When a series like Trials releases a new title, the first question that always comes to mind is: why? Why is another game in this series being released when the gameplay is going to be exactly the same as the previous titles? Trials Fusion justifies its existence in several ways that elevate the series in a way that none of the previous games have ever been able to do. By simply adding a story, the Trials experience becomes something grander, and a weird meta-commentary on the way in which we enjoy the challenging physics-simulator that is at the game’s core.
The Trials series has made a name for itself in being one of the most fun-yet-challenging games, that prides itself on its heavy reliance in physics simulation. Being able to finish a trial is one thing, but getting a gold medal (the fastest time) on a track might take hundreds of retries to perfect. On harder difficulties, that is guaranteed. Trials Fusion continues with the tried-and-true mechanics of the previous games, and the same amounts of frustration will definitely occur as players progress through the insanely-detailed levels, trying their best not to crash. In that respect, Trials Fusion suffers its first fault that holds it back from being the perfect game in the series. The difficulty spikes out of nowhere once you go from the medium to hard tracks, then doing the Extreme tracks are virtually impossible and I applaud anyone that can even finish them. Easy and medium difficulties were not even a problem for me as I played, not having played a Trials game since Trials HD, and I got gold medals in those with a relatively small number of retries. The moment that a hard track appeared, the game became reliant on players having learned how to maneuver their bike and perform the expert moves that a Trials player would need. Unfortunately, the game teaches these elements, but pays very little attention as to whether you actually learned them or just lucked into nailing it during the one-shot tutorials.
I suppose the biggest problem is that the medium difficulty is far too easy, and that only helps the game become more punishing by contrast. However, Trials Fusion is a game all about learning, and the constant retrying of a track is what the series has been predicated upon. Checkpoints are placed throughout the tracks at perfect intervals, with usually a single jump that will require some retries to overcome. Initially, I was retrying the entire course if I crashed even once, as I aimed for that gold medal. But once it became impossible not to falter, the checkpoints became my saving grace. Trials Fusion teaches its mechanics in a trial-and-error format, similar to a game such as Dark Souls – if Dark Souls had dirtbikes and a dumb, yet pleasing intro song.
As I noted, I was replaying entire tracks over if I faulted once during any of my runs, especially on the lower difficulties. When doing so, the game has a hard time hiding some of its technical flaws. Textures would have to reload every single time the track was restarted, with it taking almost an entire second for them to load in. This would not be a problem if retrying was not the best way of learning how to master Trials Fusion. Yet it is, and zero-fault runs are rewarded via challenges for each track, so the textures would constantly be muddy and incomplete as I failed to make a ramp for the umpteenth time. There are also cues for when the voice overs will kick in as you’re racing, which will be cut off and sometimes never occur again when restarting from a checkpoint. The major problem with this is that I wanted to listen to the speeches that the AI characters would give, because it all fed into the ominous, intriguing narrative that Trials Fusion weaves throughout the career.
Story has never been a part of the Trials series before Trials Fusion, and it is obvious why that has been the case. It is a game that relies on a character being recycled, over and over, as the player constantly tries to learn the fastest way to maneuver through the course. It is a game all about its mechanics. Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t the challenge of the tracks that made me want to proceed through the career, but the narrative itself, which is comprised entirely of voice overs as the player races, and the occasional glimpse behind the scenes in the excellent level design. The primary narrator is an AI named Cindy, who at first seems like a GLaDOS-esque character, but rather than being controlling and villainous, Cindy simply wants to escape with the player – presuming escape is even an option. However, she is coupled with George, another AI that is more inclined to adhere to his programming rather than follow in Cindy’s resistance. Their relationship is explored slightly more than that throughout the game, but not to a great extent.
The ideas presented by these AI characters are what makes Trials Fusion more than anyone really expected. A moment comes in the game when Cindy asks the player if they were ever curious why they are being forced to race on these specifically designed tracks. With that, the seed was planted in my mind that the game was going to try and do something radical. The opening theme song, when not given much thought, is a dumb, catchy song that seems right at home in a game about dirtbikes and watching your rider crash. However, the lyrics hint at the grander story that Cindy and George present through their narration. The problem with the plot is that it does not go far enough and makes missteps because of that fact. The game recognizes that players are crashing over and over again, and it plays with that, but it never explains the nuances of its ideas. It outlines a world that is self-contained, but never takes much time to explain its sci-fi premise.
The final moments of Trials Fusion are exciting, despite the many questions left open by its sudden conclusion. The major contribution to its excitement is the level design, which as I mentioned early, is extraordinary. For a game that is linear, a lot of time and resources went into making the levels feel real and organic. Many of the levels in the final stage have a sense of urgency to them that is also assisted by the electronic-heavy music, and throughout the game players will be amazed at the amount of destruction that can occur on a course. Perhaps my favourite level was early in the game, as the course was being built in front of me as I rode through. It’s my favourite level not only because of its assembly-line nature, but also because it highlights the behind-the-scenes work of those making the courses. That these tracks are being designed specifically for the rider is made evident in the level, and continues to raise suspicions about what exactly is going on in Trials Fusion.
Narrative beats aside, the game is a lot of fun. It will get extremely challenging, leaving novice players with a lot of practicing required to tackle the later courses, but experts will still find much to enjoy in the addition of challenges for each track and an extreme difficulty for after you beat the game. Those who mastered previous games and feel like the time-based races are not enough for them will find something new in the trick system that Trials Fusion boasts. Controlling the rider with the right stick and maneuvering the bike with the left is simple enough, and the movement of the rider is loose enough to quickly link a few tricks together, but ambitious tricksters will have their work cut out for them trying to balance both the landing of the bike and a high score. Score only matters on specific trick-centric courses and those only happen every so often, but challenges encourage players to use tricks on race-centric courses as well.
There is so much to do in Trials Fusion, and it does more than enough to justify its existence when the Trials series felt like it was getting stale. The core mechanics are still the same, with some new additions, and even new vehicles like an ATV. Then there’s the sheer amount of content, like the challenges, trick system, medals, as well as user-created content and the ability to customize your bike and rider with a bunch of zany outfits. If you’re looking for a multiplayer experience, Trials Fusion only offers a local multiplayer option, but online is in the works, which doesn’t really affect me as a player, but those seeking the fun of playing with friends online have something to look forward to. Until then though, there is plenty to enjoy in the core game. It is all about replayability, and its narrative recognizes that. It is just a shame that the story does not go further than setting up a futuristic, totalitarian world. So much more could be done, and I am definitely hoping that any future iterations on the series continue in expanding the game’s science-fiction premise. Trials Fusion is a perfect example of how narrative can be added to a game in order to make it more exciting, even if it is a game that is known primarily for its mechanics.