Two wheels, as the saying goes, are better than one head. Or something to that effect. Which is a relief given how much you'll land on your head while playing Trials Fusion. The Trials series is as synonymous with punishing challenge as Dark Souls, and Fusion is in no danger of eroding that reputation.
But while Trials vets will find plenty of masochistic pleasure at the extreme end of the career mode, newcomers are welcomed with open (and well-padded) arms. In fact, this is the most approachable Trials game yet. Each tier of the single player campaign is prefaced by a tutorial that explains the basics - shifting your rider's weight to keep the bike planted up steep hills, for example - through to more advanced, and essential, techniques like bunnyhopping. If the series' fearsome reputation has put you off in the past, now would be the perfect time to jump in - it's not as scary as you think. At least, not at first.
Fusion's selection of tracks includes some of RedLynx's most assured creations yet, spanning the gamut from undulating speed runs all the way up to highly technical waking nightmares. Waking nightmares that always demand just one more go, of course. Better still, moments such as Evolution's controversial Sewage Plant - which required riders to bounce across a series of powerful water spouts like a soggy rag doll - have been excised (one track still features a couple of fountains, but negotiating them is no longer a matter of luck).
This is the best-looking Trials so far, too. The game is set far into the future, and now warehouses are are built of gleaming metal and neon tubing rather than HD's crumbling brickwork and flimsy single-pane windows. But, as was the case in Evolution, you'll spend plenty of time in the great outdoors, too. Tracks take in canyons, icebergs, ruins and, well, more warehouses, but the contrast of sharp, futuristic architecture and grubby nature is hugely appealing.
There are, however, signs that RedLynx struggled with its first simultaneous multi-format launch: slow-loading textures and some headache-inducing polygon flicker take some of the sheen off an otherwise handsome game. But it's clips along at a constant 60fps (even if Xbox One owners have to put up with 900p resolution for the pleasure).
Thankfully, the new setting hasn't dulled Trials' trademark sense of self-deprecating humour. Like its forebears, Fusion doesn't take itself too seriously and there's even a reference to Speedball 2, for those eagle-eared among you. One element of humour that's present throughout (at least until you inevitably decide to mute them) is a pair of dueling AIs who serve as narrators, instructors and general wisecrackers.
"This is the best-looking Trials ever... but there are signs RedLynx struggled with the multi-format launch"
One is very much in your thrall, wishing she was human, the other thinks of you as a pesky "protein mass". There's a thin, Portal-ish Plot which plays out as you progress through the campaign, but whether or not you find out the ending rather depends on your capacity to put up with the constant repetition of jokes as you retry tough sections of track. Trials may cap your attempts per track to 500 (or 30 minutes, whichever comes sooner) but the same cap doesn't work so well for punch lines.
The same cap doesn't work so well for punch lines (see, it's annoying), but RedLynx has introduced more than just a story: now you can ride quad bikes, too. The 4WD nature of the ATVs changes the way you ride; it's no longer about getting the back wheel down early as you'll only have half the power available. Quads would make an ideal beginner's option (even if they feel unwieldy and, if we're honest, a little dull to the seasoned player), but they turn up halfway through the campaign instead, oddly, and are locked to their own selection of medium-difficulty tracks - tracks you're unable to attempt with a bike.
The other major addition is FMX tricks, a component that raised eyebrows when it was first announced. Those fears were misplaced, as Trials certainly hasn't been transformed into a lightweight opportunity to showboat. Sure, you can perform tricks during any race, but outside of specialist events, they're just for fun. Tricks like Superman, Going To Hell and Dead Body are executed using the right stick - just push it in the direction you want your rider to move and hold the pose to accrue more points.
It's an intuitive control setup that's reminiscent of Skate's Flick It system. While it undoubtedly works, though, it's susceptible to inaccuracy and feels considerably looser than Trials' otherwise remarkably precise inputs. That RedLynx has set the threshold for Platinum medals on FMX tracks lower than any other event suggests it knows its tricks system isn't quite as robust as Trials' other elements.
"Fusion is a worthy addition to the series, even if its newer ideas fail to gel"
Still, they make for amusing additions to the raft of challenges that accompany Fusion's tracks. Each course has three of these to tackle, and they range from tests of skill such as completing a route with no faults and without leaning, to surreal mini-games like one which asks you to explore a secret base in first person after finding the switch that opens its entrance hatch.
The best challenges, however, are the ones that make you approach the course from a fresh angle, including one example that requires you to complete the track without touching any of the yellow objects that make up its route. They're a smart edition, and provide a welcome change of pace when that gold medal's proving frustratingly out of reach.
Another way to save on the cost of a new, un-hurled controller, is to head to Track Central and dip into the user-created tracks and mini-games. Evolution's equivalent amassed 700,000 creations, and with an improved editor that sports a radial menu for commonly used options and over 5000 objects to build with, Fusion will likely match that number in short order.
Fusion is a worthy addition to the series, even if its newer ideas fail to gel with the core bike riding that made Trials such an exemplar on Xbox 360. For anyone coming to the series fresh, FMX and quads will likely provide welcome variety at first, but stalwarts will wish RedLynx had directed its efforts into building a few more traditional tracks for the bikes.
But while RedLynx's balance may be a little off this time around, it's still provided a near-perfect platform for you to demonstrate yours.
Still a fearsome challenge, but also Trials' most accessible outing. FMX, local multiplayer and quads miss the sweet spot, but everything else is very special.
- Unmatched, physics-based controls
- Assured track design
- Clever, and often amusing, challenges that add longevity
- Repetitive narrators
- Some inexcusable graphical issues
- Inferior multiplayer mode