We know that topping Trials Evolution would be no easy feat. As the second game in the Trials series, Evolution hit Xbox Live Arcade back in April of 2012 and was in such high demand that it shattered digital sales records right out of the gate. Not only did this sequel to Trials HD feature tighter gameplay and more varied environments, but it contained so much content that it could've fetched retail prices if it wanted to. So suffice it to say, Evolution went above and beyond to deliver incredible quality and value. Knowing that it would be borderline impossible to outshine, we kept our expectations in check while kicking up a fury of dirt in Trials Fusion.
When making your way to the starting line, you’ll find yourself in a futuristic, technology-driven society that’s shrouded in ambiguity. For the first time in a Trials game there’s a narrative, which unfolds in subtle fashion as you progress through the campaign. Not only will the voice of a mysterious AI named Cindy be instructing you in the ways of play, but she’ll also make observations on the surroundings, slowing filling in the blanks and hinting at your purpose in relation to the world around you. It’s nothing complex, and it could certainly be removed from the game without anyone caring all that much, though we’d be remiss to admit we didn’t find it intriguing.
When it comes to appearances, Fusion looks great but doesn't necessarily wow. Instead of a massive leap in graphical prowess from last to current gen, the focus seems more aimed at populating the surroundings with fuller textures, better lighting, and eye-popping spectacles that often affect the ground beneath your tires. Returning from past installments are the slow-to-load textures that frequently pop in and load during gameplay. This was also an issue in Evolution, but besides being slightly off-putting, it’s doesn’t get in the way of play. If it can only be one way or another, we’d rather deal with this blemish than have to wait between respawns, which occur instantaneously – though you’ll sometimes have to wait a couple seconds when going to the start of a track instead of the last checkpoint.
Anyone that has spent time with a previous entry in the series will be right at home with the controls, as the gameplay hasn’t changed a bit. Most of the platforming action requires nothing more than the use of three buttons: left joystick will lean the rider while the triggers can be administered for brakes and gas. Of course mastering the courses won’t be as easy as the controls are to grasp, with an ample degree of precision and finesse needed to navigate through the most perilously-prepared landscapes.
Manning the various bikes (and even an ATV) through the ramp-centric world of Trials Fusion is as satisfying as it has ever been – in fact, the handling feels tighter. Part of this is possibly due to the rumbling that permeates through the triggers when laying on the gas or applying the brake, creating a better sense of grip on the terrain while enhancing the impacts of any collisions. Plus, we just found the Xbox One controller to be impressively comfortable with the experience. Regardless of the reason, control-wise, this is the best-feeling Trials yet.
The campaign is divided into eight events, each comprised of about five to eight tracks to explore. While each of the events features a distinguishable theme – like urban cityscapes, exotic paradises, and arctic tundras – almost all of the tracks are built around some sort of futuristic architecture. Where Evolution featured an unrelenting amount of variety throughout its vast collection of memorable tracks, Fusion feels more generic in its settings. There are undoubtedly unforgettable tracks – like Waterworks, which puts you in the middle of an aerial assault on the world around you, and another where the course populates with platforms as you move along – but at a certain point it’s hard to fight the sensation that we’ve seen a lot of this before.
But does that mean any of it is bad? No, not really. At their worst, a bulk of the tracks are streamlined and a bit uninspired — ditching memorable themes and decorative obstructions for spread out ramps and roads — but they're all still fun to blaze through. While veterans will likely find about 80% of the campaign to be a breeze, the real challenge lies in completing the three optional objectives attached to each track. While these can be hit-and-miss — mostly due to how vague the descriptions can be — they will no doubt be a welcome addition for hardcore fans looking for a serious challenge.
Red Lynx has also added FMX tracks into the campaign, which allow you to rack up points by performing tricks with the right joystick. It’s a great way to expand on an incredible foundation, but unfortunately this new system isn’t applied to a meaningful enough effect. Outside of the 6-ish FMX tracks, performing tricks means nothing. We were surprised to learn that throwing a few 'superman flips' or 'going to hell’s' into an impeccable run couldn’t better enhance your position on the leaderboards. So long story short, FMX is a delightful addition that hasn’t been used enough — though that could change when online multiplayer drops.
That's right, Trials Fusion has launched without online multiplayer — said to be added as free DLC at a later date. Within the main menu you'll find options for Tournament and Team modes, both of which we know virtually nothing about at this point in time. There are a limited number of supercross tracks that can be played with four players locally, but these don't offer much lasting appeal. For us, the online multiplayer in Evolution was something that we indulged in on a nightly basis, so these missing modes were certainly a blow to our review experience. Thankfully, Track Central has returned, offering a potentially never-ending future for Fusion.
Jumping in and creating your own tracks can be extremely obtuse and confusing if you don't have a history with this sort of thing. What you'll need to do is venture over to RedLynx's YouTube page for the proper tutorials. For those of you that don't want to create, don't worry, you can browse through user-created tracks and skill events to set your best times, earn medals, and collect XP. All of the XP that's accumulated in each game mode will allow you to level up, resulting in new rider gear and bike parts. The amount of customization is very limited this time around — only granting change to the frame and tires — which is a slight disappointment, but nothing to cry about.
So even though Trials Fusion isn’t necessarily light on entertainment, it does feel a bit stripped down compared to the content-heavy Trials Evolution. Part of this is due to the lack of online multiplayer and also because there were no quality user-created tracks to participate in during this review; leaving little to do outside of the campaign – which we completed much quicker than previous installments. This is still a no-brainer purchase for fans of the series and it’s even a sound starting point for newcomers, it just shines a little less than its older siblings.
Trials Fusion takes a few steps back in it's track design and variety, but the same great physics-based platforming is intact and tighter than ever, lessening the blow of the potential disappointments. First timers looking to get initiated should find this to be the most accessible Trials yet, while veterans will stay plenty busy chasing the newly added challenges tacked onto each course, even if they are utterly vague at times. With the lack of online multiplayer at launch being an absolute shame, we can only hope that the deep track creator will produce enough entertainment to keep adrenaline junkies busy until the DLC begins to trickle out over the next year. This engine may not roar as loudly as it did in Trials Evolution, but it's a solid entry in the series, nonetheless.