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Trials Rising

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: Feb. 26, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Trials Rising'

by Cody Medellin on March 7, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Set in new epic locations around the world and featuring over a hundred tracks, Trials Rising lets riders travel the world and put their skills to the test through various levels of difficulty, beat the competition, grow their fame under the eyes of experienced sponsors and work to become Trials champions.

Buy Trials Rising

When the first Trials debuted, it took people by surprise. Presentation-wise, it was similar to Excitebike from the NES, but the advanced physics system made the game play as a platformer. The game was fascinating enough that its HD incarnation and subsequent sequel Trials Evolution were must-have titles for those seeking a hilarious challenge. On the current crop of consoles, however, the series has fallen on hard times. Trials Fusion was a good title in its own right, but the lack of content at launch and the futuristic setting disappointed early adopters, while Trials of the Blood Dragon was an interesting concept that was executed poorly. Trials Rising, the fifth game in the series, feels like an apology of sorts, as the game dials things back to return to its roots and rediscover what made the series a hit.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Trials Rising looks like a standard racer. Your goal is to reach the end of a course that's filled with bumps, loops and ramps. For good measure, there are also a few explosive barrels, moving steel beams, and barriers that need to be knocked down. The title features an advanced physics system, so your main goal is to make it through the course in one piece because everything you do has an effect on your chances of doing that. You can shift your bike to land perfectly on two wheels instead of landing precariously on one wheel and hoping things stay steady. You can shift your body to go up hills faster and to control your speed going down a ramp. Stopping and starting is a risky thing, since you need to hope that your sudden forward momentum won't make you flip the bike or that catching your wheel in an object during a landing won't tip you over. You need to plan everything in a split second and still have enough wits about you to course-correct when things go wrong. You also have to be concerned about finishing the courses quickly enough to gain medals.

That's the formula in a nutshell, and while this has seen little to no change in most titles, the backdrops in Trials Rising make the core gameplay feel grand again. You can still play in classic warehouses, but the tracks take place in a wide variety of locales, including construction sites, movie studios and outdoor deserts. Go beyond the beginner stages, and you start to tour the world, so it's common to race under the neon lights of South Korean rooftops and French backdrops. Compared to the future and pseudo-'80s settings of the two prior games, this feels like where the series should go.

The excellent track design is complemented by a physics and control system that feels fine-tuned. That's no small feat when you consider that those systems were already quite solid in the series' debut title. The analog stick movement and analog trigger use are perfect for dialing in landings and acceleration, and the controls always react to minute movements. One tool the game gives you now is the ability to see how much gas, brake and tilt you're giving in meter form, so it's much easier to gauge things rather than interpreting body movements, sounds, or a gut feeling.

The campaign, which has over 100 tracks, introduces quite a number of new gameplay mechanics to the series. The most important is Trials University, where, for the first time, the game teaches some of the techniques to master the courses. Things like acceleration control and correct leaning are some of the basics, and some advanced things, like performing hops, are also available. Unlike other tutorial modes, the lessons are delivered gradually, so it never feels like there's too much to learn in a short time. It also gives you a hint about which technique to use next, which is great for those who are learning the ropes.

Whereas the previous titles treated most of the courses as solo affairs, Trials Rising treats almost every course as a race. It's an odd choice, since most of the courses only care about finishing under a certain time instead of beating opponents to the finish line. The opponents you're racing against are almost always real people, but instead of facing them live, you're competing against their ghosts, so their finish times for each race are going to be consistent. The ghosts are helpful if you get some good players, so you can get a better idea of how to handle troublesome sections of the course. The ghosts also end up being rather annoying, since you may receive a gold medal on a track but still land in second place behind a ghost player.

The game now has an XP system, where you earn experience for completing a level. The medal type governs how much XP you earn. Replaying a level also grants XP, so there is some incentive to improve on a track that you've already beaten. Leveling up gives you access to two things: loot boxes (we'll touch on this later) and access to new bikes, lessons and tracks. On the one hand, this isn't a bad system, since it gives all players a chance to see everything in the back half by just grinding things out. It can be laborious, but even novices can see it over a long period of time. On the other hand, with the later tracks no longer being locked by medal count and type, it can feel cheap for series veterans, since they're no longer rewarded for working hard on the tracks.

Speaking of XP, you now have sponsors littering the campaign, and that can be a good source of XP and coins. Most of the contracts ask you to complete a course with as few crashes as possible or complete a course under a set amount of time, and they're nice bonuses when tackling a track for the first time. Some of the contracts appear in courses you've already completed, so you have some incentive to replay courses; it may seem like padding, but it really does extend the life of the campaign.

The presence of loot boxes means customization, and it's here that Trials Rising feels both strong and weak. None of the items in the loot boxes provide a gameplay advantage, as everything is purely cosmetic. Nothing you earn is compelling, and almost all of the items can be purchased from the store with coins. You can also buy some user-made creations from the store using those same coins. Keep in mind that there are some items that can only be purchased with the game's premium currency, which can be purchased with real money or earned by finding them hidden in levels. Based on what's available now, we don't see any items that are worth spending actual money on.

Beyond the campaign mode lies a few things to keep players engaged. The track editor from Trials Fusion is back and just as elaborate as ever, with lots of pieces at your disposal to make almost any track you want. Unlike the main game, there's no real tutorial in place to ease people into building tracks, and with so many pieces at your disposal, it can be very intimidating to construct something. Luckily, the game lets you browse through player creations, and with the selection being pretty sizeable at launch, there's hope that the track selection will be near-endless.

Online multiplayer has you going up against seven other people in three rounds, where players can vote for each track on each round. This is treated as a more traditional race, so finishing first is encouraged, but it's also done in a way where, like the campaign, your opponents are ghosts — but live instead of pre-recorded. Finishing a race in general is highly encouraged, since that's the only way to get any coins and XP (the latter helps when you're trying to grind to the next level). Right now, the population is decent enough, but I haven't encountered a full eight-player game, with two to three players being the norm. There are also a few incidents where players quit after the first race, and full games are disbanded as a result. That's pretty discouraging, but it's a little comforting that the game lets you keep everything earned during that session.

Offline multiplayer is good for a total of four players, and it features racing just like the online mode, minus the ability to gain XP and coins for finishing. The other offline multiplayer mode is only good for two players but has you and a friend riding together through all of the tracks on a tandem bike. As you would expect, this makes it much tougher to pull off even the most basic run on the easiest course, and it will undoubtedly lead to plenty of arguments with every failed run. Then again, much like the crashes you experience in the game, crashes in tandem mode can elicit a chuckle or two.

The audio is absolutely brilliant. The effects are clean, and while there isn't too much done in terms of voice work, what little is here is well done. The real highlight comes from the soundtrack, which mimics the soundtracks that extreme sports games used to feature. Aside from a few electronic tracks here and there, the soundtracks consists mostly of rock and hip-hop, with a good mix of well-known and indie acts. It all flows well with the action and overall aesthetic, and it's certainly one of the best parts of the game.

On the other hand, the graphics are good but could use some improvement. The environments look good until you slow down the action and notice the low-resolution textures. The bikes and the riders look very nice, but crashing means that the ragdoll effects are toned down dramatically instead of exaggerated for more comedic effect. The frame rate is also fairly solid, but there are small blips in the action — even on a PS4 Pro — that ruin the flow. The game also has an issue when it comes to very noticeable screen-tearing, but that only seems to be prevalent when playing multiplayer, as this is absent in solo play.

Trials Rising is a very good game and a return to form for the series. The tight physics are put to good use in the numerous tracks, and you always feel like you're in control of your bike and rider. The contract system gives you a reason to replay levels, and while the new unlock system via XP is a good way for dedicated players to finally see end-game content, it means that you don't need to perfect your skills like you did in the past. Customization and the pseudo-racing system might not be that exciting, but the core gameplay is good enough that fans won't mind their inclusion. As long as you don't mind having to crash and burn several times before getting a level right, you'll enjoy your time with Trials Rising.

Score: 8.0/10

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