You have to hand it to RedLynx for making dying look a hell of a lot of fun. Although by no means the main objective of the second Trials sequel, once again faceless stunt riders cartwheel through the air, limp bodies thrown from their saddle a hundred feet above ground and eviscerated in a pyrotechnic showcase that makes Guy Fawkes look like an amateur, all in the aid of pulling off the perfect jump.
In some ways it’s the spiritual successor to Excitebike. Charging players to deftly navigate over bumps and above pitfalls across a variety of precariously-designed tracks, the goal being to reach the finish line with as few errors and restarts as possible. It’s compulsive, exhilarating and often frustrating stuff, the key being to maintain precise handling over the nuanced controls and delicate physics – which is easier said than done when it involves accelerating off a steep ramp and over a 10 meter gap onto a jet engine.
It’s this fundamental juxtaposition between skill and absurdity that remains key to Trials’ appeal and Fusion appositely excels in expanding the concept. RedLynx view of the next-gen isn’t far detached from the last but everything has been given a slick sheen and filtered through substantial amounts of lens flare, and when it transitions into science-fiction it finds basis to construct the series’ most histrionic-laden tracks impressive in their inventiveness.
You’ll be dropped from a raised platform straight down a stomach-churning ramp and launched into the bowels of a scientific research facility littered with explosive traps (what else?), propelled through jungle foliage and hopping over dismantled plane wreckage, while rockets wait across the finish line to propel your racer into the stratosphere.
It’s visually striking stuff, the camera pulling back to drink in the gorgeous terrain, elegantly lighted to create snapshots of cinematic grandeur. There’s much more variety as well, swiftly jumping between the lush vegetation of inland tropics, sprawling mountain ranges and into curious futuristic constructs.
There’s a sense that the developer is both more relaxed and having more fun this time around, exuding a well-earned amount of confidence to expand the design of its tracks (both conceptually and in sheer scale), not to mention some of the mechanics and features that have become series staples.
The most noticeable addition is the inclusion of tricks. While it’s not a feature that impacts the entire game, it’s mostly implemented for specific point-scoring events. Twist the right thumbstick while airborne and your ragdoll stuntman will perform one of a handful of stunts, chaining which will result in higher multipliers and therefore points.
Tricks are simple and well implemented, albeit with a few similar inputs getting muddled during play. It’s disappointing that these events are for the most part restricted to basic linear track-types, rather than merging point-scoring objectives with the more large-scale and imaginative courses. The result is a handful of adequate courses that play out like linear Tony Hawk-style mini-games, rather than anything more significant.
Elsewhere, there’s also the addition of quad bikes to mix up the formula slightly (again, restricted to specific stages), but its handling isn’t considerable enough to signify a massive change of pace from what you’ll already be used to by the time you’ve unlocked the new vehicle.
Still, what it does signify is a wealth of content that’s crammed into the game. Alongside the new vehicles and level-types are challenges and Easter eggs tucked away in each new level. These are vaguely defined at the start of each track and are ludicrously well hidden in some cases, but, like all the best Easter eggs, they’re worth persevering with to discover just to witness how bonkers they are – with a lot, weirdly, involving penguins.
There’s also the expected glut of familiar content that returns: multiplayer and track editor being the two favourites. Certainly the former is what a lot of players will be looking to as the main attraction and given the larger track types and variation in bikes, there’s plenty here to get your competitive engine roaring.
Yet, the single-player is a significant step forward for the series and feels more relevant than ever before. You’ll be obsessive over obtaining gold medals on each track, restarting again and again to get that perfect time, or to get to the end without a single fault. While nothing has changed in that regard since the series’ inception, all the frills ultimately enhance that obsessive drive to do better.
For the first handful of locations (each housing around 8 courses) the learning curve is smooth, but it takes a steep climb after that. Instead of maybe one or two retries at most and blitzing through a course in under a minute, you’ll be staring at 20, 40, even 100 retries over the space of a few minutes. It’s enough to diminish some of the thrill leading- up to that point and draws away from its compulsive nature – not to mention likely turn away a lot of the series’ casual fans.
Nevertheless, Trials Fusion is every bit the Trials game you’ve come to expect and then some. RedLynx has embraced the next-gen and taken the series to its next logical step. While some of its new features fail to shake-up the formula dramatically, it does make for the most full-bodied and content-heavy entry in the franchise to date.
Crucially, with this wealth of content and a more robust online system, it doesn’t just herald this as the ultimate Trials game, but also one that’ll have fans hooked for a long time to come.