The insane action sport series is back: we get an early hands on with the next-gen stunt jumper.
It’s cold when we arrive at RedLynx’ studio on the outskirts of Helsinki. And snowing. What little light there is is just enough to make out the bay, completely frozen over.
In other words, we’re more than usually keen to get inside and see what the developers at RedLynx have been working on for the last few years, bunkered up inside the warmth of their studio halfway up an office tower block, kitted out with dozens of consoles, ping pong tables and even the odd scooter to speed around the hallways and overflowing cubicles.
Not that we’d need any more encouragement: it is Trials Fusion we’re here to play, after all. The latest in the studio’s series of hit Trials games that pit you on a motorbike in a 2D plane against an increasingly absurd series of obstacles, jumps and sheer walls to traverse, all using just two thumbsticks to control the rider’s balance and the bike.
It’s also the first to make the leap to next-gen. After finding an audience on PC first, then hitting Xbox 360 with Trials HD and Evolution, the series is making the bunny hop onto new platforms, launching simultaneously on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. While the format remains very much the same - simple to understand and pick up, nigh on impossible to master - the scope is anything but.
“We have a lot of new features, it's the biggest Trials game we've made,” Karri Kiviluoma, lead game designer for Trials Fusion tells Red Bull.
“We had to think about what we wanted to do with the new Trials game. Trials HD was about warehouses, Evolution was out in the open world, it was a very green and lush environment. For Trials Fusion we had to do something completely different and have some crazy new environment, so we thought futuristic, what could we do with that? We wanted to have a futuristic vibe to it, so we had lots of futuristic buildings, that's what we started with.”
In Trials Fusion, you’ll find yourself throwing your rag doll rider down long jumps made of solar panels, hopping your way along factory conveyor belts and blasting over wind turbines, all while trying to desperately stop your bike from falling over - the game is entirely physics-based, with the rider’s movements entirely responsive to the balance you keep with the thumbsticks - no motion captured animation whatsoever.
Over the course of the day we play the game on Xbox One, PS4 and PC (it's also headed to Xbox 360), and the only difference you'll notice is between the controllers. Otherwise, it looks every bit as dazzling on each platform, and RedLynx has made great use of next-gen hardware with its lush, vast landscapes to tear through.
Basic gameplay has changed very little, but there are new elements to get to grips with. The new FMX mode for instance is all about stunts. With a well timed shove of the right thumbstick - and enough air - you can throw all types of tricks, from a Superman to a Coffin. If you fancy an extra challenge, you can do them on a quad-bike too: the extra wheels means landing big jumps requires very different positioning so that you don’t wind up in a blazing inferno of metal.
“The whole ideology for the mode was that it needs to continue with the Trials theme. It needs to be easy to learn, hard to master,” says Kiviluoma. “We didn't want to have any button combinations. You're actually controlling the bike itself and the driver's feet. Once you get the correct angle, the driver will pull off a pose.”
But even without these new modes, even if you’ve come close to mastering previous games in the series, the game's sense of humour will keep you wanting to explore more. Secret challenges in each level range from tennis matches with penguins to uncovering hidden caves by bailing through the correct crevice. Multiplayer mode is back, with clever Micro Machines style gameplay that sees you vanishing off the edge of the screen if your opponents get too far ahead. And then there are the standard, darkly comic endings your rider meets at the finishing line of each stage, from unfortunate collisions with barrels to being flung into a bomb test chamber and evaporated.
Kiviluoma says this is the imagination of the level designers shining through. “I think it's pretty much the level designers and anyone at the studios just throwing around crazy idea. The elaborate ones really do end up being totally crazy.” Some ideas are thrown out for being too violent though, he adds, if you can believe that.
What seldom aren’t thrown out, however, are levels that are too hard. Trials’ frequent checkpoints, rapid restarts and precarious balancing act mean you can end up throwing yourself through the same section over and over and over. It’s not uncommon for players to try to clear a jump more than 1,000 times in a row, and we found ourselves butting up against one awkward jump with a landmine underneath more than 350 times over the space of a few minutes before acknowledging our failure.
But if you’re really good, there’s lots to look forward to in Hardcore mode. RedLynx producer Kim Lahti fires up Inferno IV, the latest legendary level for experts only - and in front of a crowd of journalists, immediately fumbles the first near-vertical obstacle and falls into a pit of fire. Then again. And again.
Some fans will argue that this isn't so much a fail as proof that RedLynx has done its job. But Inferno IV is doable, burning tires, looming walls, daunting chasms and all. Not long after, we see one talented player clear the stage with some expert bunny hopping and less than ten mistakes overall.
Master that though, and you’re still only scratching the surface of Trials Fusion. “The player skill development curve never ends,” RedLynx boss Tero Virtala tells us. You see, Trials is one of those games that lives on through the hundreds of thousands of user generated levels of all difficulties available to download. Fusion once again comes bundled with a comprehensive level editor - the same one the team of just over 100 at RedLynx use to create tracks for the game.
Get good enough and there are rewards in store beyond peer respect. Kiviluoma tells us that RedLynx has made several hires from the community, tapping into the rabid Trials fan base to uncover new and imaginative level designers. Not just Finns either. There are Brits and Germans as well who've been brought over to help on Fusion after the team spotted their talents online.
And perhaps to lend a helping hand. If you’re a devoted, frustrated Trials fan, you’ll be pleased to know that not every RedLynx staffer has the finesse to complete all the toughest tracks - not by a long shot.
“I love the Extreme tracks, I'm not good enough for them yet,” reveals Kiviluoma. “I'm practising every single day. Every day I see my number of faults is dropping by a few. Maybe I'll get to zero at some point.”
It’s not every developer who’d admit to that - but in this case, we’d consider it a selling point. Gamers, start your engines, and get ready to smash a DualShock or four in a fit of frustration.