Daredevil’s delight

I’ve always enjoyed the Trials series, because it’s uncommon nowadays to get a game that gives you a sense of accomplishment every time you finish a section—and that seems to be a staple of Trials’ charm. It constantly tests your reflexes as you try to guide a digital motorbike across ridiculous landscapes while battling Newton’s laws of motion. It’s rarely easy, but almost always fun.

So, it was with great pleasure to find that Trials Fusion, the latest entry in the series, has that balance that made me curse it at times—like when I didn’t have enough momentum to carry me through a vertical loop—but still made me want to try again and again until, thumbs aching, I could pump my fist in the air after nailing a perfect run for the gold medal.

Just like previous games in the series, you play as a motorbike driver who moves along a linear path through an obstacle course designed by madmen. By beating stages both quickly and without crashing, you earn medals, which then unlock more stages that continue to ramp up in difficulty. To increase replayability, each stage also has three special objectives that require you to play the course differently each time. Some tasks ask you to locate and flawlessly run through alternate paths, while others demand you perform a variety of acrobatic moves on your bike.

The first things players will likely notice is that Fusion’s courses are just as demented as those seen in previous Trials games. You bounce across a bunch of blimps hovering around skyscrapers, get shot into the air by water fountains in a park, and need to anticipate tracks that rise and fall at the whim of an automated factory’s maintenance programming. Couple this with the voice of your instructor providing color commentary in the background and the always comical demise you meet after crossing the finish line, and the tracks seem to have as much personality as some antagonists in more narratively driven games.

The controls are also just as tight as the previous games, with your position on the bike affecting momentum just as much as the pressure you apply to the gas or brakes. When you combine the insane level design with the crisp controls, it’s easy to see the series’ infamous difficulty is also mostly intact. Even early on, you can’t just hold down the accelerator and hope to barrel your way through each stage.

There’s a little more handholding overall, however, that Trials veterans should be aware of. Fusion sees a lot more checkpoints in each individual trial to restart from, but only a perfect run will net you gold, which is a nice way to cater to both the casual as well as the hardcore.

Something that clearly favors newcomers? Tricks don’t unlock until the third level, nearly two dozen stages in. While I get that a lot of controls might be a bit much for novice players to take in—and with this being the first game in the series on a Sony system, there’s a strong possibility for a new audience—that means experienced Trials players have to wait for almost a third of the campaign before they can unlock their Superman handlebar grab, and that could rub them the wrong way.

Putting this aside, when it comes to the core pillars of the game, developer RedLynx thankfully appears to have taken a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach to things. There’s more to Fusion than just racing through obstacles and performing absurd poses in mid-air and praying that you stick the landing each time, though.

The renowned track creator also sees a return. RedLynx once again opens up their toy box and gives players all the tools they used to make the tracks the game launched with. Once you create your own tortuous run to the checkered flag, you can upload it to a new community bulletin board where players and developers will vote on tracks each week, with the best of the best getting the spotlight.

Like many of your runs through late-game courses, however, Fusion does hit the occasional pothole. A new leveling system sees you gain XP for every course and challenge you complete, and it’s used to unlock different costumes and bike parts. This common gaming feature hits a snag, though, because the parts are for purely cosmetic purposes. Cosmetic-only unlocks certainly aren’t unheard of, but I would’ve loved for new parts—or even entirely new bikes—to feel like they handle differently from one another. The only vehicle that doesn’t feel like a clone of all the others is the ATV, but that’s because it’s a completely different class of vehicle. I don’t need to completely deconstruct the bike and fine-tune the engine like some car-racing simulator, but knowing that some bikes go faster or have better grip would’ve given me some motivation to unlock items.

The multiplayer from Trials Evolution also returns, but only a local versus option is available day one. A patch with a new online multiplayer mode is coming down the line, but neither mode is likely to hold your attention because your focus will always deviate back to not crashing than winning the race.

Trials Fusion is still a worthwhile experience for all those wannabe daredevils out there. When you’re able to push past a lot of the little additions that didn’t work out, Trials Fusion is still one heck of a platform racer with a core that longtime fans will enjoy—and that newcomers should embrace.

Developer: RedLynx • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.16.14
While Trials Fusion isn’t the best entry in the long-running motorbike-racing franchise, the core of what made previous entries so great remains, which should satisfy longtime fans and newcomers alike.
The Good Gameplay is still challenging enough that it feels like an accomplishment when you beat courses.
The Bad Pointless leveling system; local multiplayer only at launch.
The Ugly The looping theme song that haunts you in your nightmares.
Trials Fusion is available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review.