Welcome to the future. That’s what the latest Trials game’s incredibly cheesy menu music opens with and it’s a portent of what’s to come in RedLynx’s most recent tightly honed motorcycle balancing act. Trials Fusion takes the series into a GLaDOS-inspired dystopian future setting and updates a few other of the series’ core systems as it goes.
Let’s get the headline new feature out of the way nice and early: tricks. The new FMX trick system allows you to fill up the air time – previously the only blessed relief from the laser-focused balancing act of completing a stage – with even more precision control and gut-wrenching tension. Once you’ve passed the FMX training and unlocked the ability to perform tricks, you can use them to showboat on any course but certain stages require you to post a high score by successfully completing tricks as you go. Many stages include some kind of trick in among their additional challenges, encouraging you to return to stages repeatedly, and some of the skill games require tricks to pass.
Aside from some of those additional challenges, tricks on the traditional courses usually don’t count for much other than style and bragging rights – perhaps if you’re sharing the video. On the FMX stages though, they’re everything and you’ll need to get to grips with the system to get the most out of those levels and unlock those all important gold medals.
The system is ostensibly quite simple: as the left stick controls the lean of the rider, and therefore the rotation of the bike, the right stick will control the direction in which your rider thrusts his legs. Holding that direction steady will snap to the relevant trick so that pointing your right stick directly to the left, when your bike is upright, will push your riders legs off the back and perform a “Superman” trick where the rider grabs the back of his bike and flies straight out behind it.
Tricks can then be augmented with the addition of front or back flips and the positioning of the rider is relative to the position of the bike so if you try to perform a “Superman” while inverted, you’ll need to push the right stick straight to the right to find the back of the bike. It’s incredibly fiddly to find the sweet spot in the analogue range while also trying to keep your bike properly positioned (or adding flips) and be constantly aware of having to release the right stick to return your rider to the normal position and use the left stick to get yourself upright before the ground comes up to meet you.
Tricks seem a natural addition to the series and the way they’re implemented is perfect for the game – adding another deep layer of finely balanced control to fit into the panicked moments between jumps. Trials games have always been about controlling your lean and the gas/brake control on the triggers, Fusion adds the analogue range of the right stick to that mix. While it still feels slightly superfluous to the core reasons for the utterly compelling nature of the game, it’s also perfectly in keeping with the approach that Trials has always taken and it will encourage – and eventually require – the player to obtain a whole new skill set to really excel.
Trials games force you to walk a fine line between power and control, speed and restraint. They’ve always been creatively designed to allow the player to blast through the early stages, unlocking the rock hard later levels as they go. But there’s a knack to them, a compelling reason to go back as you unlock faster or more manoeuvrable bikes. Passing a stage is often quite easy but scoring a quick time to get you up that leaderboard or shaving a few tenths of a second off a time to beat your friend is the hook that keeps you going back.
Each course has a time and fault limit you’ll need to beat in order to unlock the medals. If you win gold, you also get bronze and silver for that course – three medals in total. The next stage unlocks at a certain number of medals, regardless of their colour. In the very early stages, this means you can basically unlock extra stages by simply passing earlier ones but as you gain access to more and more of the game, you’ll need to win more medals to progress and that will require you to return to any stages you left with bronze or silver medals. Luckily, you’ll likely have unlocked a more powerful bike to score a faster time with.
There are a range of bikes in the game. The most basic won’t even get you over the gaps in later levels and some of the unlockable rides allow for extra manoeuvrability in the air or power on the floor so it’s often worth trying to return to stages on different vehicles to see if they suit the course better, or enable easier attacks at those challenges.
Create mode returns, alongside its Track Central repository of user-created courses. This essentially means that you can build your own stages and upload them but it also means that you’ll have a practically endless supply of new courses to try out and some of the creativity shown by users previously would hint at a bright future for this section of the game.
Also returning is a changed multiplayer mode. You can play four player local multiplayer races with friends in the same room but there are no online races this time around. There is a tantalising promise of some new form of multiplayer to come via a free addition to the game though, and the normal level progression will still show you the usernames of friends in front or behind you as you compete so that you can see how close you are to their times.
The game is the same on all platforms (Xbox 360, Xbox One PC and PlayStation 4) in terms of features, with visual integrity being the only alteration, aside from the complexity you can comfortably achieve in the track building mode. We tested the PS4 version of the game and can happily report a 1080p resolution and smooth 60 frames per second that seemed to never falter, after some very slight (under a second) delays in texture loading at the start of many levels. Load times for the bike selection screen before a level were a little longer than ideal but elsewhere they were all perfectly acceptable.
This is the first Trials game to receive an on-disc release. That version includes the DLC that will be released to the digital version of the game (or via season pass) over the next year, with six packs promised. This is obviously another case of a publisher experimenting with the most appropriate way to release a game but it also means that you’ll have the option of paying your money now, if you’re confident you’ll enjoy all the extra DLC, or perhaps approaching more cautiously and just buying the initial game digitally to dip a metaphorical toe in the water before spending on the season pass or later DLC packs.
Trials Fusion continues the tradition of finely balanced frustration and joy that always made previous games in the series so compelling. The online multiplayer situation is a little unclear at launch but this series has always been mostly about the leaderboard struggles and Fusion delivers that in spades. The user-generated content adds plenty of longevity, even beyond the promise of those six DLC packs over the next year and the new trick system – frustrating and difficult to master as it is – is a perfect fit for the game.
Version tested: PlayStation 4