Trials Fusion Review – PlayStation 4

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“Welcome to the future”, or at least Ubisoft’s vision of the next generation of puzzle platform racing on two (and occasionally four) wheels.  Trials Fusion is the latest installment in the infamous Trials franchise; this time spanning both last and current gen systems as well as PC.  Developer RedLynx had a solid foundation on which to build, but instead of truly evolving the franchise to new heights they seemed more content to make minor improvements and tweaks to the established formula while keeping the frustration factor at an all-time high.

Trials Fusion is divided into eight events or chapters, each with a dozen or so races taking placed within an environmentally themed location such as the desert, mountains, swamp, city, etc.  Most chapters begin with a short pass/fail training mission that teaches you a few new skills that will be required to complete the next set of races.  You then work your way through each race trying to get to the finish line in the shortest amount of time with the fewest resets.  Each event series marks a significantly more challenging experience as you move from beginner to easy and then medium and hard events.  For the most part the difficulty ramp is smooth for 64% of the game up to and including Rainforest Rumble, and then you hit a brick wall.

The remaining three events; Skill Showcase, Expert’s Club, and Master’s Gauntlet aren’t fit for human consumption or at least humans with any normal tolerance for repetitious and annoying gameplay.  As you move into the final third of the game Trials Fusion loses any semblance of a racing game and reveals its true nature as a ledge-jumping platform game crippled by crazy physics and unpredictable controls.  In short, the game ceases to become fun.  I was having the thrill ride of my life up until this point and am proud to say that I completed all races in all of the first five chapters with Gold medals and NO RESETS, but in these later levels you are begging the video game gods to simply let you reach the finish line for a bronze.  Don’t be surprised if you take 30…40…maybe 50 attempts to make a single stupid jump and resets numbering in the hundreds are not unheard of for a completed event.

I suppose if you like this sort of frustrating challenge then Trials Fusion is going to be your favorite new platform-racer, but for me this game plays and feels best when I am racing along at top speeds, feathering the gas and independently tweaking bike and body balance to make these incredibly impossible jumps on rollercoaster-style tracks.   These early and mid-game races are exhilarating in such a way that I refused to ever use the checkpoint reset (circle button) but would rather reset the entire race (touchpad) if I ever crashed; even if the finish line was in sight.

Trials Fusion is thrilling from the very first level as you break free from the initial starting area and find yourself high above a desert floor with giant wind fans and futuristic hovercraft zipping about.    The camera angles are used to great effect, often panning up or left and right around the rider.   One of my favorite levels in the entire game is presented entirely from a 2D sidescrolling perspective and in pure black silhouette against a gorgeous orange desert sunset.  This level is therapeutically soothing and one I frequently return to when I get frustrated in those later events.  There is a mix of day and night and even some bad weather creating a wide variety of racing environments including some indoor events where sections of the track are assembled mere seconds before you reach them.

New to the series are quad-bikes and a new FMX trick system, but both of these new features are pretty much forgotten almost immediately after being introduced.  Once unlocked you can return to earlier tracks and race the quad-bike on previous motorcycle runs, but there are no reward incentives for doing so.   The trick system is surprisingly intuitive, allowing you to manipulate the bike and rider to strike various poses and rotational flips to pull off a variety of signature tricks, but again, there are only a few events that require you to pull off stunts for points and no reason to attempt them outside those events.  The Skill Game Circus has been abandoned and you now get maybe a half-dozen skill-based events like racing down a ski jump and launching your rider for max distance, or a three-event homage to the Olympics where you jump for distance and height before tackling the hurdles.  My favorite mini-game has you jumping off a high ledge then striking a series of poses (tricks) before you hit the ground.

RedLynx has even gone as far as to try and include a story into the game, but this comes off as inconsequential and more annoying that the so-called story in Titanfall’s campaign.  The narrative is told entirely through voiceovers that repeat each and every time you restart a race.  The sound mix defaults to levels where engine noise and sound effects drown out most of the speech, but thankfully you can go into the options and turn off the narrator separately – highly recommended.

Visually, Trials Fusion can be quite stunning at times.  Obviously, the PC version offers the most stable experience with a locked 60fps and minimal texture pop.  The PS4 version being reviewed here also had consistently smooth framerates and only exhibited texture pop when resetting a race, but all textures were fully populated before the three-second countdown.   The Xbox One version is not only presented a lesser resolution than the PS4, it also suffers from greater amounts of texture pop during the race and noticeable screen tearing due to a lack of vsync.  It’s worth noting that you can get tearing on the PC version if you disable vsync, but why would you?

There is no online racing currently available for Trials Fusion at launch, but you can have up to four players racing locally in single-screen events, but this proves to be problematic because once any one rider gets too far ahead of the others the game warps all riders getting dropped off the left edge of the screen back into the race creating a very disjointed experience.   There are also only a handful of tracks (most of them boring) that can be used for local multiplayer.  Thankfully the game still has Ghost racing that you can cycle between your own best time, your friends’ best time, or you can even go into the leaderboards for each track and load the ghost from any rider of your choice – even the top player in the world.

The true longevity of Trials Fusion lurks within its intuitive track editor.  At the end of the first day after launch there were 565 tracks in the user-created library and as of this review there are nearly 3,000.  You can literally watch the track counter increase in near real-time on the main menu.  Thankfully, with so many tracks it is easy to search for the newest and top-rated tracks using a variety of default and user-defined filters.  There are even Uplay and RedLynx recommended tracks.  Once you’ve completed a track (but only if you complete it) you get to vote thumbs up or down, which factors into the overall ranking of that track.  User tracks are also categorized into the various skill tiers, but I’m not sure if the creator gets to pick that rank or the game defines it by track components, as I tried several Medium tracks that played more like Hard ones.   There were also many tracks I disliked but didn’t have the patience to continually retry and complete them just so I could cast my negative vote.

The more you play the more XP and coin you earn that will slowly escalate you through the leveling ranks of both single player and user-created track content.   New bikes will be unlocked providing new subtle nuances to racing and you can spend your rewards on a variety of unlockable content to customize your rider.   There is even some small crossover integration with Trials Frontiers, the new free mobile version of Trials currently available on the iTunes store.  By playing both sides of this unique challenge you can unlock an exclusive rider costume.

When Trials Fusion is doing what it does best – wild racing against the clock – there is nothing quite like it.  But it only takes about 4-5 hours to get through the first five events (even going for perfect gold) and then you hit that brick wall of overwhelming frustration where races that used to take only a minute or two are now taking upwards of 20-30 minute and hundreds of retries, and frankly, that just isn’t fun.  But even if you never finish the final third of the game that Ubisoft has delivered, there are thousands of current user tracks available and more being created and added every minute, and many of the tracks the users are creating are far more original than the built-in tracks.  It makes me wonder what Ubisoft can possibly offer in their Season Pass that would compel players to spend more money.   Trials Fusion is not without its issues, but content and longevity isn’t one of them, and for that reason alone it is probably worth checking out; especially if you enjoyed the previous games.

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