What do you do when you practically perfect a franchise on your first attempt? That’s the dilemma that Helsinki-based developer RedLynx has faced for some time now, with Trials HD taking the world by storm on Xbox 360. Ten years later, the Finnish firm is still making egregiously addictive vehicular platformers – but how does this new edition hope to draw fans back in?
In many ways Trials Rising takes a step back from the razzle-dazzle of the futuristic Trials Fusion, grounding the gameplay back in the real world, and doing away with handlebar-snapping stunts. The campaign, which is spread across the globe, takes you from iconic locations like Paris to Hollywood, with each stage meticulously designed and stuffed to the figurative exhaust pipe with set-pieces.
One level whisks you through a movie set, for example, complete with alien invaders and car chases. Another, meanwhile, sees you riding alongside a roller-coaster, as ghost trains and loop-the-loops take centre stage. The art direction is great and almost every environment feels unique, but the performance can stutter as the PlayStation 4 attempts to keep up with the developer’s ambition.
It’s a shame because this is the kind of game that demands a locked 60 frames-per-second, and the odd glitch can mess up your momentum. Worse still, the loading times are long, and while the series’ staple instant retry mechanic is present and correct, it can feel like you’re twiddling your thumbs a little too often in what is effectively an arcade game.
Ubisoft may argue that the intermissions give you an opportunity to showcase your avatar, which is now completely customisable with the gear that you obtain from loot boxes. But we found a lot of the cosmetics to be outright ugly, and while you get a complimentary crate each time you level up, we ended up with a surplus of boxing gloves and very little we actually wanted to kit our character out in.
The good thing is that the gameplay is great: physics-driven, occasionally frustrating but always fair – this is a Trials game through and through. There are more levels than ever which means that the learning curve is steady for newcomers, and while the hardest stages do feel impenetrable, the one more go factor is alive and kicking in this edition.
In addition to trying to beat each level, Sponsors also give you sub-objectives in reward for in-game currency and other perks. This actually gives you a reason to revisit the stages and adapt your play style, although we were a bit bemused to see a whole string of these challenges locked behind a Ubisoft Club purchase. We suppose publishers have a mandate to increase engagement somehow?
While we’re on the subject, you’ll find all sorts of currencies here, as the best cosmetics can only be obtained with Acorns – a kind of premium token that can be purchased with real-world money. Look, we understand that there’s ambition to update this title over a long period of time, and that’s fine – but it’s hard not to roll your eyes when you see content locked behind loopholes all the time.
In addition to the traditional, ghost-driven asynchronous multiplayer, you’ll also find competitive multiplayer for up to eight people – a feature we’ve barely been able to test due to pre-release conditions. There’s also a party mode for local play, as well as a tandem bike that brings co-op to the equation – although it’s really going to test your relationships, we reckon.
The core stages are complemented by trick levels, where you need to, for example, leap off your bike and catch a basketball before dropping it through a nearby hoop. These are a fun distraction, but can frustrate due to how significantly they change the rules of the game – it can, at times, feel like you’re leaving your progress to luck rather than legitimate skill.
But that’s fine because the vast majority of your time here will be spent trying to perfect that bunny-hop, desperately hoping to shave a couple of milliseconds off your best time. Leaderboards and community challenges infect every corner of the user interface, and it ensures that the whole game feels alive – the general loop gets its hooks into you pretty fast.
There are some excellent levels in Trials Rising, though performance hiccups do generally detract from the overall bombast. A comprehensive campaign paves the way for a smoother learning curve than ever before, but protracted load times and lousy cosmetics will generally disappoint. The physics are still phenomenal, and the series has retained its addictive quality, but it can occasionally feel like a game looking for answers to questions that didn’t necessarily exist to begin with.