“If at first you don’t succeed, try again.”
An adage as old as time, and one you would be wise to remember when dropping onto a track in Trials Rising. After a five year sabbatical – and one unfortunate trip to Far Cry land – RedLynx’s popular series has returned to consoles. As something of a novice, I was excited to fully get into the series for the first time, and despite what common sense may dictate, this sixth entry might be the perfect place for newcomers to jump in.
The Trials franchise is essentially a puzzle game disguised as a racing game. The goal of winning a race is still present (most of the time), but the real challenge comes from just surviving the course. I’m not sure who designs these tracks, but considering the lethality and amount of obstacles placed in your path, it’s fair to say they are pretty sadistic. In order to make it through these levels, you’ll need to master the physics behind each bike you ride. There are six cycles included in the game at launch, but only three of them are necessary for the main game. All six of them, though, have their own unique traits, and you’ll need to reevaluate your strategy when you swap out bikes.
Moving away from the futuristic world of Trials Fusion, Rising has you riding around famous world landmarks and other non-descript locations. In a single set of tracks, you could go from messing around the Eiffel Tower to navigating an explosive-filled campground to plowing through the remains of Alcatraz. I didn’t spend a ton of time with that last entry in the series, but I didn’t fall in love with its level design on the whole — the futuristic theme just really didn’t work for me. With that said, I do love the return to the present. The course designs are frequently exhilarating and completely unrealistic, but, somehow, they still feel grounded.
While the style of the series may have changed, not much else has changed for Trials Rising. RedLynx definitely knows what they have on their hands, which is why they do little to alter the gameplay. It’s the same challenging physics-based platformer it was in the past, for better or worse. It still wildly oscillates from incredibly satisfying to controller smashingly frustrating. The studio is admittedly in a tough place, as the series doesn’t necessarily need improvements, but at the same time, one has to wonder how many times can the same formula be trotted out before people start getting sick of it. That’s not the case now, mind you, but it is something to be mindful of going forward.
That’s not to say that Trials Rising doesn’t introduce anything new to the franchise. Instead of just letting you select a track from a list, instead, you choose where you want to go on a map of the world. You start in America, but as you progress in your career, you’ll travel across the sea to Europe and beyond. Sections are divided up into individual leagues, with each league culminating in a multi-person Stadium Final. As you make your way further into the game, you’ll also unlock additional sponsors. These sponsors, which include RedLynx itself, want you to re-complete previous tracks, albeit with different goals.
There’s also a greater emphasis on customization this time around. Using parts and designs that are earned via completing courses, you can outfit your rider with a treasure trove of different outfits. You can make him a luchador like I did, or give them a Guy Fieri style outfit. You can also trick out your cycle with new parts that suit your style. And while you can buy most of this stuff using in-game currency, most of what you get will be acquired via loot crates. Everyone’s favorite predatory monetization system rears it’s head here, albeit in a less intrusive way than normal. Thankfully, it’s all cosmetic accessories, so it doesn’t affect the gameplay. However, it’s still not a great look for the title.
The biggest addition Trials Rising brings to the table, though, is the University of Trials tutorial. Other entries in the series have had tutorials, but frankly, they haven’t exactly been great. Not so for University of Trials, which does an excellent job of demonstrating the ins-and-outs for newcomers. Taught by one Professor FatShady, the guide turned me from a terrible rider to a slightly less terrible rider. I kid, but it has done an excellent job of hammering the hardest aspects of riding into my brain.
Unfortunately, I was not able to fully delve into the multiplayer portion of Rising. The servers for the title weren’t live prior to launch, so any experience I had going online was done through the beta. While it was a good time, it also doesn’t really show what the servers will be like once the title launches for real. There is local multiplayer, though, and RedLynx does a solid job in that department. There’s a four-person party mode that lets you compete against friends while suggesting fun bets to make before a race begins. For the more absurd, though, you and a friend can attempt the ride using a tandem bicycle. It’s absurdly challenging, so much so that I haven’t even come close to finishing a course with a friend. It’s also goofy fun, though, and that’s clearly the intent.
In its current state, Trials Rising does suffer from a handful of technical issues. The load times aren’t great, and they make restarting certain sections of the game an exercise in patience. The tracks that contain extraneous background elements tend to get hit with slight bouts of lag. Not unlike a fighting game, if there’s even a slight interruption, timing and control can easily get derailed. Lastly, track details tend to not finish fully loading until the very start of each race. Final textures and designs pop in and out up until the green flashes. That one is not a huge deal, but it is very noticeable.
Trials Rising is pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. It’s a new iteration of the same great formula you’ve probably been playing since 2009. The gameplay is as comforting in its familiarity as it is relentlessly frustrating. While the lack of evolution is concerning, I’m not sure where RedLynx can even take the series at this point. They make all the smart moves here, with the improvements to the tutorial being especially welcome. It’s just hard for me to write off that, a decade-plus after its console debut, Trials hasn’t shown that much evolution.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Ubisoft.
Trials Rising is not an evolution for the franchise. Instead, RedLynx delivers a smart sequel that offers up the same great gameplay while improving upon various side-aspects of the series.