Trials is as punishing and perfect as ever. It's a game of ludicrous excess and controlled restraint, as you scream over a ludicrous gravity-defying jump one moment and deftly feather the throttle to make it across a nasty gauntlet of overhangs the next. The interplay between speed, power, weight, balance, gravity and physics is one again spot-on, challenging us to excel through skill and perseverance, all while desperately attempting to shave miliseconds off our par time, beat our ghost and humiliate our friends.
Trials Fusion should be everything we want from a Trials sequel, then, but some new features and window dressing deserve a closer look.
We're in the future now, and Trials Fusion won't let you forget it. From the first second you boot it up, an annoyingly brain-worming theme song proudly proclaims "welcome to the future! Man! Machine! The futuuuuuuuuure!" while displaying a shiny armour-clad rider atop a slick skyscraper. It'd be a great excuse to introduce some futuristic new technology, but no, it basically boils down to a somewhat forgettable storyline involving two AIs (which features a few fun one-liners that you'll hear repeated ad nauseam each time you restart a checkpoint) and a vibrant colourful new aesthetic to punch up the tracks. We've come a long way since Trials HD's uninspiring collection of brown crates and grey pipes.
The 2.5D tracks and backdrops are gorgeous, from sweeping vistas to icy glaciers and slick neon cityscapes, and they play as good as they look. They're still a challenging gauntlet of ridiculous jumps, ramps, platforms, physics-based challenges and hilarious gadgets, all of which require you to learn their subtle nuances through repetition, memory and skill. You're always improving, always striving to better yourself, and all too often watching your rider ragdoll off a botched landing straight into an enormous explosion. Knowing when to gun it and when to apply the lightest touch is key, while learning each track's unique rhythm. However, RedLynx have further refined the experience, presenting a much smoother challenge curve that makes the campaign more accessible to newcomers before introducing the more punitive manoeuvres, bunny hops and overhangs.
Be in no doubt: the Extreme stages are going to break you. And you're going to love every humiliating second of it, whether played in bite-sized chunks or monstrous marathons.
Trials Evolution occasionally faltered during some annoying camera angles and set pieces that took skill out of the equation and replaced it with blind luck. RedLynx has smoothed over this problematic element and placed player skill front and centre, which is exactly as it should be. Track design only really falls down in the skill games at the end of each section, which can be fun (riding off a cliff is obviously awesome), but lack the imagination and flair of HD and Evolution's sillier offerings.
So, once again, the thrill of asynchronously shaming our friends lists, racing against ghosts and netting all the gold medals is absolutely intact and fiercely addictive. What's new?
Here's what. In terms of new features, the challenges are by far my favourite. Asynchronous competition with your friends is still as addictive as ever, alongside your continual efforts to gain gold medals through no-fault runs and constant self-improvement, but now each track comes with three optional objectives that reward you with extra money to spend on customisation options. They often encourage you to play in a totally different way (such as keeping the throttle held down for the duration, or pulling off an irresponsible number of flips), or point you towards a wealth of hidden secrets and Easter eggs. It's another level of competition and compulsion in what is already a ruthlessly moreish game.
I wish that I could say the same about the FMX Tricks system, though. Once unlocked, you're able to pull off some death-defying stunts (familiar fare such as the 'Superman' or striding the bike as a "proud hero") by flicking or sweeping the right stick relative to the bike's position. Unfortunately the loose controls are nowhere near as tight as the core mechanics, meaning that it's all too easy to botch a stunt or accidentally repeat one you've already used, dinging your score in the process.
Tricks are only mandatory for a small selection of stages and challenges, so at least you won't need to rely on it that often. Successfully showboating is undeniably exhilarating, but what could have been a real game-changer feels more than a little vestigial. Not bad, just relatively sloppy in the implementation.
Trials Evolution also introduces a Quad Bike, a brutish low-centred heavyweight with all the torque in Christendom. Using it is a neat change of pace that requires a new approach and mindset, breaking up the campaign nicely, but by the same token the ATV's low top speed lacks the thrill of the regular bikes. If ever there was a missed opportunity for hoverbikes, it was here!
Multiplayer is poorly-featured at launch, with only a handful of local stages, no online functionality and an annoying nerf to the bikes' top speed to make the quad bike more viable. A new mode and more levels have been promised via free updates, but personally, I've never felt that head-to-head multiplayer is a particularly important part of the Trials experience. The asynchronous side of things, the thrill of crushing your mate's par time and then sharing the DVR footage for all to see, is where the flavour is - and it tastes delicious.
And then we come to the user-generated content, once again provided by a superbly-featured level editor. It's exceptionally powerful, putting a wealth of design options and customisation settings at your fingertips, which you can fiddle with in real-time right down to the time of day and angle of the sun. Going forward we expect great, terrible and recklessly creative things from the community, even if you don't use it yourself and rely on the imagination of others - which is even more enjoyable this time around due to a new experience system that increases as you play UGC levels. I do wish that Ubisoft had greenlit a Wii U version, though, since the GamePad's screen could have brought an extra level of accessibility to some of the fiddlier aspects.
RedLynx plan to release six official DLC packs over the next few months, available as part of a season pass... which we'd strongly urge you to avoid until we know whether the new levels are worth playing! Do yourself a favour and enjoy the UGC before deciding whether to buy the season pass down the line. Pre-ordering season passes is a mug's game.
A part of me wants to mark Trials Fusion down for some of its peripheral elements, but with core gameplay this refined, this ruthless, this engaging and this compelling, I'm frankly unwilling to do so to any great extent. It'd be like criticising a juicy steak because we don't like the sauce in the pot on the side of the plate.
- As balanced, challenging, sharp, compelling and brilliant as ever
- Superb track design, both mechanically and visually
- Addictive asynchronous competition, self-improvement and new track challenges
- Fully-featured level editor rewards you for using it and playing UGC
- FMX tricks can feel finicky and loose; ends up somewhat redundant
- The Quad Bike is fun, but where's the cool futuristic tech?
- Daft future storyline; bare-bones multiplayer at launch
The Short Version: Trials Fusion brings the series' addictive and challenging physics-based gameplay to new platforms and the next console generation, and does so with style. Though the loose FMX tricks system underwhelms and a few features are MIA at launch, it's still a huge serving of tightly-honed thrills, humiliating spills, compelling competition and user generated content that deserves your attention.
Another punishing playground that should run and run.
A note on performance: The Xbox One version received a day-one patch to raise resolution from native 800p to 900p, but it does suffer from a degree of texture pop-in and and an occasional frame rate ding. It's not enough to spoil the experience, not by a long shot, but it's worth noting.