The Trials games have been critical darlings on consoles since 2009′s Trials HD hit XBLA, and now they’re hitting the next generation with another must-own entry. For series newcomers, the Trials games are basically a time attack version of Excitebike without rivals, but with a time limit and a goal to constantly improve. There’s a heavy emphasis on physics, and extensive tutorials have been added to give you the skills need to at least survive, if not excel, while facing some major obstacles.
The first console entry kicked everyone’s ass due to its steep learning curve and steep hills. The second brought a ton of user-generated content and online multiplayer action. The third entry brings with it a new vehicle in the ATV and a formal trick system. Before, you could flip, but there wasn’t a trick system per se. The left stick moves you and the right stick executes the tricks depending on your position. The tricks are easy to execute, and while the stick combo system may sound similar to Skate in theory, Fusion’s tricks are much easier to execute. The ATV operates with the same kind of precision found on the motorcycles, but it has a lot more weight to it that you really feel with each movement and jump you take. The new vehicle mixes things up a bit and does force you to get outside of your comfort zone a bit.
While there is a nice array of regular bikes, you have to change your mindset with the ATV. Instead of being loose with your riding or taking risks hoping you can correct your momentum in mid-air, the ATV makes you think things through more. It takes a lot longer to change your position mid-flight, although since it’s a weightier object, you don’t need to be quite as degree-perfect with your landings. You have a little more wiggle room for a rough one and still land well enough to continue on with the trial. Beyond those changes, Fusion is basically the same Trials experience 360 owners have known for about five years now.
This means that if you loved both Trials games, you’re sure to love the new tracks offered up here. The addition of tutorials makes it more user-friendly, and the difficulty curve is a bit more gradual now. Unlike Evolution’s convoluted mess of a menu system for the campaign, the menus here are nice and slick. User-created content is back, but I had a harder time using the tools to make something now than I did then – and judging by the other reviewer-created content on tap right now, many others did as well. In time, the online tracks will be outstanding, but right now, that aspect of things is in too early a stage to accurately judge. That issue just affects the game’s replay value in the short term since people will eventually make amazing things with it, but the removal of online multiplayer will affect Fusion forever. That was one of Evolution’s best changes, and fully brought back the Excitebike vibe for the franchise that was 90% there with Trials HD.
Since this is the first series entry on a Sony system, a controller comparison is also in order. The Xbox One’s controller using revamped motorized triggers helps this game a lot. Every movement on the track brings about a different level of rumble, which reminds me of Project Gotham Racing 2 on the original Xbox a decade ago. The PS4 triggers lack this feature, so playing is a bit less immersive, and the revamped triggers still don’t feel quite as good as either the 360′s or the Xbox One’s. The Xbox One version controls better, while the PS4 version outputs at 1080p vs. the One’s 900p.
Honestly, this really doesn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. The game still looks like something you’d find on the 360, and in playing Evolution and Fusion back-to-back to compare the features, the visuals are shockingly similar. Fusion definitely has better reflections on glass, but still has muddy-looking textures for the environment. Texture pop-in at the start of a race is still present, but is less noticeable than it was before where you’d have large chunks of the environment loading in real-time and it was simply jarring. Animations are about as smooth as before, but the wheel animation has taken a step back with some of the obstacles. There’s an area late in the game where you have rotating things you need to pass over quickly and it winds up turning the tires into a cartoony rubbery mush that takes you right out of the reality of the game.
The industrial look of the first two games has been replaced by a slicker and cleaner setup. While this makes sense with the game’s vaguely-future setting, it really changes the feel of the franchise. It went from feeling like a something stuck in ’98 with Trials HD’s warehouse settings, to being a bit more modernized with the gaming homage-filled Evolution, to now just feeling like an assortment of tracks in both a modern and almost Jetson-esque future. The setting isn’t bad, it just never seems like the right setting for the game. It’s kind of like a show that goes to space, or gets an animated series just so it’s something new that can be done with it. Moreover, there’s now uPlay integration for things like bonus outfits that feels a bit excessive. Registration isn’t required to play the game, but the first thing you see when firing the game up is a screen for it, and that’s simply not what you want from a Trials game. I understand why it’s there and that RedLynx is a Ubisoft-owned company, and the importance of getting the uPlay name out there, but I still don’t like how it’s integrated into Fusion.
The traditional over-the-top sound effects are back with Fusion, so if you loved silly screams of terror before, you’ll be glad to hear them here. The soundtrack is quite a bit catchier at times than it’s ever been before, with the title screen song being something I’ve hummed more than once in public. There’s a lot more variety to the music here than there was in Evolution, and it allows the game to feel more contemporary even with its futuristic setting.
In theory, Trials Fusion should be the biggest and best entry yet. Between more development time and it being on next-gen systems, it should feel definitive. However, while it’s very good, it doesn’t raise the bar for the series like Evolution did. The graphics aren’t all that much better than they were before, and the use of uPlay is understandable, but leads to annoying things like outfits being locked behind it. The Trials series once felt like it had a bit of a rebel soul, and now the hard edge has been shaved off. In its place is a slicker and more polished product, but one that feels like it’s lost something in the transition. If you’ve yet to check the series out, at least check out the free demo, and if you dig it, get Evolution as soon as possible because it remains the best overall value in the franchise.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Trials Fusion for the Xbox One provided by Ubisoft.