Current Status: I’m around 2.5 hours in. I’ve gotten gold medals in all of the first 2 locations (“Easy”), I’ve completed the third tier with silvers (“Medium”), and I just unlocked the trick system, which also opened up a whole bunch of locations, costumes and bikes (including 4-wheel ATVs).
I have been a heavy-duty Trials fan for what feels like years now, even if I’m nowhere near an expert. There was an early, PC-only version (whose name escapes me at the moment) which I was terrible at, but when the Trials games appeared on Xbox 360 I immediately devoured them, even as I repeatedly beat my head against the wall of “Hard” difficulty. Last year, when I was in my hard-core PC gamer phase, I even went and bought the Trials HD edition on Steam (which combined those first two XBLA games, plus added some bonus content) and tried to play that for a little while, although that PC version is kinda terrible.
And as I think I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve become fiendishly addicted to Trials Frontier, a completely new game for iOS, with a free-to-play model that is surprisingly not terrible. The game plays just fine, but the reason why it’s worth bringing up here is that it’s also made some significant tweaks to the Trials formula – namely, it’s now a kind of RPG, in that there’s a narrative, a “bad guy”, and a host of NPCs that give you tasks that reward you with XP, money and blueprints for new bikes.
What this iOS game ultimately succeeded in doing is to make my appetite for a proper, next-gen edition all that much more difficult to sate. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait very long.
There are good and bad things to discuss with regards to Trials Fusion. Let’s start with the good.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that Trials Fusion is drop-dead gorgeous. I’m aware that the Xbox One version came with a day-one patch that upped the resolution a bit, but the PS4 version arrives fully formed in glorious 1080p, and a frame rate that feels pretty rock solid despite the craziness of the backgrounds. And, man – there is a lot of craziness happening in the backgrounds. Buildings explode, wind farms collapse, dams break – and the draw distance is deep, so everywhere you look there’s something bananas going on, even if it’s something that looks 5 miles away.
The game also feels great, and a lot of this has to do with how much better the PS4 controller is at handling the fine-tuned movements that are vital to landing certain jumps or climbing steep inclines. I do not find myself missing the 360 controller, which says pretty much all that needs to be said as far as that goes.
And the level of variety in each course is astonishing. Again – I’m still towards the beginning of the game, but each course is radically different and shows off a hell of a lot more than I ever saw in the last-gen games. I have no doubt that the creator community is going to go absolutely nuts once they get their hands on the tools.
There’s also, like in the iOS version, a quasi-RPG system, though it doesn’t yet appear to serve any real purpose. You gain XP and money for completing levels and meta-objectives (more on that in a second). I think I hit level 20 last night, but that doesn’t really mean anything as far as a noticeable increase in my skills or in my bikes – all it means is that I’ve reached certain plateaus where previously locked bikes and clothes are now available for use.*
* I think it would be neat, eventually, to have an RPG system in a Trials game that actually improved your skills dependent on how well (or how often) you executed them – like in Skyrim, or (digging deep here) Aggressive Inline. So, for Trials, if you show that you can land flips regularly with ease, you should have greater control over your spin with a heavier bike, for example.
Those meta-objectives are interesting, in that they can be tough to ignore. The levels are already pretty challenging, but once you see that you can earn bonus XP for landing 10 flips in a zero-fault run, or if you avoid touching certain colored obstacles on the course, those things are tough to un-see, and so it adds an extra layer of stress to your run.
The biggest change to the Trials formula is probably the trick system, but since I only just unlocked that before calling it a night last night, I’m not quite ready to discuss it. It’s a neat idea, though, and I suspect that it’ll give multiplayer matches a lot more depth. (Oh, yeah, there’s multiplayer. Haven’t tried that yet, either.)
Alas, not all is perfect in Trials Fusion. In a game famous for giving you the ability to immediately restart a race at the touch of a button, the biggest grievance I have is the interminable waiting that happens after you finish a run; there’s a period of what may be only 30 seconds but feels like 20 minutes as the game does… something… after you finish. Perhaps it’s sending your run to the uPlay cloud? I’m not sure what the cause is, but it takes WAY too long and completely ruins the flow.
The weirder aspect is that there’s also an attempt here of some sort of narrative. There are two disembodied voices that you hear – one is a male announcer, making either kinda lame jokes about how it’s only been 14 minutes since the last workplace accident, and to “keep up the good work”, or else some weird attempts at giving the weather. The other is a female AI named Cindy, who walks you through each tutorial phase and who also tends to chirp in from time to time to comment on the male announcer’s ramblings. Between the futuristic laboratory environments and the AI companions, it’s almost as if they wanted to set a Trials game in Portal‘s Aperture Science, but forgot to hire funny writers.
And, also, the writers they did hire did not factor into account how many times you might restart a race – which, if you’re like me and you’re determined to get as close to gold as you can, is an awful lot – and so you’ll hear the same quips over and over and over and over and over again, until they stop making any sense (if they ever did make sense), and you kinda just wish they’d shut up. Cindy keeps making these odd comments about how nice it is to see you – or, at least, this version of you, anyway – and this is strange in a game that takes such gleeful joy in ragdolling your rider in increasingly bizarre and convoluted ways after each finish line. Is the joke that we’re just a bunch of clones? Is that the big twist? That’s not really that big a stretch.
Anyway – long loading times and weird storytelling aside, it’s a next-gen Trials game, and if that’s the sort of thing that tickles your fancy, well, you’ve probably already downloaded it.