I love Trials. The series is my video game comfort food. At the same time, I can see how the series is in a tough spot. Developer RedLynx has tried to make changes and additions to the mechanics of its motorcycle platforming games. Trials Fusion had a trick system. Trials of the Blood Dragon … well, we don’t talk about Trials of the Blood Dragon. These shake up the formula, but they always result in games where more is less.
Trials Rising is a response to these missteps. The sequel is out February 26 for PC and consoles, and it feels like a confident return to the basics. RedLynx has seemingly accepted that it can’t and shouldn’t try to improve on what Trials is. Instead, it built up the progression, variety, and course design around the edges of that gameplay.
This is the best Trials game yet.
What you’ll like
It’s still Trials
In Trials Rising, you guide a motorcycle across platforms and past challenging obstacles. You do that by adjusting the lean of your rider and the throttle and brakes of your bike. That’s it. The rest is up to gravity, momentum, and friction.
Put another way, Rising plays a lot like 2009’s Trials HD (which wasn’t the first in the series, but was the defining early release). If RedLynx has changed anything in the way the game controls or feels, I didn’t notice. Maybe it tweaked the physics model. But if it did, it maintained the way Trials is “supposed” to feel.
And it’s important that RedLynx hasn’t changed how Trials works. I’m avoiding the word “perfect.” No game is perfect. We all know that. But I’m trying to think of a word to describe a set of mechanics that I don’t think anyone on Earth could improve, and … yeah. Whatever that word is, Trials is it.
But you’ll learn how to play it better than ever
Maybe it’s impossible for RedLynx to improve the core pillar of Trials gameplay, but it has improved everything else. That includes the onboarding system, which features the most detailed tutorial system in the history of the series. I’ve played hundreds of hours of Trials games, but I still don’t know how to reliably do some of the more high-level techniques. But Ubisoft brought in self-described “Trials educator” Professor FatShady to host the University of Trials.
This system is a series of instructional videos and then challenges related to the tech you learn in those clips. This is really just bringing in FatShady’s YouTube channel into the game, but I have never felt more confident in my Trials skills.
This whole thing works because the Professor doesn’t just explain the tech. He actually will give you on-demand instructions during the training challenges. So if you are having trouble with a particular jump, you can tap the right bumper, and he will give you context-relevant tips.
It feels like having an in-game tutor. And I think one of the reasons it’s so effective is because Professor FatShady does feel external to RedLynx (although, I don’t know if he is a Ubisoft employee). He talks to players as another player and not as a developer trying to explain how their game works.
And it has more variety than ever
Another way that the developer has improved Trials is by giving you a much wider variety of challenges. Sure, you have online multiplayer, and the single-player campaign has traditional time-trial races where you play against computer-controlled ghosts.
But then you will also unlock the Moto-X levels where you see other non-ghost racers in the level with you. And you’ll compete in skill-game challenges that have you trying to bailout, grab a basketball in midair, and complete a monster dunk.
My favorite new addition, however, is the challenge race. These are events that pop up on the map every couple of hours that give you three lives to see if you can get three wins. Unlike in standard courses, if you lose the race or try to restart it, you lose a life.
This is a brilliant addition to Trials because it encourages an entirely different style of play. In most races, I restart dozens of times trying to execute perfectly on the most efficient route. But every life is precious in the challenge races, so instead of trying to do everything perfect, you are better off playing conservatively. It’s a great change of pace that keeps everything feeling fresh.
And the best tracks the series has seen
The one thing a Trials Rising sequel needs to work is fun new courses, and RedLynx has nailed this. These tracks are wild both in terms of their themes and their obstacles. They are also jam packed with alternate routes that make the levels very replayable.
For the Siberian Express track, for example, you ride on a train as it flies down the tracks. The train cars each have a series of ramps and various impediments that you must overcome. But as you get into the flow of the level, you begin seeing how you can bypass a lot of the early part of the track by going slow on a loose teeter-totter ramp so that it will fire you up into the air slightly.
I beat him! pic.twitter.com/x8dQYpq8u1
— Jeffrey Grubb (@JeffGrubb) February 24, 2019
And Siberian Express is exciting to watch because you begin dropping into these narrow windows where you just barely miss a sign or metal bars that fly over and past the train.
RedLynx is the best at creating courses that are both fun to ride and that have a million bizarre things happening the background.
Whether you’re in a foundry where everything is catching on fire or there are rockets going off in the background, you will always have something to look at.
Oh, and Trials Rising has a ton of courses.
What you won’t like
Occasional performance problems
Trials Rising has given me a few performance hiccups on PC. Even when I was playing on a 2080 Ti. I’m betting RedLynx will solve these issues through patches pretty quickly. But for now, they are annoying. I’ll drop down to 2 frames per second suddenly, which naturally makes the game unplayable. But those instances are rare.
In addition to the PC version, I also tested it on Nintendo Switch. It works surprisingly well on the hybrid home/handheld console, but some courses are too taxing for the hardware. In one stage where you can set your rider on fire, the framerate can sometimes struggle to keep up, for example.
Character customization is weak
One of the things that RedLynx and Ubisoft are trying to do to ensure that this Trials game is worth the investment is lootboxes. These care packages are only for cosmetic items, so my problem isn’t with the inclusion of that monetization method. Instead, the issue is that most of the things you unlock are kinda boring or forgetful.
I didn’t do the math, but it feels like 90 percent of the items you get are stickers that you can add to other items. And some of these stickers are just a couple of squiggly lines. Maybe if I were to get way deep into customizing my character, I would care. But even then, it’s difficult to tell what you have unlocked.
Instead, I mostly ignored the stickers and only cared about cosmetics when it was something like a pair of pink hotpants and cowboy boots.
Trials Rising does so much right. It doesn’t muddy the gameplay with distracting additions. It has dozens of excellent courses. And it has great systems for playing against your friends either with online multiplayer or asynchronously with ghosts.
In a time when it seems like blockbuster game publishers won’t fund a game unless it can make a billion dollars, I’m grateful that Ubisoft is still letting RedLynx do what it does best. And in return, RedLynx has done a hell of a job delivering the best Trials game ever.
Trials Rising is out tomorrow, February 26 for PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Ubisoft provided GamesBeat with a download code for the purpose of this review.