Trials Fusion is a platformer on a dirt bike that grants you extremely sensitive control over your gas, brake and how your rider is shifting their weight on a two-dimensional plane. Like the sport its based on, knowing and respecting the raw power of your bike is the key to safely getting through the many harrowing vertical ramps and jagged mountain expanses thrown your way. There's no shortage of ways to put those tricky maneuvers to work in this game, and the satisfying weightiness to your every input feels as right as it ever has. All of the key ingredients from the series are there in some form, and yet a noticeable lack of finish persists through the whole package. The more I played, the more I realized that while Trials Fusion is a fun game, it's not a particularly balanced or polished one.
The level design is the biggest culprit. Trials has always been known as a tough experience, and the expectation is that the game will build your confidence with a couple batches of breezy levels before destroying your faculties with more devilish designs. All too often I found even Fusion's greatest challenges revolved around long stretches of easy riding punctuated with an single inscrutable obstacle I spent all of my time and retries on. These literal walls of difficulty are nothing new to Trials, but it never manages to gel into something as flowing and clever as this series' previous entry, Evolution. That game had a masterful way of teaching you by example through intuitive level design that brought no shortage of epiphanies along with it, a well-paced sequence of barriers that kept you moving and challenged.
In Fusion, most knowledge is barked at you through limp tutorials; you have to pull off a certain trick or maneuver in the easiest possible scenario before being dumped into a level with a rendition so much more challenging that the tutorial process seems useless. The gap between what you learned and what's expected of you is immediately widened. When paced this way, those more difficult moments can feel more like an annoyance, a test of your resolve than your ability to intuit and execute on a plan through. A trick system has been added to the right stick that, like your bike, is based in physics and has you shifting the rider's weight to different trick positions. It's tough to nail a good line of tricks, but it's a hell of a feeling when you pull one off. It's an addition that feels very true to the series, but there's not enough dedicated opportunities to engage with it.
Enter the "Community" tab, which showcases the many user-created levels made with Fusion's included editor and provides a more enjoyable way to play. Some users already have an accomplished portfolio of tracks that make better and more balanced use of how your bike's physics react to the environment. A pinball-esque FMX track that shot you around a playing field while you pull off tricks in increasingly demanding surroundings was a major highlight, and I spent hours trying out what everyone is putting down.
Sadly, numerous technical issues on PS4 don't help matters. Menus look good and give a nice closeup of all your bikes and gear, but they all suffer from some outrageous load times. It routinely took me thirty seconds or more just to see what the bike I was choosing looked like. You don't have to wait for the graphics to draw in to get through to the action, but going through a mostly black and featureless menu is an ugly alternative. Things fare better out on the track, but distracting pop-in extends there too. Menu audio has a distracting stutter. There's a distinct impression throughout the game that development was rushed.
The game's reliance on uPlay (surprise!) seems to be causing a few problems as well. For weeks the game flip-flopped on whether or not it would acknowledge my season pass purchase. Content and leaderboard messages still randomly rebrand themselves as read or unread when I quit the game. Trying to share screenshots or video clips is still problematic for some, even post-patch, and I'm still having issues connecting to the Community tab without frequent stutters or crashes. Chewing through some user levels or creating your own in the robust (but not very friendly) track editor is the most fun I had with Fusion, and it's a shame that these kinds of fundamental issues still linger some weeks after release.
Trials Fusion isn't a bad game at its core, but its design doesn't take advantage of the best parts of the series well enough, and the technical issues surrounding it all are a bummer. Hopefully a series of fixes are on the way, because this series is still enjoyable deep down. A line from the game's purposely absurd intro song booms, "Lightyears ahead of Evolution!"
It's still funny to hear it when I boot up the game, but it'd be more funny if it were true.