Trials Fusion Review: Welcome to the future
If anyone would have told me five or so years ago, that gamers would obsess over a 2.5D stunt bike platformer that relies heavily on physics based puzzles, I would have said they were crazy. Low and behold, Redlynx shattered expectations when Trials Evolution hit the Xbox Live Marketplace and delivered an extremely satisfying and addicting experience that urged players to best their friend's records. It also massively improved on its predecessor, Trials HD. It was hard for me to imagine how Redlynx could build on what was already an absolutely stellar game. Then I played Trials Fusion.
"Welcome to the future."
That's the first thing you hear when the menu loads up and shows your cyber-armor wearing bike rider looking off into the distance of a futuristic skyline. Yes, Trials Fusion brings the dirt bike stun-athon to the future and with some truly devilish track design.
For those scratching their heads, Trials Fusion tasks players with completing crazy 2D courses in a certain amount of time, all while carefully balancing acceleration and breaking, as well as leaning back and forth on the bike. It's one of those games that sounds lame on paper, but works brilliantly in execution.
Like previous Trials games, it starts off easy enough. In fact, of the eight events that contain their own set of tracks, the game doesn't get extremely hard until the sixth one. However, this pacing is perfect for those that will be coming to the Trials franchise for the first time.
One obstacle new players might have to overcome is blocking out all the extra setpieces scattered around each level. To its credit, the levels in Fusion are a lot easier to read. It's important to realize that your bike will only go forwards (and sometimes back) once you figure that out, it's all a matter of picking out the pieces that are actually a part of your track, and using them to your advantage.
The key to succeeding in Fusion is speed and precision. Sometimes you'll want to squeeze the trigger and go full speed on a ramp, only to realize you land on an upwards ramp and lose momentum that you should have eased on the trigger, hopped over the ramp, and then gained momentum leading up to the ramp.
The later levels will seriously test your patience, as speed becomes less of a necessity, and instead the focus shifts on careful throttling and bunny hopping. Just to give you a little perspective, I was able to get a Gold metal with 0 retries on the first five events. Once the sixth rolled by, my retries went up to around 80 per track. It gets rough.
Actually, the first seven events are part of the main campaign, with the eighth unlocked after you finish all the previous events and earn enough medals. The eighth event, titled Master's Gauntlet ramps up everything up to Extreme. These levels are downright evil in their design, but fun as hell.
The difficulty, however, never detracts from the experience, and it's never unfair. It's one of those games that rewards repetition and learning the levels, because once you succeed and get a Gold medal where you previously had to retry a 100 times, you'll feel a rush of excitement and relief. That's a feeling that only a few games can capture (the Souls series for instance).
The main game itself isn't as long, but it does gain longevity through three goals per level. These goals will task you to pull off a certain number of flips, or wheelie across the last platform before the level ends. Most players probably won't be completing these when going for the Gold Medal, which means completionists will want to go back and revisit each level. Each additional goal also awards the player with extra XP that unlocks various gear that you can outfit your rider with. By the time I finished the main events, which took me about 4-5 hours, I sat around 65% game completion, meaning I still had loads of goals to still go back and complete.
New to the game are the new FMX levels, where physics based platforming takes a backseat, and it's all about nailing crazy tricks in the air with the help of the Right Thumbstick. The tricks are contextual depending on your relative position to your bike. If you hold back on the thumbstick while the bike is upright, you'll perform a Superman. However, if you hold the thumbstick left while you're upside down, you'll pull off a Coffin. These levels are built all about speed and ramps that propell you high in the sky, making them some of the most fun levels in the game, but there is usually only one of these per event.
A completely new vehicle, the TKO-Panda, is introduced in one of the game's main events. This four-wheeled ATV changes up the pace from the standard bike controls, by adding a lot more weight to the vehicle. But just like FMX events, the ATV is also severely underused.
It's worth noting that the despite its futuristic setting, the environments are still very diverse. You'll ride everywhere from a futuristic main street to a jungle environment, frozen mountain tops, broken down ruins, and much more.
The Track Central is present and is as robust as ever. During my time with the game, the Ubisoft servers did go down, limiting my time with this mode, but from the very brief time I had with it, I can say it's just as fully featured as previous iterations. The welcome message says something along the lines of "Our tools are your tools," meaning those with the patience to craft their own most devious and intricate levels can do so. This will no doubt extend the life of Fusion exponentially, assuming the fanbase will embrace the tools, as they did in previous Trials titles.
If you listen attentivelly during each level, you're constantly assisted by an AI program named Cindy, who starts off giving you advice or words of encouragement, but slowly starts being more creepy toward your character. In one level for example, she says "Do you ever wonder what fell from the sky and changed our world? I've been thinking about you and I, escaping together, hmmm, impossible dream...?" She's like GlaDOS, you know, if GlaDOS was an obsessive and possesive girlfriend.
I played the PS4 build which runs at a full 1080p and a locked 60 frames per second. Generally the game does look gorgeous. However, the game does suffer from some bad pop-in textures, specifically when quick-restarting a level. As soon as your bike appears in the beginning of the level, everything is flat and without color at times, until object by object gets textured in. It's jarring to say the least and something you don't expect to see on a PS4 title, especially one boasting its full HD resolution.
Nevertheless, it doesn't really detract from the gameplay, since it doesn't affect it at all. I've also experienced a few sound glitches where the song would loop the last few seconds. None of these issues affected my gameplay obviously, but certainly took away from the game's overall polish. Hopefully Redlynx has the capabilities to patch and smooth some of these issues out.
Trials Fusion doesn't change up the formula drastically from its predecessors, but adds some nuances that helps it distinguish itself. It might come with a few graphical hiccups that detract from its beauty, but the fun factor eclipses any of these issues.