Trials Fusion has been out for a day now and both myself and FatShady -- Trials super fan and brain behind University Of Trials -- have spent a fair amount of time with the game. Instead of a traditional review, we thought we'd talk it out. This is our conversational review.
MARK: Okay, Trials Fusion is here. Most regulars on Kotaku are aware of the fact that I'm a major fan of the series, and you might be the biggest Trials fan in all of Australia. We've both managed to get early looks at the game and we've both spent a bit of time playing -- what are your thoughts so far?
FATSHADY: "Biggest fan in all of Australia". You get a chance to talk to a guy named FatShady and you open with a fat joke, you're all class Serrels :)
Hi Mark and Kotaku readers, thanks for the opportunity to talk about this game. I got my first look at Trials Fusion in late Feburary this year when I was invited by Redlynx, the developers of the Trials games to Helsinki Finland to attend a media event. I also managed to sneak into their offices to check the game out when they weren't looking and I've gotta say, I'm quite impressed with what they have put together. For a game that is about riding a motor bike from (mostly) left to right, this game easily has the most depth of any Trials game to date.
MARK: I'm a classy guy Mr Shady.
Thus far my experience has been a little mixed. But first, the positives. The Trials formula, at this stage is practically unbreakable. The mechanics, the physics, the controls: they remain as pitch perfect as they have since the release of Trials HD. Red Lynx have struck gold in that regard and I don't see this game ever not being a rewarding experience. It's simply too in-depth, too well balanced, too... good to really screw up.
But I do have a few concerns.
I can't help but feel that some of the tracks are phoning it in a little. Maybe it's the nostalgia speaking, but Trials Evolution -- in my mind -- was the result of a developer firing on all cylinders. A developer at the absolute peak of its powers. This time round, I feel a bit of hubris in the air. The tracks are well pitched, but a little bland. They seem to lack the absurd imagination of the Trials Evolution levels.
As someone who loves the series as much as I do, how do you feel the tracks stack up?
FATSHADY: I want to use an analogy if I may, your view is a little like comparing a really comfy, well worn pair of jeans with ones you just tried on in the fitting rooms with poor lighting. I simply think it's too early to pass judgement on the tracks without really getting to know them. Let me explain that comment with an example from the other day I had, it was a moment that made me really understand just what effort goes into every track and how well designed these tracks are.
I can't recall what track it was but I had played it a few times, maybe 2-3 times and had already got the gold medal. I've been playing Trials since 2009 so that is not surprising. Platinum medals however, on a new game always take a little effort. I avoid replays and try to figure stuff out for myself. I was having trouble with this particular track and then I realised that at the third check point, it would have been possible to skip an entire section if I only had engough momentum coming into the jump. I worked my way backwards and figured out that the second check point had to be skipped to achieve this so I needed more momentum there and this in turn lead to the realisation that I'd have to hit the first checkpoint perfectly. To do that, I would have to NAIL the start of the track. Once I figured this out, along with a sense of self satisfaction, I had a greater appreciation for the level design process. It's, for the most part, easy to complete a track. In a game where time is everything however, it's only when you really start looking for these ways to shave time off that you will really appreciate all of those details.
I'll admit I am talking more about the technical riding line than the level aesthetics. On the topic of aesthetics however, I have noted that the groupings of tracks are all similarly themed and unless you have played all the way through to the extreme tracks, you have not seen all the different level designs that the game has for you. I've played them all, including an achievement I am already super proud of, getting zero faults on Inferno 4! I like the design and have no real issue with the design of the levels. The lighting of the TKO-Panda (quad bike) levels is amazing and the extreme tracks range from raining shoreline to neon roof tops and onto the pits of hell, Inferno 4. I'd be keen to revisit this comment once you have played the extremes and got some platinums (assuming old man Serrles still has it in him).
Now as this isn't an interview, I can ask you a question. One of the new features of the game, one that I absolutely LOVE is track challenges. Each track has 3 additional objectives to complete, ranging from completing a level without leaning, not using brakes and doing a wheelie over a defined distance but they go further to playing tennis and flying through rings of fire (don't even get me started on the Inferno challenges!). Have you attempted many of these, any standouts so far and what's your thoughts on that concept overall?
MARK: Mr Shady, that pants analogy is spot on (probably the first and last time I'll write a sentence like that!) I guess by 'memorable' I really am talking about the aesthetics of the levels as opposed to the raw design. I just remember being able to talk to people about specific levels without actually knowing the name of the level itself!
Like I could say, 'how awesome was that Shadow of the Colossus level' in Trials Evolution and everyone would know I was talking about 'Titan Graveyard'. Someone could say to me, 'damn that super long level is hard' and I would instantly know they were talking about Gigatrack.
On Trials Evolution most tracks really felt distinctive whereas most of the tracks in Trials Fusion (bear in mind I haven't finished them all yet) seem to blend into one another. That would be one criticism I have.
But I agree: the earlier levels in Trials, particularly the easy ones, only really come alive when you attempt to go for Platinum medals. That's when you really have to break down the levels and that's when the intricacies of the design become apparent. So I'll withhold judgement for now.
As for the challenges, I haven't tried any yet but I suspect it might end up being the best new addition to the franchise. I can't think of a series that does Easter Eggs better and these challenges almost bring that to the forefront a bit, and allow casual Trials players to enjoy the fruits of RedLynx's labour. I think they're a brilliant addition.
The new trick system? Not so much. What are your thoughts on that?
FATSHADY: That’s a tricky question (Oh the puns!). The first time I saw the new tricks system, I was sitting on a bean bag in the Redlynx offices, I'd been awake for close to 40 hours and was perhaps not in the ideal state of mind to play a game I'd travelled around the world to see. Worse though, was that I had about 5-10 of the dev team standing around me watching how I played. They took particular interest when I got to the FMX tutorial. I distinctly remember Antti Ilvessuo (Creative Director) telling everyone to be quiet while they watched me test it out. They were obviously very interested to see a totally new player try out this totally new feature.
I'll admit it, initially I sucked. The game certainly could have done more to coach you through that (this almost feels like the right time to bring up the University of Trials, class 2 lesson on FMX that is due out shortly but let's hold off on that for a momment). From what I have figured out, the FMX system works by the left stick controlling the bike rotation and the right stick controlling the position you want the riders feet to go in. The tricks are determined by the direction of the right thumb stick AND the orientation of the bike. Once you understand this, it becomes a little clearer and the tricks are easier to pull off. It's meant to be a fun addition to the game rather than adding to the razor sharp millisecond precise riding. I won't spend much time playing it but I do find myself including the odd trick into a zero fault run in the hopes that a friend will be impressed with my time, watch my replay only to realise that I was beating their best time while doing tricks. It's kind of an asynchronous troll move.
I also had the pleasure of discussing the FMX system with the CEO, Tero Virtala while I was there and they had very specific reasons for making the trick system this way. It was designed from the outset as a physics based system. They felt it was not being true to the franchise if tricks were a button mashing exercise. While I don't think there is a direct comparison here, I see this like Tony Hawk vs Skate. Rather than having a complex array of button combos, the dev team tried to do something innovative and different. They wanted to use physics and therefore require some skill to pull off the tricks. This therefore, like the rest of the game, requires you to put in the effort and understand the mechanics. I won't say it's perfect and there has been more than a few times where my poor rider has been confused and decided to sit on the handlebars, but I have to give them credit for not taking the easy way out and I think in both multiplayer and used sparingly within regular tracks, there is some good fun to be had.
Now I want to talk to you about competition. A day hasn't gone by since release where I don't get numerous messages about people who have beaten my times. I'm a pretty vocal about my love for Trials and unfortunately that makes me a bit of a target! What I have always loved about the Trials series is that your skill level didn't matter, there was always hundreds/thousands of people that were around your skill level and you'd always have a great battle with someone. What I have found particularly awesome, then depressing, is the new notifications section. In the top left hand corner of the screen, there is a notifications panel and this will tell you when one of your friends beats your times. Every time I look at this right now I am a sad, sad man. I do however think that once the dust settles on the initial launch, this will be an actual source of inspiration for competing with mates. I've already seen your pesky gamertag show up on my list a few times and was wondering, have you seen this and do you think you'll use it to keep on top of certain people?
MARK: I would use it more often if I could connect to the bloody servers!
Early quibbles aside (and I’m sure these server issues will be fixed quickly) I suspect that the notifications panel will just help accentuate what is arguably the most compelling part of the game: getting fast times and rubbing it in the face of your friends and foes.
With each Trials game that is released I have a very specific routine. First I try to Gold every single track as I play. Once I get to the point where things are a bit more difficult, I simply try and complete the track. Once I’ve completed all the tracks, I then go back and try to get Gold on the tracks that were too difficult initially.
Usually that is enough to beat most of my friends list (with the exception of you FatShady, of course).
If it isn’t? Then it’s time to get serious and destroy my enemies one by one on the field of battle!
But I’m already wondering if Trials Fusion will inspire quite the same level of dedication. Trials Evolution took an absolutely wonderfully built foundation and expanded on it perfectly: better tracks, multiplayer. Every addition felt seamless and, above all, natural. I wonder if Trials Fusion has added new elements for the sake of things, and underdelivered in the parts that are actually important.
Time will tell.
Still, it’s Trials, and it’s awesome. It remains as compelling as ever and the controls and tracks are still sublime. I’m just looking forward to hitting those extreme tracks. That’s when the real fun begins.
How are you enjoying the game so far? Let us know in the comments below.