360, PC, PS4, Xbox One
The Trials series isn’t really suited to sequels. DLC, sure, and perhaps the occasional reboot to freshen up those visuals, but RedLynx pulled off such a perfect landing with Trials HD back in 2009 that each attempt to better it is increasingly dangerous, and Fusion comes perilously close to losing its balance.
Tampering with the core bike riding in any new iteration is out of the question, which leaves RedLynx with two options: release more of the same, or release more of the same with new things bolted on. Evolution leant towards the former, sharpening up HD’s clunky level editor, polishing the visuals, and introducing more varied environments and local multiplayer. Fusion also adds lacquer, but is a good deal braver, experimenting with four-wheel-drive quad bikes and a physics-based trick system. The result, sadly, is that it feels fractured.
Thankfully, the Trials game at the centre of all this innovation is as good, and as viciously challenging, as it’s ever been. Fusion’s tracks are some of RedLynx’s best yet, and series fans will feel at home instantly as they shift their rider’s weight to keep that back wheel planted. Newcomers are well looked after, too, and each tier of the career mode opens with a clear and concise tutorial that talks riders through the basics as well as more advanced techniques. There should be no excuse for not knowing how to bunnyhop this time around.
It’s also the best-looking Trials yet. While the series’ aesthetic has previously been somewhat utilitarian, Fusion’s futuristic setting proves its most successful and consistent look to date. Tracks blend dazzling metallic architecture with the organic mud, dirt and rock structures of Evolution. The huge draw distances and increased geometry appear to be weighing heavily on the engine, though, and there’s an alarming amount of texture pop-in when you begin a race, or restart it after making some progress, as well as some migraine-inducing polygon strobing in places. Your bike selection will have been made long before the model loads in on the menu, too, which is a shame given that your rides – as well as your rider – are fully customisable, with body kits, wheels and new outfits to purchase with your race earnings. Xbox One owners will once again have to settle for a much lower resolution than those playing on PS4, but at least that trade-off ensures that Fusion is in no danger of becoming the first console Trials game to dip below 60fps.
Fusion’s headline addition is its new FMX trick system, which is introduced early on in special events that take place on purpose-built tracks. Rather than rely on button presses or combinations, RedLynx has opted for an organic control scheme that loosely resembles Skate’s Flick-It system. Your rider’s pose is controlled with the right stick, so you push left to do a Superman, for example, or trace an arc from left to right to lie flat in front of the handlebars for a dead body. The longer you hold each trick, the more points you accrue, and these scores can be further increased by adding frontor backflips into the mix, or even simply performing wheelies and endos between jumps.
It’s pleasing enough at first, but while the FMX controls are intuitive, they’re rarely precise. Inputs are relative to the bike’s orientation – pulling the stick down when the bike is level makes your rider stand proudly on top of his ride, but do so with the bike pointing up and he’ll hang down from the handlebars. Given Trials’ trademark inertia, orienting your bike correctly is fiddly and it’s easy to fluff the move you were going for and do something else entirely. That’s especially problematic if it happens to be a repeat of an earlier trick (which harms your score), or you fail to achieve anything more than briefly writhing limbs. It’s telling that the score thresholds for gold and platinum medals for FMX events are the lowest in the game.
Another new addition is the all-terrain vehicle (ATV), a lumpen, brutish machine that eschews the bikes’ nimble grace for powerful four-wheel drive. Quads feel perfectly suited to the Trials beginner, providing a low-risk option for hill climbs and landing jumps, but they turn up halfway through the campaign. They’re neither as responsive nor as satisfying as even the least powerful trials bike, and feel extrinsic to the package. The tracks given over to the quads can’t be attempted with a bike, either, and Trials purists may find themselves resenting the resources that were dedicated to ATVs rather than additional bike courses. Local multiplayer is under-resourced, too. With only ten race tracks, repetition soon leads to fatigue, and while Evolution’s equivalent felt comparable to the main game, the pace of Fusion’s multiplayer is inexplicably hobbled to the point that your bike handles like it’s moving through syrup. Those choosing an ATV will find themselves at an advantage as well, with ramps easily demolished and landings almost impossible to get wrong when four wheels are delivering power. It all feels like it was included out of a sense of obligation rather than any real desire to raise a smile, let alone the pulse.
Head-to-head online multiplayer and live ghost racing aren’t available at launch, but will be added in a free update down the line, along with what RedLynx promises is a completely new type of multiplayer for the series. A yet-to-be-activated Tournaments tab on the menu screen promises bespoke online events and leagues. Post-release DLC is also promised – we’re still holding out hope for a local turn-based Skill Games league – but whatever content RedLynx adds to the game in the weeks and months following release is certain to be dwarfed by the contributions of its fanbase. Over 700,000 tracks and minigames were made using Evolution’s editor, after all.