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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: Trials Fusion (PlayStation 4)

Review by Shaan J.

Having already sunk countless hours into Trials Evolution, I was left wondering where developer RedLynx would next take the series. Having perfected its unique brand of masochistic motorcycle mayhem, I was initially a bit skeptical when Trials Fusion was announced just a year after Evolution dropped. I was worried that it was all just too soon, and there would be nothing new that could be added to the formula so soon..

Having now played it, I can safely say that Trials Fusion has done nothing close to reinventing itself or radically switching up the formula. And yet, I’m perfectly fine with this.

Sure, Trials Fusion features a fresh coat of paint, and it’s a welcome addition that I am happy to embrace with open arms. RedLynx has come a long way from the dingy, uninspired warehouses of Trials HD, and its years of experience and growth clearly shows. Despite being set in the ‘future’ (more on that slightly grating change later), environments and courses are varied, and just as chaotic as ever. Explosions, shifting courses, and over-the-top death animations are par for the course here, and it’s a relief to see that Trials Fusion hasn’t lost its unique brand of humour during the transition to newer consoles. That doesn’t mean that Trials Fusion is a decidedly last-gen title; while it’s likely that it began development on older hardware, the game still benefits from the added horsepower of the PlayStation 4, allowing for a silky smooth 60 frames per second in 1080p.

Even with all the new bells and whistles, series fans will undoubtedly care about one thing (and one thing only); the gameplay. RedLynx hasn't tinkered with the core mechanics all that much, leaving the physics-based handling intact. Speedy motorcycles are complemented with the ability to learn back and forth, which becomes key in later levels, as players attempt to drive up steep hills, bunny hop from platform to platform, and align their wheels as they plummet to the ground in free fall. The core campaign is (still) split among short, individual stages, and completing these with few faults and/or quickly will net medals, which in turn unlock more tracks. It’s a tried-and-true method that’s worked well for years, but the addition of optional challenges adds some much needed replay value.

There are overall fewer levels this time around, but each level features three challenges which do an excellent job of honing a player's skills and forcing them to tackle the same level in a completely different manner. Some of these challenges will be familiar to some; easier ones will task them with not letting go of the throttle, or performing a certain number of flips. However, the game features plenty of challenges that are more unique in what they're asking the player than they may have bargained for, such as rocketing through the air while navigating through rings of fire, or finding secret portals strewn across the level.

The one notable addition comes in the form of a new trick system, which falls in line with the game’s emphasis on physics. Rather than spamming buttons or memorising combos, stuns are handled with the right analogue stick, and depending on both the direction that the player moves the stick and how their motorbike is oriented, they'll pull off a corresponding trick. Despite the odd control quirk here and there, the trick system works well enough, even though they are relegated to specific, FMX focused levels, where the goal is to amass a large enough score, rather than focusing on a fast clear time or avoiding crashes.

The level design still reigns king in Trials Fusion, and is complemented by some great looking environments, secrets and Easter eggs that will keep ardent players coming back for more. It’s fitting then that the game’s robust level editor makes a return once more. Similar to other user-generated content-focused games (LittleBigPlanet comes to mind), the level creation tools are powerful enough to recreate the same content that was crafted by the developer, and based on the player-made levels from Trials Evolution, it shouldn’t be long before really unique stuff like first-person shooters and flight games make their appearance. Still, it’s a time-consuming process, and there are no tutorials included in-game for beginners (although RedLynx plans to upload tutorials on YouTube).

Even with the new additions and a handful of refinements, I can’t help but feel that Trials Fusion has taken a small (though noticeable) step back from the nearly flawless Trials Evolution. The absence of tutorial videos is one thing, but at the time of the game’s release, multiplayer has been offline and is now a strictly local experience, with the sole exception being the ability to race against a friend’s ghost. Ubisoft has promised that online multiplayer and a ‘tournament’ mode will be released sometime in the future, but at the time of writing, these modes are not available in any capacity. Sadly, both Ubisoft and RedLynx have been keeping quiet about specific details. Additionally, while I usually enjoy Trials’ tongue-in-cheek style of humour, some of the voice acting can get be a bit much when you’re retrying a course for the umpteenth time, the worst instance of which is the game’s menu music, which borders on a new level of idiocy (even if the developers were aiming for ‘stupidly funny’, it’ll annoy you before long).

Still, it’s not hard to recommend Trials Fusion, especially to longtime fans of the series. I can’t say it comes as much of a shock that RedLynx was not able to match the refinements from the previous outing, but even with its flaws and shortcomings, you shouldn’t be worry about giving this one a go. Trials Fusion is a worthy addition to the series, even if it isn't the complete package we were hoping for.

Review: Trials Fusion (PlayStation 4)
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