"A super-addictive game saddled with an annoying grind."
I've been a fan of the Trials series since playing Trials Evolution on my Xbox 360 in 2012. It was a simple game where you try to ride a motorcycle through obstacles and jumps strewn across dozens of levels without wrecking, and it became an addiction of mine. Early-game levels were easy to complete, possessing gentle hills and long straightaways. As you progressed, though, courses became increasingly diabolical to the point that you were essentially playing a very intense puzzle-platformer. You had the dual goal of reaching the finish line as soon as possible while also being slow and cautious in your movements, since going too quickly could easily put you in the wrong position to handle the next obstacle, which in turn leads to a fault. Getting too many faults meant you wouldn't receive a good medal. Since tracks were unlocked based on how medals you earned, that was undesirable.
It was a fun formula. You had reason to play through tracks repeatedly to get better at them and, upon finding success, you received new tracks to try to master. The dynamic was essentially duplicated two years later, when Trials Fusion was released. While that game didn't quite captivate me to the level that Evolution did, it still succeeded in offering more of the same fun.
And so, when Rising came out earlier this year, I was ON BOARD. And as far as pure Trials biking goes, this might be as good as it gets. The base game has more tracks than either Evolution or Fusion, and going through them is fun. There's a steady difficulty curve, as each unlocked set ramps things up a bit while giving players the building blocks they'll need to cope with what comes next. After the prior two games offered brief collections of tutorials that, honestly, did very little to help me improve at much of anything, this game has the University of Trials. It's a collection of lessons taught by Professor FatShady, a pretty skilled YouTuber and fan of the series. Each lesson tells you how to perform a particular stunt, such as executing bunny hops or properly transitioning from a jump to the landing in order to quickly build up speed for the next leap. As a person who finds that these games rapidly skyrocket in difficulty the instant I progress from Medium tracks to the Hard ones, I found some of these lessons invaluable in helping me improve my perforance. I was finally able to experience no small amount of success on the global leaderboard (and I'm gradually closing in on Top 10 percent, bay-beeee!).
After Fusion adapted a sci-fi theme, I was pleased to see Rising return the series to more real-life grounds. The campaign is essentially staged as a grand tour of our planet, with tracks scattered throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Continents from the Southern Hemisphere will get the Trials treatment once the game's second expansion is released. Early on, you'll enjoy a creatively-designed Hollywood course sending you from one movie set to another, while other courses have you performing jumps on Angkor Wat, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower and other notable locations.
Add in the usual slew of skill games, the ability to customize your rider and whatever bikes he or she has either unlocked or obtained with in-game currency, along with the Track Central community that allows players to create their own courses, and you'd think this would be the easiest perfect score I've ever handed out to a game. Alas, either RedLynx got some…interesting ideas over these past few years, or the studio's partnership with Ubisoft has caused its members to become infected with Big Corporate Crap. Whatever the reason, there are a few imperfections new to this entry, with one in particular being glaring.
Now, I'm not talking about the frivolous details that certain members of the game's message board community have blown out of proportion. They seem to feel that if one aspect of the game doesn't cater to them, the entire thing is broken and a waste of their money. As a person who purchased the Gold version to obtain the DLC upon its release, I have no sympathy for people who are upset there only is one global leaderboard for everyone and not an additional one that caters to those only in possession of the base game. Are there loot boxes? Yes, but their only purpose is to give you stuff to customize your bikes and rider -- frivolous trinkets I'm not going to get stressed about. I'm a fan of modern hard rock, so the fact the soundtrack is dominated by that genre is fine by me, as well. At least it's more enjoyable to listen to a few dozen songs by groups like Anthrax and Arch Enemy than the bland electronic stuff from Fusion or the tiny handful of original tracks present in Evolution. There also seem to be a number of issues that I haven't been affected by, either because I don't tend to get into multiplayer or because the American region hasn't fallen victim to them. While I can be an abrasive jerk at times, I'm not going to demerit a game for problems I haven't personally faced!
But there are some things I have found annoying. On an aesthetic level, it might be cool that all the tracks are located on a giant world map, but in practice, that idea falters the farther into the game you go. After you've unlocked a few series, some sections of that map can get pretty cluttered with course icons, making it hard to find the new ones you just gained access to. And since the first DLC completely takes place in America, where multiple other series are also located, that section of the map is just a mess. At least there's a fairly easy fix: clicking a button will call up a menu to filter the map so you can focus on a particular set or difficulty level of tracks. Also, load times can be quite noticeable at times, and you seem to be forced into riding with three ghosts of random players, which can be distracting if you're running close to their time. At least you can adjust the settings to make them barely visible and lessen the risk of botching something because you were busy looking at that guy who's just in front of you.
Far more annoying than any of the above concerns is THE GRIND. You know what I said about how older games in this series based your progression upon how many medals you'd obtained? That mechanic was scrapped and replaced by one where you get experience for completing courses, earning medals and performing optional challenges that aren't really all that optional since they offer more experience than anything else you might accomplish. Every so many levels, you'll unlock a stadium that consists of three small races. By getting through that, you'll obtain the next set of courses. Early in the game, you'll have no trouble cruising through the game, but around the time you're finishing up the Medium courses and looking to move on to the Hard ones, you'll realize that you need a lot of XP in order to keep accessing new levels. At that point, the rewards you obtain simply from clearing courses isn't going to cut it.
While the DLC does help to alleviate the process, since everything there does count towards your progress in the base game, you'll have to dive deeply into optional challenges known as Sponsor Contracts if you want to have a chance of seeing those Hard and Extreme tracks within a reasonable amount of time. As you progress through the game (and purchase those extra bikes), you'll gain the attention of multiple sponsors, who dish out challenges on a variety of tracks. The first one is cool, as the majority of its contracts will naturally be accomplished simply by finishing a course and showing a modicum of skill. The others tend to lean towards either mastering a particular skill that you may or may not find useful to fast racing--such as completing 10 flips--or doing something completely incompatible with smart racing, such as not leaning on your bike for an entire course. If you find these challenges fun, more power to you. To me, they started out enjoyable but grew more tiresome the further I got into the game. I just want to access new courses and test my skill on them, not endure a bunch of computer-imposed challenges to gain levels. C'mon guys! If it ain't broke, don't fix it! This is the sort of unnecessary tinkering with that can easily turn a winning formula into a turn-off.
Apparently, those changes for the worse weren't enough to completely sap my enthusiasm for Rising, though. I've made it to Level 80 and I am running out of things to unlock. I can't even tell you much about the caliber of fan-made courses in Track Central because I've been so into the actual game tracks that I've barely spent any time exploring that other content. While some aspects of this game are a bit annoying, the tracks are fun as hell to play through over and over. And I'm more than willing to put up with a few issues if doing so means I get that to enjoy such addictive gameplay on a regular basis.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 28, 2019)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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