A staggering 14 years after its browser debut, Trials is still going strong. That's a testament to the longevity of its easy to learn/hard to master mechanics, but also its intuitive controls and hilarious rag doll effects. With Fusion, developer Redlynx has made the most changes to the franchise in a while, including taking it to a futuristic setting and adding tricks for the first time.
The good news is that the basic mechanics of Trials are untouched. Navigating your bike over obstacles is as frustrating and fun as it has always been, and balance, speed, and reflexes all still play a role in your success or oft-repeated failure. So rather than reinvent the wheel, RedLynx has decided to add features to the periphery of the game. This results in a decent Trials experience, but it also adds some potentially unnecessary elements to the overall package.
For example, the game now requires a Uplay account to integrate with online leaderboards. To add fuel to the fire, in the seven days since the game's release, the Ubisoft servers were down more than they were up. This resulted in players waiting to connect after every couple of rounds, only to time out. In addition, being unable to access features of the game such as the user-generated tracks will not do much to endear people to the service.
Hopefully these launch jitters disappear in the next few weeks as the online features are great when working. An example: two days after launch, there were 300 tracks uploaded to the Track Central system for other players to try.
So the track editor is back, although to suggest it only edits tracks is perhaps not doing it justice. Whilst not quite Gary's Mod, it's a flexible tool that allows players to create any number of track styles. It even allows for challenge maps and physics games to be produced by those with the talent and patience to do so.
Of course, the most important part of the Trials online experience is the leaderboards, and knocking a few seconds of time from your friends’ best efforts. Curiously, at launch no online multiplayer exists. You can race against the ghosts of others, but no real-time multiplayer action can be found.
RedLynx cites player feedback as the reason for this, and promises a revised multiplayer mode is coming soon as a free download. No date has been given, nor any detail of what this may look like.
There have also been changes to how challenges work. Aside from specific challenge levels, each track has its own set of challenges, ranging from never letting off the gas to playing tennis against a giant penguin. Not all challenges are listed, with some hidden within the tracks themselves. That does add replayability to some of the tracks, as you'll find yourself going back to them to see what secrets you can find.
Trials Fusion renders at 800p on the Xbox One, though a 900p patch is pending. It doesn't appear to be the sort of game that would tax the new generation of consoles significantly, so it's curious as to why neither new-gen version runs at 1080p 60fps. Sure, there's more happening onscreen in Fusion than in previous Trials titles: spaceships fly by, dams burst, and levels change dynamically. These touches add flair to proceedings, but also trigger occasional frame rate stutters. Texture pop can also be found at the beginning of some tracks as well.
An electronic dance-style soundtrack now accompanies the game, to tie in with the futuristic theme. As with any vehicle game soundtrack it does get old quickly, but can be turned off. Same goes for the announcers, whose addition is used to give a fairly flat and irrelevant storyline to the singleplayer career mode. A lot of their speech is event- or position-triggered, and given how many retries are expected in a Trials game, that’s a curious design decision. Thankfully you can turn them off, but in doing so you will miss out on the odd audio clue for a secret area.
Trials Fusion succeeds because the basics are so good. While there is the odd graphical glitch or connectivity issue, and the lack of multiplayer is disappointing, the promise of future fixes and a solid core game will be enough to win players over. It should be noted that the game’s NZ$40 price tag is higher than that of previous Trials games at launch, and that there us less here for your dollar than in those older titles. But even so, Trial Fusion is the best 40 bucks you can spend on Xbox Live at the moment.