RedLynx’s Trials Rising is more of that Trials goodness, unfortunately marred by common video game mechanics and monetization systems.
I get knocked down…
If you are unfamiliar with the Trials series, it is a difficult time trial experience where the aim is to work your way through progressively difficult tracks on motorbikes, pedal bikes or even a tandem bike in co-op. Tracks will become more difficult, they will ease you in with very simple levels before ramping up the difficulty to extreme – some of which, traditionally, can take upwards of 15 minutes. On completion you will be greeted with a completion time and a medal; Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. You will fail, you will quit the game in frustration only to return, channelling that inner fury and besting the intricately design track. However, this is all part of the fun of Trials; adapt, improve, set new records and destroy your friends times.
Trials Rising features a myriad of pristinely designed tracks which transported me around the world and I was racing through Hollywood movie sets, soaring through the air attempting not to plummet to my death as a plane breaks apart or in the serene, snowy depths of Finland, all of which is achieved using the series’ best looking graphics to date. All of this is conveyed via a World Tour map where the Trials competitors are travelling across the globe to prove to the world that they are number one. The setting allowed for RedLynx to diversify each track and make it specific to each region or even city, it completely opened up the game to culturally specific designs – for example, a Scottish track that will take you through Edinburgh Castle, another designed around the Trans-Siberian Railway or even zipping through one of the largest religious monuments; the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Sadly, the overall map structure and UI make it difficult to navigate and understand what tracks I had completed or my best times. It was pretty finicky and I believe the series staple UI worked well and conveyed all of the necessary information to the player. This was something I eventually got used to, but it is still more convoluted than it needs to be.
Mechanically speaking, this is the best Trials game yet. Each bike handles differently from one another and I truly had a difficult time swapping from the powerhouse that is the Rhino to the more agile Mantis. It took some practice to nail down the feel of each bike to master their potential, which is extremely important as some bikes are suited more to certain tracks, which will help you to navigate each obstacle and generate the best time possible.
The vast differences in the design and setting of each track is something to behold and makes repeating tracks interesting and fresh… for a while.
Flip, Flip and flip some more!
Trials, at its core, should be challenging and I want the game to constantly make me question my skills on each track in different ways. Some should focus on bunny hopping, uphill obstacles, leaning and other Trials specific mechanics, while the extreme tracks should combine several mechanics. Previous games in the serious showed a very easy to follow progression path where I would be challenged with completing tracks with the easy difficulty, proving my chops before making my way to the extreme tracks. This was all done naturally; the games challenged me to navigate through each level in such a specific way that would make me feel technically and mechanically proficient at the game. Here is where one of Trials Risings largest flaws lie.
The progression in Trials Rising is shocking and has near ruined the experience for me. It is no longer about clearing each track or reaching a gold medal time, that is because RedLynx and Ubisoft have decided to cram in an overall levelling system. Track unlocks, stadium finals, literally everything gameplay related is locked behind an arbitrary overall level – as someone who has played through every Trials game, I was highly confused upon completion of the easy tracks that no further medium, hard or extreme tracks were unlocked for me to play. Instead, to unlock the hard tracks I had to progress to level 50 by repeating the same tracks over and over again for a miniscule amount of experience or by completing contracts.
You may think that contracts are optional -and I would argue they are not. Unless you want to grind on the same levels repeatedly, for hours on end to be granted with a 100xp reward upon completion, no matter if you got a bronze or a gold medal, then you will need to work on contracts to level up and unlock new tracks. Adding more fire to the flames, these contracts are horrendously bad and repetitive and can even be 100% impossible to achieve. An example of the average contract would be something like; complete the track while performing 15 front flips, 10 back flips with no faults. Depending on the track, this can either just be an annoyance or literally impossible. Some other contracts tasked me with back flips, front flips, no faults AND getting a better time than another players ghost, the ghost is not completing these contracts and thus is able to go through the track at a normal pace, leaving me in the dust and the contract impossible to complete. The contracts don’t stop coming as I unlocked more and more sponsors who saddled me with even more backflips, front flips and faultless runs to gain extra xp, to level up and achieve my overall goal of unlocking harder tracks to play on.
This system reeks of ‘how can we squeeze more money from our players’ and feels like it is only there to exploit the player. That is because Trials Rising features gear crates, your industry-standard loot crate. I received a crate every time I levelled up, which if I wanted to open, I would need to navigate to the gear section and be greeted with the option to purchase more gear crates, the ultimate goal being to drive the players in to making further purchases. The levelling system is a means to make the player feel powerless, like they are no longer making progress and to get more eyes on to the store page via free gear creates, in the hopes that it tempts players in to purchasing more.
To top it all off, the inability to race against your friends ghosts is an absolutely baffling decision. There was no choice to choose to race against only my friends ghosts on any of the 117 tracks and I was instead basing my skills against the ghosts of a random pool of UPlay users – seemingly from across all platforms. I find a lot of fun in racing alongside my friends ghosts, seeing the lines they have taken, where they have faltered or learning from their near-perfect runs.
Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad that I’m not a fool
The University of Trials is a welcome, but flawed addition to the series that walked me through techniques to improve my skills, showcase how to navigate certain difficult objects and improve on track times.
It is the most in-depth tutorial system the series has ever seen and accurately taught me about in-game mechanics that I didn’t know about, as well as helping me to improve on techniques I have been using for several games in the series. It also helped to put a name to certain mechanics and provided an overall sense of being educated about the nuances of the game.
However, just like unlocking tracks, tutorials are unlocked by reaching a certain overall level. I am not entirely sure why this would be the case, even for some of the more advanced techniques, if I am actively seeking out tutorials to improve or work on certain techniques, or even learn more about your game, why am I being limited to grinding contracts to gain arbitrary experience to unlock more tutorials? I have unlocked all of the tracks that Trials Rising has to offer, repeated several of them, finished thirty or more contracts and even now, there are tutorials that I have still not managed to unlock. I just want to educate myself and become better at the game.
I can’t underestimate the usefulness of the University of Trials, however I can not get behind the way each tutorial has been implemented.
I enjoyed my time with the multiplayer where I would compete with up to seven other players in a series of events, in a championship format to win and gain some extra experience and currency.
Each track would be voted on and the subsequent race would take part on the chosen track, something I enjoyed as it constantly made for a diverse set of multiplayer tracks and each championship was always different as each player usually had their own set of favourite tracks they would vote for. This forced me to play tracks I wasn’t 100% comfortable with and made for some tense moments.
Sadly, there is no private multiplayer present at the release of Trials Rising, which is difficult to stomach as playing with friends is always a highlight and genuinely adds another layer of hilarity to the Trials formula as you and your friends frantically battle it out.
Despite being connected to Uplay, I was unable to see any of my friends track times if they were playing on a different platform but were logged in to their Uplay account. In a time of constant online connections and sharing a connected platform across multiple gaming devices, it is quite disheartening being unable to see my friends track times on Xbox One, Playstation 4 or Nintendo Switch as I played the game on PC.
That not so sweet loot
With the inclusion of a loot system in gear crates, and its subsequent monetization in a bid to rake in more revenue while bloating and hindering the game, I would assume that the gear would at least be interesting. For the most part, the gear is completely uninspired and it is the user-created content that inspires creativity.
I was constantly being ‘rewarded’ with the same gear, in my playthrough of each track I managed to amalgamate 14 jean jackets, 11 scooter helmets and 8 pairs of strap shoes. I can only assume this is to give players the option of several different personal customizations. There is also an option to cash in each piece of gear for credits, which can be spent buying more gear crates, unlock bikes or purchase user-created content from the marketplace.
In no way did I feel like there was specific gear that I wanted to obtain and I had no attachment to anything I was garnering from the crates, as it was mostly stickers used in the customization process. The gear was so unsatisfying that I started to ignore any crates I had earned, as I knew I was going to be greeted with yet more stickers or fantastically boring jean jackets.
To top this off with progression being tied to leveling, which rewarded me with gear crates, Trials Rising obnoxiously guided me back to unlock those crates, where there is an option to purchase more, and tries to capture that dopamine of opening crates in an attempt to get me to cash in and buy crates with real money. This is especially egregious as I feel it damages the core of Trials, RedLynx and Ubisoft have sacrificed the natural progression of previous Trials games to cash in and add another layer of monetization.
With no private multiplayer at launch, a lack of racing against friends ghosts and the inability to utilize cross-platform leaderboards for those connected to Uplay is especially disappointing. However, the multiplayer and co-op modes currently in the game are fun to play.
Despite the stellar and culturally inspired track design and near-perfect gameplay and bike handling mechanics which improves upon previous titles in the series, Trials Rising is inherently flawed thanks to its monetization scheme. Progression is no longer tied to player skill or completing all tracks of a certain difficulty, it solely relies on grinding repetitive contracts to obtain arbitrary levels in order to reach a set point where harder tracks will unlock at specific levels. This combines to feel like a forced, mobile-like system that is clearly inspired by Trials Frontier.