Trials Rising Review
Back to bunny-hopping
If you have played a previous game in the long-running Trials series, you already know exactly how it will feel to play the latest entry, Trials Rising. That is because the core handling and gameplay mechanics haven't changed in over a decade across multiple releases, and I don't think any self-respecting fan of the series would have it any other way. The feel of the controls is tight and responsive, with a lot of room for nuance and skill when completing the levels that feel like a cross between a physics puzzle game and a motorcycle racing game. The question with each successive entry then becomes how good the tracks are, and how good the design structure around the tracks is. With a strong record of fun and addicting releases in the main series, it's not surprising that Rising is also a lot of fun, and in some ways the most fully-realised entry to date, though there are certainly some areas where the latest framework stumbles, and some surprising technical issues that can get in the way.
The first and most important thing you probably want to know is whether the tracks are good. I can gladly report that the tracks are mostly excellent, ranging from easy to absurdly difficult, loosely set in real-world locations. There are often multiple routes through tracks, with some being drastically faster than others, resulting in a lot of replay value as you figure out the most efficient route. The crazy dynamic elements that made Trials Fusion stand out are taken even further here, with pieces of tracks exploding, breaking apart or otherwise moving unexpectedly, forcing you to react by shifting your weight and using the throttle appropriately.
The core Trials gameplay remains highly enjoyable and occasionally infuriating as incredibly sensitive and responsive controls demand a deft touch, but are at the same time incredibly simple to understand and fun to learn (or re-learn). With good tracks and core handling that follows the 'don't fix what ain't broken' school of thought, if you enjoyed previous Trials games, it's hard to imagine you won't enjoy Rising as well.
Where Rising separates itself from previous games in the series, for better and for worse, is how the progression works. The Singleplayer mode is structured as a series of championships, with each championship requiring you to race on previously unlocked tracks until you reach a specified level, at which point you must win a 3-round Supercross event. These events start with 8 racers on separate but identical tracks, and you must finish in the top four, then the top 2, then win in order progress. Each time you complete a championship, the next one will be revealed, along with a handful of new tracks to play, though you won't be able to attempt the next progress-gating Supercross event until you hit the next level requirement.
This system works well early on, as you level up quickly, and are frequently gaining access to new tracks and events. This makes it easy and fun to level up to the point where you can attempt the next progress-gating event and access more content. As you play, the tracks start to get harder, and ever-increasing amounts of experience are required to level up. By the time you get to the fifth or sixth of nine championships, even after you have played all of the new tracks made available, you will need to spend several additional hours replaying previously unlocked tracks in order to hit the level requirement for the next Supercross event. This introduces some grinding into the career mode that hasn't really existed in previous Trials games, and becomes a bit tedious as a result.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to gain experience and level up during these stretches, many of which are quite a lot of fun. Challenger mode gives you a limited number of attempts at beating three increasingly fast times set by other players, which is an interesting challenge and forces you to continue with runs you might have otherwise abandoned. There are also some skill games that include launching yourself as far as possible by bouncing along a series of exploding barrels, or another where you are on fire and must drive as fast as possible to keep the flames under control.
Trials Fusion introduced challenges and tricks as a way to spice up the gameplay beyond simply trying to finish races as fast as possible, and some similar systems exist in Rising, though the more elaborate trick system from Fusion has been reigned in. As you progress through the solo campaign, you will unlock sponsors who provide special objectives, granting bonus experience. These typically involve completing a track with a fast time, or while doing a certain number of flips, getting a specified amount of air time, or performing wheelies for a certain distance. Once you have completed all available levels, these become one of the best ways to earn experience quickly, and also force you to learn some skills that become useful in the tougher levels you unlock later on.
The difficulty progression in general is well handled, with an excellent set of tutorials that unlock as you level up. These do a great job of teaching you useful lessons, such as the idea that going slower off jumps and reducing air time can actually improve your overall time. The skill games, track progression, sponsor challenges and tutorials came together in such a way that I felt I was able to actually improve and get further into the difficult tracks than I have in previous Trials games, whereas I'd eventually get to the point where frustration became more prevalent than fun.
Another feature that helps the stretches of grinding for experience more palatable is the inclusion of online multiplayer, which returns after being absent from Fusion. The main Global Multiplayer mode matches you with up to seven other players to compete in three rounds on tracks from the campaign. Rather than limit players to the multi-lane Supercross tracks, opponents appear as ghosts on the same track, and the player who places best across three rounds will be the winner and benefit from a nice chunk of XP. Aside from some occasional matchmaking issues, the online multiplayer works well and is a lot of fun. Each round, a set of three tracks are presented, and the group will vote on which one to play next, which is a good way to let less experienced groups vote for easier tracks.
Local multiplayer also makes a return in Rising, and offers up the most robust set of options in a Trials game yet. Perhaps the best addition to local multiplayer is the tandem bike, a single bike controlled by both players who must work together to complete tracks, which proves to be challenging and hilarious. Otherwise, you will be relegated to multi-lane Supercross tracks for local multiplayer with up to four players, with some fun options for altering variables like gravity, acceleration, or modifiers that can do things like force your throttle on permanently, so you need to rely on leaning alone. For those with a creative bent, the track editor returns, and though it has a bit of a learning curve, it can be used to create some exciting tracks, and it is easy to find and download tracks others have made from the Track Central hub, making it a worthwhile feature even if you aren't interested in designing tracks yourself.
Indirect competition with other players also plays a significant role, with many races in singleplayer having ghosts from other players' actual runs going at the same time. These can be useful for finding a quick route through or for ideas on tackling a tough obstacle. However, there can be some confusing disconnects between the ghosts and your objectives. When racing on a new track for the first time, you might expect ghosts to line up with medal times, but often this isn't the case. Challenger mode suffers from this in particular; since you are racing to beat other players' times, you might expect the ghosts on these tracks to line up with them, but this doesn't seem to be the case. In other sponsored challenges, you will be asked to beat a specific player or get a certain medal, in which case the ghosts will line up with your objective. While this inconsistency isn't a major issue, it is somewhat baffling at times.
Another new aspect of Rising that ties into the progress is the inclusion of player and bike customization. Whenever you level up your character or complete a challenger event, you receive a loot crate, which will contain clothing for your character, custom cosmetics for your bikes, and stickers you can customize and put on your bike or your character. You also earn currency while playing and by scrapping unwanted items that can be used to directly purchase customization items or even a couple of special bikes, including the tandem bike. The customization works well enough, though I did feel like I got an unreasonable number of duplicates early on from loot crates. It's also worth noting that real money can be spent on a separate currency that can be used to buy loot crates and unlock customization items, and some of the more elaborate items do cost a lot of in-game currency to try and edge you towards spending real money.
Visually, Trials Rising looks a bit better than Fusion, though the overall quality is comparable. Excellent location variety and some striking track design make the game easy on the eyes, though I did experience some glitches with shadows on the base PS4 model that were fairly common and quite distracting. I also encountered some unfortunate performance issues with pretty severe framerate drops on some tracks, especially in multiplayer, and some occasional hitching and stuttering that can be annoying in a game about precise timing and control. The game runs fine much of the time, but when performance issues crop up they did drastically reduce my enjoyment. Load times are also a bit on an issue on the PS4, as you will frequently be loading to and from tracks and the world map where they are displayed. This is especially frustrating in challenge mode and online multiplayer where you are frequently loading into new tracks.
The sounds used for the bikes seem pretty much un-changed from previous games, though they still feel very detailed and this isn't really an issue. The licensed soundtrack contains some solid, energetic tunes that work great with the game, though there aren't enough of them, and it won't be long before you grow tired of the limited music list.
Trials Rising is another strong entry in the long-running series that goes back to the basics of what makes the physics based puzzle-racing formula so much fun. The new progression system has some pros and cons, with unfortunate forced grinding to unlock tracks later in the Singleplayer mode being offset by lots of fun ways to earn experience, including the best multiplayer the series has had to date. If you have enjoyed the series in the past and are looking for another dose of exciting and exacting two-wheeled physics based racing, you can rest easy knowing that Rising will more than satisfy your craving.