Trials Fusion is the fifth game in the reasonably long-running Trials series, a franchise one might refer to as what happens when you give tilty vehicular platform games a budget. It’s so well received and popular that despite being far from the first to attempt this genre, most games like this following Trials are widely considered to owe their existence to it. Finally moving to the new generation, Trials Fusion feels like the next Trials game…and little more.
Across its eight main events, each made up of a Skill Game, an occasional FMX game (more on that soon), and around 5-6 traditional levels, you tilt your bike (or the recently added ATV), speed up, slow down, and carefully balance your way through each platforming obstacles. As you go through each level, progressing from Beginner to Extreme, levels get more devious and generous checkpoints become more appreciated. It starts about as easy as Trials Evolution, gets as brutally difficult as Trials Evolution, has the same progression system as Trials Evolution (it’s all about getting better times to get Gold, and maybe higher ranking, medals), has similar Skill Games as Trials Evolution (if not much less creative), plays roughly similar to Trials Evolution, and is about as well made as Trials Evolution. For most of the single-player game, even in its excellent design, it goes through the standard Trials motions.
In its faithfulness, Fusion offers new ways to play in the form of an ATV and FMX motocross tricks. I specifically say “an ATV” because the TKO-Panda is the only ATV in the entire game (as opposed to five other bikes to choose from), and it can only be used on a select few single-player Career levels and player-created levels. This is a shame too, because using the ATV is a lot of fun; it feels heavier and has a bit more power behind it than the bikes. FMX tricks allow you to use freestyle motocross moves in which you flip and contort through the air by maneuvering the right stick. You can technically use them on any track upon unlocking them, but they only have significance in specific FMX levels that task you with building trick points in a certain amount of time. I love how easy it is to pull off and time tricks (it’s even easier than Joe Danger), yet I’m also disappointed at how these two potentially huge features only get barely-adequate airplay outside of regular levels.
There’s also a leveling system that unlocks new aesthetic items for your racer and bikes, done so by gaining EXP through level completion and challenges. The latter of which is brand-new, offering in-level mini-achievements making you do things like beat a level while holding the gas down during the whole run without faulting. I personally never focused on these because I never cared about aesthetic upgrades, but it certainly allows more opportunities for replayability.
Like previous Trials games, online play makes an appearance in the form of a track creator and leaderboards. Leaderboards filter between categories like your friends and overall competition (with ghost racers to compete against), and the track creator is back from previous games with slightly more robust tools for FMX level creation. What isn’t online this time around is the returning four-player local multiplayer mode from Evolution, which is mostly identical outside of new tracks. In that sense, Fusion’s answer to multiplayer is actually less robust than the online-capable version found in its predecessor.
The series further changes things up in its presentation, ditching warehouses and warzones for futuristic Mass Effect-style city landscapes, lush rainforests, and a slowly crumbling planet. In its jump to super-duper new-gen high-definition, it runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second on PS4, and good lord does the crisp world show. Everything looks smooth and has a certain sheen to it that an Xbox 360 couldn’t quite pull off.
It also introduces a sort of running narrative for the first time. Occasionally during levels, different robot voices offer various brief surreal tidbits into the deteriorating future setting this takes place in, with the largest focus being on the fusion (get it?) of man and machine. It’s funny and slightly unsettling in this kind of mechanics-first game, but it also gives Fusion an extremely welcome weird science fiction personality.
Yet even with its beautiful graphics and fun integrated narrative, the technical side of the presentation still leaves a bit to be desired. The menus are presented as futuristic and sleek, but it’s difficult to look at them as futuristic when load times are a bit too long while loading bike models and text is occasionally far too small to be comfortably read. The graphics might be incredibly crisp, but they seem far less so with occasional blatant pop-in and texture loads at the beginning of each run.
From its simple roots as just another vehicular platform game done right, Fusion is not only just as good as the games that came before it, but now it looks incredible, has something resembling a story, and provides two new big features with the potential to give the game further evolution. Unfortunately, that potential never delivered, and more unfortunately, I am using the phrase “just as good” to describe this title. In its half-hearted attempt at a grander scope and a better game, what should have been “the great new Trials game” can now only be referred to as “another great Trials game.”
PS4 review code provided by Ubisoft. Trials Fusion is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 on April 16, and comes to PC on April 24.