There's nothing quite like Trials and, after several games in the popular racing/platforming series, fans know what to expect from developer RedLynx: more of the same.
Yes, there will be a stupid, amazing theme song you'll hate yourself for letting get stuck in your head. There will also be moments of immense frustration made bearable by the eventual satisfaction of clearing that one particularly devious obstacle. And there will be bitter leaderboard rivalries as you fight to shave milliseconds off your best times.
Trials Fusion represents all of these things, and more -- occasionally to its detriment.
Trials Fusion (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: RedLynx, Ubisoft
Released: April 15, 2014 / April 24, 2014 (PC)
MSRP: $19.99 / $39.99 physical release with Season Pass (Xbox One, PS4)
To be clear, more of the same in Trials' case is by no means a bad thing. In fact, it's mostly what we want. The motorcycles you'll drive and hop across crazy puzzle-like environments feel as tight as ever, but if you hope to best the hellish post-credits Extreme levels, you'll need a mastery of the game's precision controls. And patience. That hasn't changed one bit.
Getting up to that point -- the point at which Trials is at its absolute best, becoming less of a straightforward motorbike racing game and more of a methodical, notoriously difficult platformer -- will be a smooth ride for long-time players who have maintained most of their muscle memory from prior installments. As for newbies: godspeed.
The difficulty and complexity of levels ramps up a bit slower than I would have liked as a returning player, but the bigger issue for me was that they feel less varied, less interesting than those featured in Trials Evolution. There's a lot of stuff going on in the background, some of it eye-catching, but the visual design this time around is a downgrade. It seems less inspired.
Now, it's worth stressing that levels can be made significantly harder by going after new optional challenges. There are three per level and they range from "Always hold the gas pedal down and don't use the breaks" to "Don't lean, ever" to "Perform 10 flips without faulting." These objectives are tough even on the earliest of tracks and should help extend Fusion's replay value beyond the monstrous amount of time it will take to rack up Gold and eventually Platinum medals.
Unfortunately, challenges are one of the few welcome additions to the tried-and-true Trials formula. Fusion places a heavy emphasis on a new futuristic setting which, in theory, could have worked okay. In reality, it just ends up feeling boring and, again, uninspired.
While there are themed stages -- arctic, urban sprawl, and rainforest, to name a few -- even then you're still beaten over the head with the future theme. An attempt was made to weave a light story in by way of AI narration (again, "future!") but this dialogue adds little of value to the experience. Franky, I'd recommend turning it off -- lines annoyingly repeat if you restart at a checkpoint.
Another seemingly big feature is the ability to perform tricks using the right analog stick. Once again, this concept really could have worked for Trials. Could have. There are specific levels built around the new FMX system in which you pull off insane moves while trying to keep a combo going for maximum high-score potential. Sadly, they're not challenging, rewarding, or even much fun.
I can't quite put my finger on why, but performing tricks feels off, somehow -- especially compared to the precision found elsewhere in Trials. Thankfully, there are very few of these FMX levels so you'll burn through them quickly. I appreciate that RedLynx was trying something new here, but the effort falls short. Maybe next time around.
Similarly, there's a new quad bike in certain levels that might sound like a potentially solid addition to Trials. It's all right. While it does have a different weight and feel compared to the other vehicles, it's not that different -- and the courses you'll use it on are more of the same.
At this point, I'm starting to worry that it sounds like I dislike Fusion, when that's truly not the case -- it's just that most of what's brand new to this installment adds little to the terrific core gameplay foundation. But let me be clear: the core of the game is still terrific.
The wacky Skill Games return, now one per each stage, and those serve as enjoyable distractions. There are tons of bizarre secrets to uncover, like a tennis minigame. (Seriously.) A new leveling system ties experience points to medals and challenges, allowing you to feel a further sense of progression and unlock new cosmetic items for your rider and bikes. Multiplayer also returns, albeit in a four-player, local-only capacity.
And there's the hugely important level creator, which I've never been able to properly wrap my head around -- it's back, and since the Trials community has proven itself capable of making high-quality, even ingenious levels, it's fair to expect more of that in the coming months. I'd also expect RedLynx to be great about curating levels as it has been in the past.
Trials Fusion is a good game -- and I can only see it getting better over time as user-made levels excel and DLC is released -- but what's there now, at launch, is a step down from Trials Evolution. It's disheartening, then, to see the game come in at a higher price point than its predecessor and also try to sell users on a $19.99 Season Pass in-game right out of the gate.
Trials fans will want to play Fusion, that's a given -- but everyone else should wait.
[*].disqus.comto your security software's whitelist.