It feels like a long time since we last saw a Trials game, and maybe that’s because Trials of the Blood Dragon, whilst good, was too short lived. The highs and lows of Fusion seem much further back than the 5 years it’s actually been, and it’s a market that no other developer has tried to fill in the interim, not even against Frontier in the mobile space. We can be thankful though because Red Lynx are here with Trials Rising to begin the next round of testing our reflexes and control skills… and for this we’re going to need the most honed set ever. However, they’re adding a few new tricks that might just help us through.
Given the time that has passed it’s reasonable to expect that there may be a few out there who aren’t sure what Trials Rising is all about, so here’s a quick recap. Set in an over the top version of trials biking – a real sport that asks competitors to manoeuvre a motorbike up and over ever increasing difficulties of obstacles within a time limit and without falling off – it’s a game all about the physics of the machine and rider, and how they are combined to get through the challenge of the levels. It starts off easy with generally fast paced levels designed to get your head around jumps, landings and not falling off too often. The difficulty ramps up though and the speed slows as obstacles get more complicated and need some experimentation to figure out how to get over them. Falling off incurs a fault and adds a time penalty and the aim is generally to get to the end in the shortest time possible. Its hook though is the instant reset to checkpoint and restart level. No matter how hard it seems, there’s always the ability to go again at the touch of a button.
What’s new with Trials Rising is that it’s left behind some of the more fantastical elements of the last couple of games and “grounded” it in the real world to set us on a global tour of more and more impressive tracks. Starting in the US to learn the basics, then progressing into Europe and on to Asia, it offers up a huge amount of variety in not just the levels but the environments too. From shipyards full of derelicts to active missile bases, and from jumping the Great Wall of China to climbing the Eiffel Tower, there are loads of sights to take in… if you get the chance whilst you’re not concentrating on keeping the bike level. Each location has a set difficulty, but can be replayed with the introduction of contracts offered up by various sponsors. These might be beating a certain time, performing a set number of flips, not getting any faults, or even a combination of multiple objectives. With bonus credits and items on offer they’re worth attempting, and become essential with the extra XP to open up some of the higher tier events.
Successfully finishing tracks is a means to increasing your rank and opening up new rides and events. With levels grouped into different continental series, the only way to move on to the next is win a motorcross style tournament, and it serves as a target to work towards. Tournaments are only unlocked at particular ranks and in the early stages there’s no real effort needed to get to them. This doesn’t last long though and that’s where a bit of a grind kicks in. Just picking off the standard tracks isn’t enough and most contracts will need attempts to get the progression moving again. It forces you to practice and improve if you’re hellbent on seeing the harder difficulties, and it makes the challenge seems achievable, and despite the implied narrowing of options it does actually work well. At least if there’s slow progress in getting to the next tier, there’s always something being unlocked for your rider.
Customisation is a big part of Trials Rising and putting your own stamp on your rider is essential if you don’t want to get lost in crowd. It’s also what Ubisoft want you to spend real world money on because there’s a single button press that takes you to the customisation screen from pretty much anywhere except when riding. Items come from contracts and from loot crates (yes, it has loot crates) that are awarded at each rank up. Cosmetic pieces can be clothing, bike parts or stickers and all of them can be applied at any point. It’s surprisingly deep with what can be achieved when every item of clothing or bike can have a sticker applied to add a pattern, or simply change its colour. Multiple stickers can be stuck to each piece so the creator in you can go to town. Don’t worry if that’s not your bag though, it doesn’t take long to swap out bits of clothing or change a winning or losing pose.
The reason behind the customisation becomes apparent pretty quickly. Loading any track up puts you in with 3 other ghosts, some of which are players on your platform of choice, and some are pulled from the server to show players on other platforms (the little Ubisoft logo denotes which they are). Each one is kitted out in their current outfit and pose, so you notice in the early stages that everyone looks the same. However, the deeper the progression and the more proficient the skill, the more variety you’ll see. Getting those skills honed is no mean feat, but it is helped an awful lot with the inclusion of Trials University where Professor Fatshady is on hand to teach you everything you need to know. With standalone lessons and a great implementation of a grading system it’s a superb way to learn the advanced techniques essential to mastering the hard and extreme tracks. This is something that should have been in the previous versions, though might inspire me to go back and give them another shot now that I know more than I did before.
Returning features are the skill games that task each rider with performing some ludicrous stunt generally involving explosions or fire; the multiplayer races; a fully functional track editor (that apparently was used to create all the single player levels); and the hidden squirrels. The latter is possibly one of the most fun yet frustrating things to hunt down because the little squirrel trophies are stashed very well in secret areas that need a specific path or trigger to get to. Finding them means learning every inch of a track and seeing all the little details that make this game so special. How quickly you go can affect what you see and which routes are accessible, and given how dynamic everything is, it’s sometimes worth moving slowly just to see what’s going on. If you don’t fancy that then the replay option lets you take full control of the camera and take time exploring from a completely different perspective.
There’s something special about Trials Rising that grabs you from the first couple of training tracks and doesn’t let go until it’s way past your bedtime and you’ve got RSI in your fingers. With a scope and scale that surpasses any of the previous games, it’s definitely the fully featured version that we’ve been waiting for, and it oozes “just one more go”. It’s not exactly perfect, no game that spends a lot of time connecting to servers is, and there’s the odd bit of slowdown and occasional crash. Yet it’s compelling up to the point you hit that wall, you know, that 8ft high one that you can’t bunny hop up. This is the biggest flaw – most of us will hit a point where we just can’t get any further, and that’s where we end up putting it down and moving on to something less addictive, but less likely to make us throw controllers around in our own cack-handed frustration.
Trials Rising is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch for around £30 for the Gold Edition that includes the full season pass for the game.