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Wot I Think: Trials Fusion

Vroom with a view

I was ready to love Trials Fusion. Trials Evolution Gold Edition turned out to be the perfect game to play when I didn't have much time or didn't know what to play. It filled in the holes of a busy day or fixed a boring evening. I didn't care that it was only on Uplay, and I didn't suffer any the bugs that bogged it down a little in John's review. It's so good, so willing to be completely OTT, that it charmed the backwheel off me. Can Trials Fusion pull off the same trick? Here's wot I think.

If Trials Evolution Gold Edition is Richard Harris, then Trials Fusion is Michael Gambon. 'But Craig,' you're now asking, '... nope, you're going to have to explain.' Dumbledore, readers. Dumbledore.

I have a mental sleight of lobe that I do with movies: if someone is appalling in a role, I just imagine another actor in his place. I loved Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and I completely hated Gambon's portrayal. His wandering accent and over-energetic wizardly ways just eviscerated the gentle and wise and twinkly Dumbledore of the first two movies. So I've spent six Harry Potters mentally redigitising Richard Harris back into the films. It's a talent that's helped me enjoy Trials Fusion, because a lot of the time I've been pretending it's acting like Trials Evolution.

Richard Harris Trials Evolution began like this.

"Vroom Vroom, I'm ready to go!" Yes. YES! That is gold. When I first played Evolution, I immediately opened up an IM window to John and ordered him to download the game just to experience its glorious intro. That was before I'd even revved an engine or taken a lung full of balsa wood. But today that white square where we share gifs and opinions on American TV is blank. Why? Because John is offline, and because this is how Trials Fusions starts.

Borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring! If anything epitomises the difference between the two games, it's that. The tone of Fusion is all wrong, flinging it into the far future where everything is just a bit more ordered and everything is commentated on by two 'snarky' announcers who I had to silence because each line of dialogue is hateful. There's nothing like a track with a stone hand crawling out of the swamp, there's no rap, no D-Day themed level. And though it's not all sci-fi whoosh--there's one track set in the middle of a gale that's quite silly, and another where a plane crashes in the background and the level loops around so you're riding across the wreckage--I spent less time marvelling at the ridiculous dioramas that RedLynx created. It turns out I really loved that aspect of Evolution.

The rest? Well, I can't fault the riding. I've gotten this far without mentioning that Trials is a fun game of dirt-biking over impossible tracks. You're riding across ramps and bumps, revving and shifting weight to keep your face away from the dirt. Thanks to a mix of ragdoll physic and low beams it has a base-level of fun, and when you start finding the thumbs to keep yourself upright and landing jumps, it's still one of the most torturously wonderful games you'll ever play. It's as tightly made as Trackmania, but with added head trauma.

So it's what goes on around all that that makes a difference. The biggest addition is a pose system, which doesn't work very well and also shows you how rubbish RedLynx are at explaining things. When you gain sufficient air in a jump, you're given the opportunity to pull a pose. Rather than make this a solid animation, it's based on the angle of the bike and it throws the physics around. Pulling a pose tends to just flail things around without any hope of hitting what you're attempting to do, and though that might fit into the game's struggle with physics, it's so loose and awkward that it undermines that skillset it's attempting to build on. There are levels dedicated to this farce, allowing you freeform control over the poses so you can build up a score. They add to your overall medal pile, and medals will unlock levels, so you could be held back from advancing because of this awkward system. I actually dislike the unlock system in this sort of game: people will get stuck on certain jumps--my record for restarts is in the forties--and it's hateful.

Why I'd want to pull specific poses ties into another criticism: there are little challenges for each level, offering up generic notes like "Do 15 backflips on a gold run", or more specific things like "Pull a Superman over the River". Superman is part of the pose system, and it's offered up in an early level that comes before you're even allowed to pull it off. I understand Trials levels are meant to be replayed and mastered, but continually suggesting I do something that the game actively disallows for the first three sets of levels made for a frustrating opening. Just track my progress so I don't spend a lot of time hunting the menus to find out where I'm going wrong or just thinking my joypad was faulty.

I spent a fair amount of time in the menus trying to fix some performance issues. The previous game ran perfectly well for me, despite John's troubles, but I've ran into some odd performance bugs that set some levels playing in slow-motion. These weren't dropped frames, but the game would start and everything would be running at half-speed. I found dropping down to a lower resolution helped.

Wow, this is hugely negative. I do like Trials Fusion, but I don't adore it and want to have little dirt-bike babies with it. It won't become a game I stick on to just enjoy after this review is done (I'm redownloading Evolution as write this). What do I like? Well, it's a cruel game, and it's absolutely at its best like that. The hard levels, that start about 50% of the way into the career mode, really demand concentration. Until then it's possible to just hold the throttle down and control your lean, but doing that in later levels will get you a forehead of futuristic formica. There's a powerful interplay between the bouncy physics, the throttle and brake, and your biker's weight. Each ramp is a physics puzzle in and of itself, and it's unforgiving if you nudge in the wrong direction. It can be frustrating, but the fight to right yourself along a jagged ridge of ramps is still great, especially when RedLynx remembers that it can do anything with the editor: one level's sections zooming-in and clicking into place as you progress is the best of those.

The blimp level is one of the sillier ones

Some of the levels now house alternative routes and secrets: if you stop your bike in the middle of a tennis court on one level you get to play tennis against a penguin. It's not a good mini-game, but I'm glad it exists. There are warp pipes that take you away and into levels wholly built out of coloured blocks. It's clearly a nod to the editor, which has returned and is as complex as ever. I won't be using it, because I am rubbish, but I am excited about what the players can come up with. If you've never experienced the Trials community, they've remade Limbo and turned this third-person dirt-biking series into a first-person survival horror with the editor. I hope the fans can bring the spark to Fusion that's missing. It's almost too slick now, while at the same time being less useful: Evolution gave detailed stats about each bike's capabilities, but Fusion explains it all in a line of text; and there's only local multiplayer. It's starting to feel a little like a franchise and not the labour of love it originally was. It's more like Trials 2014 than a expansive and well-thought out sequel.

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