Trials Fusion Review (PS4)
“Welcome to the future!” sings Trials Fusion's soundtrack. That chorus, which cycles maddeningly throughout Fusion's menus, means to reference the game's 20XX sci-fi setting.
It could just as easily allude to the rising conflict between giant game publishers like Ubisoft and subsidiary studios like RedLynx -- a tug-of-war that the RedLynxes of this industry are presently losing.
The Finnish developer's fun, creative level designs and captivating, “one-more race” gameplay have been sabotaged by frustrating bugs, missing features, unnecessary DRM systems, online server issues and another release-day “Season Pass” that costs just as much as the new, incomplete game you've just purchased.
Like the next-gen debuts of NBA 2K, Forza Motorsport and Battlefield, Trials' foray into PlayStation territory showcases how easily a successful intellectual property can have its enjoyment robbed by the decisions of businessmen who know plenty about spreadsheets and bar graphs but nothing about balancing profitability with consumer respect.
Modes & Features
Trials Fusion was not ready to be released. That much has become evident in the game's opening days on the PlayStation Network, during which Ubisoft's servers have spent more time offline than online. While it's possible to play Trials Fusion without a server connection, doing so negates the game's best feature: online leaderboards.
Despite having no difficulty logging into Uplay (Ubisoft's digital rights management client) from my computer, I initially could not access any of Trials Fusion's Uplay-required menus, until I found a workaround that involved signing in to the intrusive bloatware from the PlayStation 4 home screen.
The share button, one of the system's most popular functions, also suffers from major technical difficulties at the moment, often causing Trials Fusion to freeze up and crash back to the PlayStation dashboard with a CE-34878-0 error code. If a lock-up occurs during one of the game's many auto-save trigger points, your entire save file can become corrupted.
Trials Fusion's biggest fault -- one that cannot be fixed by simple server-side adjustments -- is its removal of established online multiplayer modes. Four-player Supercross races, introduced in 2012 by Trials Evolution, are still available, but presently, they can only be played offline, across a limited selection of 10 beginner-friendly tracks. I stress “limited,” because gamers can no longer build their own Supercross courses. The option for four-lane tracks has been curiously removed from Trials' otherwise excellent editing tools. Supercross levels are also absent from the popular Track Central download hub, as only time trials, skill games and freestyle events are currently supported.
According to Ubisoft's PR department, “A new, more-robust online multiplayer experience will be released as a free game update in the months after launch.” These words offer little consolation to gamers who've already paid $40 for a product that explicitly advertises “Online Play” for “2-4 Network Players” on the back of its box.
Customers who've spent $20 for the bareboned, digital version of Trials Fusion also have reason to feel shortchanged, given that Fusion costs $5 more than its predecessor yet offers significantly less content.
Even Trials Fusion's pre-order rewards have been goofed up, as many players who've redeemed their Deluxe Edition codes are still waiting to receive their promised bonus items.
All of this trouble...and for what? Trials Fusion's one new gameplay feature is its freestyle trick system, which lets your rider hang from his seat or perform handstands using various right joystick movements.
Like Madden NFL 25's “Precision Modifier” or NHL 10's “First-Person Fighting,” this is the kind of feature that helps generate publicity in press releases and social media blurbs, yet fails to add anything of value to the gameplay experience.
There simply isn't much reason to include dangerous aerial maneuvers in a game where the primary objective is to speed through courses with as few mistakes as possible.
Inconsistent trick detection makes Trials Fusion's five FMX contests even less appealing, as flips and grab moves have a tendency to register incorrectly on the score counter.
Prior to release, RedLynx promised these special moves would not interfere with Trials Fusion's race modes, but that statement is rapidly unraveling with each shared replay, as savvy players are beginning to manipulate and exploit certain stunt animations to gain extra jumping distance and generate unnatural speed boosts during traditional timed events.
Artistically and mechanically, Trials Fusion is the best-looking, smoothest-riding entry in franchise history. Fusion also ranks as the most expensive Trials game, both in its cost to develop (200-plus employees) and in its cost to purchase ($20).
With the stakes at an all-time high, the disappointment hits that much harder when Fusion falls so short of RedLynx's previous efforts, offering less content than what Trials Evolution achieved two years ago on seven-year-old hardware.
Trials Fusion's lone marketable addition, a wonky stunt system, feels like a weak gimmick with no place in a racing game that's designed for speedrunning, not score-milking.
Fusion's challenging obstacle courses still exhibit the same ingenuity and creativity as previous Trials games, but new intrusions like forced Uplay integration and unstable online servers rain on the joyride.The decision to stubbornly ship an unfinished game in mid-April -- traditionally an entertainment dead zone -- despite the presence of many obvious bugs, a butchered version of Supercross and incomplete multiplayer modes reveals how out of step the project's top executives and lead producers are with the people who make their jobs possible.
Visuals –- Frequent screen tearing and texture pop-in disrupt Trials Fusion's colorful, elegant worlds. Confusing camera angles, overdramatic lightning and excessive explosion effects occasionally obscure landing spots and riding paths. Character customization has been reduced, with fewer unlockable outfits and less paintable clothing layers. Loading times feel longer than they should be on a system sporting as much RAM and processing power as the PlayStation 4.
Audio –- Each of the six bikes sounds distinct and believable, though their high-pitched whines quickly become annoying. Robotic, Portal-inspired voice-overs crack lame jokes as you cruise past checkpoints. Repetitive menu music and boring background tunes make Trials Fusion a game that is best played on mute.
Controls –- Bike physics and handling carry the same semi-realistic weight as 2012's Trials Evolution. The triggers handle braking and throttling, while the left joystick leans your rider's body back and forth on the bike. Freestyle maneuvers have been added to the right joystick. Accidentally performing stunts during race events can be frustrating, especially when they cause unnecessary crashes. Trick detection issues prevent grabs and flips from being correctly calculated, damaging the integrity of score-based FMX matches.
Replay Value –- Trials Fusion's difficult career path is predominantly comprised of time trials events, though a small number of stunt contests and minigames are thrown in for variety's sake. Along with the standard bronze, silver, gold and platinum medal rewards, new track-specific challenges have been added to keep OCD sufferers hunting for Easter eggs and replaying levels in unusual ways. Battling friends for online leaderboard supremacy remains Trials' primary appeal. Custom tracks built by the PlayStation community can be "streamed" from a central hub ala YouTube, though there is no way to save these creations for local play during server downtime or Internet outages. Multiplayer is restricted to offline-only until a free update arrives "later this year."
Final Score – 6.5 (Above-Average)