Trials Fusion – Review

Title   Trials Fusion
Developer  RedLynx
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Genre  Arcade puzzler/platformer
Release Date  April 16, 2014

The Trials series did something that no other game has ever done to me, a guy with over thirty years of gaming history – it brought out my competitive edge.  The day that the Trials HD demo hit Xbox Live was the first time I actually cared about reaching the top of a leaderboard, and the number of retries in order to do so for every track isn’t something I’d care to think about. Good friends became bitter enemies whenever a text message appeared on my phone to let me know that I was no longer king of the hill, and I’d jump back on in an attempt to regain my crown.  I would even spend days constructing the most pixel-perfect tracks imaginable, in the hopes of driving said friends insane as they tried to work out a way to complete them.  It was a great time for me, as a gamer.

Fast forward almost five years, via the follow-up of Trials Evolution, and we’re graced with the latest iteration from RedLynx – Trials Fusion.  When you create a game that does everything that you could ever hope for in a genre, there’s very little you can do to improve upon it, but the danger is there that in not altering it, the whole thing could stagnate and lose favour, so the only option left is to give it a bit of spit and polish. With Fusion, the aforementioned spit and polish is the first thing you’ll notice.  Rather than the driving crunch of the original soundtrack, Fusion’s ‘Welcome To The Future’ retains the pacing but it almost sterile in its delivery and makes it known very early on that what you’re about to embark on has none of the grit or grime of those that have gone before.

Where once stood dark and dusty warehouses, stacked floor-to-ceiling with shipping containers and conveniently place flammable barrels, now stands a sprawling metropolis, resplendent in its architectural beauty – a mix of chrome, glass, and solar panels.  The dimly-lit ambience is replaced by a glorious blue sky, pierced by a blazing sun.  Had I not been so familiar with RedLynx’s style, I could have been forgiven for thinking that they’d passed the torch to another developer who took their original premise and dropped assets into a world they’d already prepared for a futuristic RPG.  It is that different.

The gameplay itself isn’t actually very different from its predecessors and the controls remain the same as before, so there’s no learning curve beyond the handling of the individual bikes.  In fact, the only real difference is the inclusion of the latest feature – FMX – where a mid-air combination of the left and right sticks have your rider contort into some bizarrely twisted, and beautifully executed, aerial stunts.  At first, it’s not clear how these actually work as they’re more than just moving the right stick in a particular direction, as many require the bike to be in a specific position or carrying out a certain manoeuvre while the rider does his thing.  Get too cocky with it, however, and you’ll come a cropper as your guy struggles to get back in the driving seat before crashing down on the track below.

The down side to this new feature is that it’s ignored more often than it is utilised.  While you’re certainly able to carry out all manner of aerial acrobatics during any of the tracks – once you’ve gone far enough in your career to unlock it – you’re only actually rewarded for doing so on FMX-specific levels.  Further exaggerating this down side, the FMX tracks are all a little too pedestrian and designed specifically for ‘big air’, which means you’re spending more time flying off ramps and pulling off stunts than you are using your brain to get past obstacles yet that, for most, is what the Trials series is all about – combining intellectual and physical dexterity in order to achieve the fastest possible time with as few faults as possible.  It is, after all, a puzzle game at heart.

As much fun as it is to soar into the air, have your guy drop back to the rear of the bike to perform a ‘Superman’ manoeuvre and get back into his seat for a perfect landing, it loses its charm when the track itself poses no real threat, so the only opportunity you have to actually combine the puzzle aspect with the FMX tricks is on regular tracks which, as mentioned before, offer no reward for doing so.  In fact, the FMX tracks are so simplistic in their approach, it’s almost as though RedLynx themselves are already painfully aware that the aerial stunts are – at this point, anyway – nothing more than a bolt-on to change things up enough that it doesn’t look like they’ve simply re-skinned their previous offerings.

As far as the puzzle tracks go, however, they have the same learning curve as all prior iterations – easing you in to where you think you’re actually pretty damned good, and then pulling the oil-stained rug out from beneath you once the difficulty really sets in and you quickly realise you’re actually utterly shit.  This lack of prowess and technical ability is once again reinforced by the ubiquitous leaderboard where you get to enjoy watching your friends knock you down one by one, forcing that killer instinct to take over, pushing you back to whichever track you’ve just been beaten on.  And it’s this aspect of the Trials series that keeps people coming back for more; so much so, in fact, that a Facebook challenge was created by a friend and was immediately the most updated status on my feed for days.  Even now.

For those who are skilled enough to sit atop their leaderboard without fear of being knocked off, Trials Fusion introduces another reason to play each track – in-game challenges.  Rather than the tried-and-tested premise of having as few faults as possible in the shortest time, each level delivers its own reward system where achieving a specific number of back-flips without eating dirt, or pulling off one particular FMX trick will give you enough points to level up quicker.  Some are obvious, while some leave it to your imagination to work out exactly what they expect of you.

The unfortunate thing for me personally is that Trials Fusion leaves me a little cold, and it’s hard to know why.  It could be that the over-polished aesthetics are perhaps too far removed from the grimy warehouses of old, or that the latest advancement with the acrobatics is so far removed from the main game that it feels a little unfinished but, the truth is, I have no idea why.  As exciting as it was to see a new Trials game hit the shelves, not even the overhauled track builder can pull me back to the point where I would happily sink hours on end into improving my times, beating my friends, building tracks that would drive many insane.  There’s just something missing.  But that missing link is me speaking from a personal point of view and, when that aspect is removed, what’s left is still one hell of a great game.

No matter what I think myself, there’s no denying that RedLynx have again come up with the winning formula to turn friends into enemies, force typically laconic gamers into competitive idiots, and bring people together from different camps in order to work together in a bid for mass humiliation.  Whether the aesthetics have changed or not, Trials Fusion is still one of those ‘one more tries’ games that makes the relatively small outlay of £16 a more worthwhile purchase than many of the triple-A titles that are over and done in ten to twenty hours.  Ultimately, video games are all about enjoyment and how much fun you can have with friends, and they don’t often hit the nail on the head as firmly as a Trials game.

  • Puzzle-driven levels are great
  • FMX tricks are thoroughly enjoyable, although somewhat misused/underutilised
  • Track editor has had a bit of an overhaul, making it easier and more flexible for controllers
  • In-game challenges offer an extra incentive, with additional rewards
  • Has bucketloads of 'one more try' going for it
  • Track editor could have done with a bit of a tutorial
  • The FMX tracks themselves are pedestrian and really involve no effort whatsoever
  • On a personal note, the futuristic setting didn't grab me

For those who have played any of the Trials series before, there won't be many surprises in Trials Fusion, but that's probably for the best - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The enhancements, however, do offer a more intriguing outing where it's almost impossible to get through a level without using one of the new trick shots once you know that you can, and the in-game challenges ramp up that 'one more play' aspect as you attempt to tick all the boxes.

Although some may disagree, the Trials series is more of an arcade puzzler than a driving game, and that's why the disjointed inclusion of the aforementioned FMX tricks just seems odd. Were they rewarded during regular tracks, rather than shoe-horned into simplistic trick-dedicated tracks, then they would have been an outstanding advancement. Sadly, they're too far removed from the main game to really play a serious role.

Ultimately, it's one hell of a good game and a great way to pull people together... and drive them apart.

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