creating finger-cramp inducing challenges they continue to excel. Trials Fusion contains yet another batch of wonderfully designed tracks that always find new and fun ways of combining the seemingly simply building blocks of the series. Each track feels unique, interesting and challenging in their own way.

Progressing through the career mode is as simple as gathering medals, and you’ll always get a bronze for at least passing a track, regardless of whether you crash a few thousand times in the process. Motoring your way through the game requires quick reflexes, determination and an ability to read the track, but while that’s a perfectly fun way to experience Trials Fusion, it’s not where the game’s true heart lies. No, where Trials Fusion is at its best is when you’re attempting to master each track, pushing to get faster and faster. It’s at this point you can begin to appreciate the depth of the track designs. Study a layout with a keen eye and you’ll discover hidden ways of navigating it. More often than not, taking a slower pace in certain areas will pay off more than just flooring it, encouraging you to show some restraint. Constant encouragement is given to keep you competing with friends; floating dots on the track show you in real-time whether you’re going faster or slower than your friends, while extensive leaderboards taunt you. A new messaging service at the top right of the screen also alerts you whenever a friend beats your time, and a few quick button presses will launch you straight onto that track, ready to prove you’re the best.

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Trials Fusion, then, like the previous games, is at its best in the hands of a competitive gamer, someone who is willing to dedicate time to learning its many subtleties. And yet it also has the firm ability to take a simple, casual gamer looking for fun and turn them into a competitively driven beast with a short temper and habit of throwing controllers at the wall. And damn will Fusion make you want to throw controllers at the wall! Even though failure is never the game’s fault that doesn’t make it any less of a stress-inducing nightmare. In the hundreds and hundreds of games I’ve played over the years, only a few match the intensity and finger-cramp inducing stress of trying to nail a perfect run on a difficult track. The closer you get to the finish line, the harder you sweat and clutch the controller.

New additions are far and few between, though,  nor do they alter the tried and tested gameplay very much. A quad bike makes a brief appearance in a series of tracks, offering up a whole lot of power and heftier weight. It’s an enjoyable shift from controlling the normal bikes, albeit not a very big one – you’ll quickly adjust to flinging the four-wheeler around, and then likely find yourself wishing for a few more tracks to play around with it on.

The biggest change was also the most controversial in the build up to Trials Fusion’s launch, sparking heated arguments when it was first announced at E3; the trick system. By using the right stick you can perform a small selection of tricks. It’s really that simple. Only one FMX event is included per grouping of tracks that actually forces you to use the trick system, but even then you can usually avoid it and progress to the next bracket of tracks by simply earning enough medals elsewhere, so it never feels like you’re forced into using them.  During any other race you’re perfectly free to pull off or ignore tricks as you see fit.

That’s a good thing, as I found the trick system to be oddly loose and imprecise, a strange contrast in a game that otherwise demands the utmost precision from its players. Pulling off specific tricks can be hit miss, as can adjusting for a landing when pulling them off. Furthermore the game often failed to register flips or tricks, despite them seemingly being locked in correctly, forcing me to restart several FMX events.

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However, where tricks do excel is during local four-player races where each person is given their own lane. While the tricks are as loose as ever, it can be hard to resist attempting to showboat for your friends, leading to inevitable but utterly hilarious failures. Yes, local multiplayer remains as fun as it ever was in Trials Evolution. But this does bring me to what is Trials Fusion’s single greatest, and by far most baffling, problem; online multiplayer has vanished. For whatever reason it’s not included here. RedLynx are seemingly promising that it will get released as a free update at a later date, but that simply serves to create the feeling that Fusion was rushed to meet a deadline. It’s a hefty loss.

Speaking of loses a less damaging but still worth mentioning one comes in the form of tournaments, which are also absent, again for reasons I’m not aware of or simply cannot fathom. Skill games have also been stripped down, now appearing in just a few forms across the singleplayer career mode, yet another step backwards from Trials Evolution.
Astonishingly the guys and girls over at Redlynx have actually attempted to weave a story into Trials Fusion, and surprisingly it’s quite good. Throughout your many painful journeys a female AI is a constant companion, her soothing voice easy to miss as you concentrate on the next obstacle. In fact it’s quite likely many players won’t realise there’s a story going on until fairly late, especially as everything starts out innocently enough. Given time, though, Trials Fusion takes a surprisingly dark tone, and despite myself I found it strangely compelling. It’s not deep or particularly well written, and can be turned off entirely if you want to focus entirely on your riding, but when coupled with the multitude of little clues that can be picked up elsewhere it can be fascinating stuff. Kudos, RedLynx, you’ve done something I thought not possible.

The track creation suite is still present and correct, providing a wealth of tools for gamers with which to knock together their own dream tracks and then share them around the world, essentially creating a vast network of free content. All I can say is that Redlynx better be sure that Season Pass offers a lot of quality, because right now it’s value is slightly undermined by the depth of talent within the community. However, the creation mode could still do with in-game tutorials as opposed to pointing people to Youtube as it currently does. The tools aren’t exactly intuitive, and I can’t help but wonder how many people simply wont bother learning when they discover that there’s no in-game method presented to them. But damn is it worth investing the time into mastering the tools, as they’re essentially the very same ones used by RedLynx to create the game’s myriad of courses. I personally cannot wait to see what the community creates.

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Customisation remains relatively limited, which is a little disappointing as the game almost feels like it’s literally throwing money at you, especially during the early stages. By time I reached the later extreme stages I had far more cash than I knew what to do with. Your rider can be decked out with a small selection of different clothes, while your bikes can have new wheels,  their colors changed and body kits fitted.

And it does all look pretty nice running on the Xbox One. It’s not exactly a powerhouse designed to showcase what the console can actually do, but as usual the animations are superb and background detail is fantastic. It’s hard to focus on how it all looks when leaping from platform to platform with the same level of intensity produced by removing a really awkward brick in Jenga , but when you do your eyes will be most appreciative, assuming eyes can feel emotions.

With so many games seemingly getting a free pass it’s important to raise this criticism as well; as good as Trials Fusion is, this is as safe a sequel as they come, adding in just a few new features that barely effect the formula, while also removing aspects of Trials Evolution for reasons I cannot fathom. Indeed, if truth be told Trials Fusion does resembled a glorified expansion pack at times. The shift to a future setting is arguably the game’s biggest change, but that boils down to aesthetic change that arguably results in less diverse environments than seen in Evolution, albeit more thematically coherent. Luckily for RedLynx the Trials formula doesn’t feel dated just yet, though.

At its core this is the same immensely satisfying and rewarding Trials experience, and yet with the loss of online multiplayer, fewer skill games, less diverse environments and no tournaments, and with the lack of any really strong refinements or changes, Trials Evolution remains the better overall game. However, Fusion is a fantastic title in its own right, and of course fans of the series will likely want to make the leap simply for the bounty of new tracks on offer.

Just one more go. I can totally shave a few seconds off that run. God, my fingers hurt.

The Good:
+ Absurdly addictive. In a good way!
+ Utterly rewarding.
+ Wealth of creation tools.
+ Local multiplayer.

The Bad:
– Where did my online multiplayer go?
– And my tournaments?
– And skill games?
– And wide variety of themes and locations?

The Verdict: 4/5 – Great
Despite a few steps backwards Trials Fusion is truly great, and will likely consume a significant portion of your life.

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