Trials Fusion Review
Will delight and frustrate you in equal measures
The folks over at RedLynx have an unenviable job of having to make games that people will enjoy despite the fact that they’re so hard it makes you want to break your controller. Yet time after time they deliver titles that keep you hitting the retry button even if you’ve been stuck on the same jump for the past ten minutes. The next checkpoint is never more than a few feet away, but there might as well be a vertical wall between you. Well, that’s often not far from the truth in Trials Fusion.
It’s fascinating to think that motorcycle trials are actually performed in real life, where people actually ride bikes up sheer slopes and onto miniscule platforms high above the ground. This used to be what the Trials franchise was all about, but we’ve come a long way in the past fourteen years. In fact we’ve been flung into the future, where we’re riding high along towering skyscrapers and through futuristic testing facilities. There’s even a semblance of a story this time around, with a couple of robot voices chatting to you during some of the levels. It’s got a pretty Portal-esque vibe, and although it’s obviously supposed to be humorous in the same manner, it never reaches the heights of Valve’s writing.
One thing Trials has certainly got locked down is fantastic bike physics. Each of the six different vehicles on offer in Fusion feels different, some more powerful, some have more precision. However each of them has such intuitive controls, it’s impossible to be mad at anything but yourself if you make a mistake. The game is as simple as ever. All you have to worry about is acceleration, braking and leaning. The tracks do twist and turn more than in previous installments, but any steering is done for you. Of course, completing levels later in the game is anything but simple. It’s that magic mixture of simplicity and intricacy that makes games like this so engaging.
For newcomers, good tutorials are in place to make sure everyone understands the basics. The concept of bunny hopping, arguably the most important skill for finishing the harder tracks, is drilled into you several times over the course of the game. You’ll find yourself being instructed without ever feeling like your hand is being held. The difficulty curve also helps you in this regard. Early tracks can be completed without ever lifting your foot off the gas. However, soon you’ll need to not only brake, but also accelerate slowly to avoid flipping out. Eventually you’ll be panicking over every single tiny maneuver, as one wheel in the wrong place or a slight shift in balance can send you right back to the checkpoint. The gold medals you get on every track will soon turn to silver, then bronze, and it gets to a point where even finishing a level on Extreme difficulty is an achievement.
Of course, everything I’ve said so far is also true of previous iterations. To keep things fresh, Trials Fusion has introduced a trick system. Instead of the standard “push a sequence of buttons to do a trick”, here your only tool is the analogue stick. The stick almost acts as the rider’s feet. Pushing and holding left will send him out into a Superman pose. Pushing it right will send his legs over the handlebars. You’ll also perform different tricks by rotating upside down in the air. It isn’t just a stock animation either, momentum plays a huge part in the system, and you’ll need to make sure to leave enough time for your rider to get back into a position to land the trick. Trying to pull off multiple front flips while flinging your legs all over the place often results in your rider spinning out of control, so it’s to be used sparingly. There are new trick events, with a whole new bike designed just for them, and although they’re part of the campaign progression, it’s often easier to get gold medals than on the standard levels. A gamepad is the way to play Fusion. Keyboard controls are in place, though don’t provide enough precision, especially on later tracks. Another new addition is of a four wheeled quad bike, but it doesn’t control particularly differently from its two wheeled counterpart, so not much needs to be said of it.
Challenges are another new addition. Each track has three mini quests which range from performing a certain number of flips without faulting to finding secret areas or completing minigames. This adds a good deal of replayability to the game, although the challenges aren’t apparent unless you open the menu to read them. Making them a bit more obvious would’ve made them more appealing. The minigames are janky in the way that most things are in Trials outside of actually controlling a motorbike. The first one I tried was a tennis match against a giant penguin. My character started twisting around and eventually contorted into a shape which was definitely not human, and shifted violently to the side of the court. This was the only severe bug I found, apart from one particular level which completely crashed the game whenever I loaded it. Thankfully this was sorted in a patch the following day. Other than that the game runs excellently, with a nice solid frame rate throughout.
Visually, Fusion is only a slight improvement over Evolution from a couple of years ago. The backgrounds look great and the new trick system makes the animations look even more impressive. The music in the series has always been iffy, and that’s true once again with poor menu music, but decent in game tunes. The addition of voice acting is nice, and is well delivered, but is let down by the mediocre writing.
The track editor is remarkably in depth, even when compared to Evolution’s. You are essentially given an open world to play with, featuring the environments from each different section of the campaign. There’s a plethora of different ramps, objects, buildings and vehicles you can place. There’s still a limit to the amount of things you can place in a custom level, but there is huge potential for the community to create exciting new tracks for you to download. It’s also fairly simple to make your own designs, and the interface has been well optimized for use with a controller.
The series was at risk of becoming too samey, especially with fewer years between each release. However the addition of tricks and challenges in Trials Fusion shakes up the basic formula enough to keep things interesting. Due to low usage in the previous game, multiplayer has been omitted, but you can still play locally with friends, or race against the ghosts of people on your friends list if required. It’s a shame there’s no online component yet, but there are plans in place to add it at a later date. As for what’s in place already, RedLynx has raised the bar again, and it will be fascinating to see where the series goes from here.