If you're one of the many, many players who became slightly addicted to Trials: Evolution or Trials HD, you'll be familiar with the components that make these games so the compulsive.
The Trials attraction is in the twitch. It's in the precarious balance struck between physics and forward momentum. It's all about knowing that there's myriad ways to mess up and the line between success and failure is thin enough to roll a dime down.
It's also about community, both competitively and constructively. Sure, the chance to climb the leaderboards makes Trials ideal for the hardcore crowd, but the track editor also gives players the chance to construct levels and share them with fellow riders. Some of the most prestigious track creators showed so much talent, in fact, that they were hired by RedLynx.
Trials HD wasn't Redlynx's first game; the Finnish developer has been around for ten years and has produced around 100 games since its inception. But Trials HD was the breakthrough moment. Reviewers eulogised it and the game shifted 200,000 copies. Trials: Evolution did even better; with six million sales under its belt, making it the second-best selling game on Xbox Live Arcade. (The first is Minecraft, and let's face it, being second to that isn't bad going).
Today the Trials franchise has become huge. Really huge. Over the last few years, Redlynx's side-scrolling two-wheeled platformer has grown in leaps and bounds. Next in the series is Trials: Fusion, and this is where Redlynx's flagship franchise goes widescreen.
It completes this franchise's metamorphosis from scrappy breakout hit to marque Triple A title. Ubisoft, which acquired Redlynx in November 2011, appears to have had some hand in this process. Thanks to the publisher's financial clout, Trials: Fusion is going to land on multiple platforms including PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Xbox 360. For the first time, it will ship as a standalone boxed product at retail.
Fusion looks eye-poppingly brilliant. Trials: Evolution's visual upgrade from HD's grimy warehouses to spacious vistas was welcome enough, but the new entry ups the ante considerably with sci-fi metropolises, tracks cut through sunburnt rock outcroppings, snow covered mountains and more.
On the next gen machines, Fusion became the first game I truly longed to witness in 3D, just because of the way the in-game camera swooped back to offer a long-angled view of a towering jump was simply breathtaking. The camera, by the way, is exactly where it needs to be at all times; it may pan back and forth occasionally to allow players to drink in the scenery, but its movement never hampers the player in any way.
The control set-up is as intuitive and tight as ever. Players control the bike's throttle with R2/Right Trigger and they use the left stick to move the rider's body, distributing his weight and balance according to the track's demands. The square/B button resets the rider to the last checkpoint and Option/Apps restarts the entire race. As was the case with previous entries, restarting a race or a checkpoint is instantaneous, which is fitting given how easy it is to wipe out in this game.
"Visually, Fusion ups the ante considerably with sci-fi metropolises, snow covered mountains and more"
There's a multiplayer mode in which up to four riders can compete across a series of tracks locally or online. There's a fantastic looking track editor, which players can use to create their own harrowing obstacle courses and then share them with the community. There are Skill Games; one example I was shown involved sending a rider down a short ramp and then leaping off the bike, arms flapping, until they face-planted. The longer the hang-time, the bigger the score.
Much of this sounds like the game's predecessor, Trials: Evolution, but Fusion has a ton of new content to bring to the party. First up, the array of bikes has increased and changed slightly. You have your standard, two-wheeled beasts, which range from those that are easy to control and slightly sluggish to those boasting a freakishly fast acceleration rate and delicately responsive chassis, but now you also have Quad-Bikes and Bicycles.
Both take a bit of getting used to. The former is heavier and harder to control mid-air, but its speed and power make it a favourite on tracks with loads of steep inclines. The latter is light and more responsive, but it relies more on momentum and speed; there were a couple of courses I and a couple of other players needed to quit because we couldn't build up enough speed to get past a near-vertical section of the track we were racing on.
Many of the bikes are customizable. Players earn in-game currency the more they play and they can buy some pretty sweet looking skins for their bikes. These cosmetic designs and decals don't change the physical capabilities of the bikes - and what a nightmare that'd be - but they look pretty cool. You can customise your rider, too. There are series of rider themes to pick from - including the road-warrior-esque Outsider and Evel Knievel's duds - and you can mix and match with hilarious results. I stuck a giant raccoon head on a rider wearing a ripped vest and the pants from a Hazmat suit.
Redlynx has also gifted players the option to pull off tricks in Fusion, beyond the standard forward or backward roll they could execute in previous editions. When their bike is airborne, the player can make the rider to perform outlandish stunts with the right thumbstick, such as standing on the handle bars or hanging off the back of the bike's rear fender.
It's a mechanic that recalls the SSX series but don't be fooled; unlike EA's snowboarding racer, momentum still plays a part in the proceedings.
If you execute a trick while spinning in mid air, the point at which you choose to reconvene your rider's bum to the bike's saddle can increase or decrease the rate of spin, and exponentially, the difficulty in landing the trick. It's also worth pointing out that you're only awarded points for tricks in FMX tracks, so if you're trying to conquer the leaderboards in the single-player campaign it's really not worth being flash about it.
Challenges are back, but they've had a twist added to them. Players have a certain amount of time to tackle a challenge on a track before the game changes things up and revamps the stretch of track it presented the rider initially. At the preview event we attended, it was demonstrated that the player could initiate a challenge by crashing head first into a pile of cacti. Both the track structure and veneer changed to something rather psychedelic; it was almost as though the bike rider had swallowed a mound of peyote.
"The trick mechanic recalls EA's SSX series but don't be fooled; momentum still plays a part in proceedings"
For the obsessives there's Fusion's Infinite mode, which generates tracks randomly, ramping up the difficulty with each successful completion. The goal here is to simply get to the end of each track and stack up successive wins. However, you have four lives to accomplish this and once they're gone, your tally is judged on the number of tracks you've completed. I managed three. The developer at the event I attended managed 15. Adjust your own expectations accordingly.
Redlynx has also threaded a ton of mini-games and Easter Eggs through Fusion. One example on a course marked Park & Ride allowed players to break off from a race and play a game of tennis against a penguin. In another instance, the developers showed how piloting a bike down a hole in a snow bank resulted in an animation showing the rider being barbequed by a group of penguins. Note: penguins are the new squirrels.
Trials: Fusion feels robust. Yes, there's a lot players will recognise from past iterations and yes, it is standing on the shoulders of a giant. But Trials: Fusion feels like the next step in the franchise's evolution. It feels necessary and immediate. It feels like a game that can leave its predecessors in the dust and if you're one of the many, many people who became slightly addicted to them, you'll know what a recommendation that is.
Prepare to feel the twitch - that compulsive urge to better your own performance. Over and over and over again.
Ubisoft has announced a Trials Fusion release date of April 16 on PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PS4.