There’s a moment of crushing disappointment that comes early on in Trials Rising. It sneaks up on you, insidiously, and before you know it the damage is done. One of the songs in the game’s unrelenting, high-energy soundtrack opens with a driving drumbeat that calls to mind ’80s hit ‘Take On Me’. It’s a real A-ha moment. When the rest of the band kicks in, however, you realise that it’s not actually an exciting new cover of a Norwegian synthpop classic, but rather a different song – and band – entirely.
As any other right-thinking person who uses the internet would, I took this bait-and-switch as a personal attack and elected to uninstall the game there and then. I even briefly, and entirely rationally, considered boycotting all Ubisoft games going forward. But I’m pleased to say that, after a short period of self reflection, I instead calmed down and continued playing. I’m glad that I did: in the dozens of hours I’ve sunk into the game so far, the unfortunate song incident is just about the only time I haven’t been grinning wildly.
That there’s so little of note to criticise in Rising comes as an enormous relief after Trials Fusion’s heart-stopping wobble on the beam. As with every main-series Trials game on PC since HD, Fusion’s core was a time-devouring cocktail of perfect physics platforming, deceptive depth, and a daunting skill ceiling. But bolted to that crux were a number of missteps, as well as some bold experiments that didn’t quite land.
The lumpen ATV added dependable power and stability for beginners, but at the cost of thrills and a fragmented track selection. FMX events introduced an ostensibly intuitive trick system, but eroded the precision and control for which the series is lauded. And Fusion’s multiplayer component was woefully underdeveloped at launch.
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None of these problems reoccur in Rising. Instead, RedLynx has served up the most comprehensive and brilliant arrangement of the Trials formula yet. It all kicks off with a slick, dazzling dash through a stadium track, lit by pyrotechnics and the shimmering starfield created by thousands of cameras going off in the stalls. It’s a gutsy statement of intent that drops you straight into the action from the first button press, but it also immediately highlights a subtle improvement to the Trials universe: it’s now teeming with life.
People are everywhere, stood next to tracks cheering, operating cameras and machinery in dangerous proximity to your path, or just getting on with life in the background. Some of them even sport hi-vis jackets, but none seem outwardly concerned with either health or safety. This influx of denizens has little effect on gameplay – unless you count the additional challenge of trying to take in all the extra detail while concentrating on your next bunny hop – but it does eliminate the eerie verisimilitude of previous Trials games’ unpopulated wildernesses.
Another appeal to naturalism comes from the abandonment of Fusion’s sci-fi aesthetic (and annoying robot antagonists) in favour of a return to Trials Evolution’s more ‘realistic’ tracks. It shouldn’t make such a difference, but there’s an unquestionably stronger connection to proceedings as a result – skilfully negotiating the Eiffel Tower, Chernobyl, or even a Hollywood film set just feels better than riding over sleek megascrapers and spaceships.
All of Rising’s contemporary-set tracks are tied together in a new world map, on which you emerge after finishing that first stadium race. As you progress, you open various leagues from rookie to pro. Early ones are congregated around specific parts of the world, but later on you’ll take globe-trotting tours. It’s an enjoyable way to sample the dozens of courses on offer – you’ll amass more than 50 events on the map before you even touch the really tough tracks – and leaves behind the more linear progression of previous games, even if it is a little messier to navigate than a selection of skill-based lists. It all lends an underlying thematic consistency to proceedings which sits pleasantly with the unhinged, ultra-violent slapstick of the events themselves.
Trials are bolstered by the presence of sponsors and contracts. The former set the latter and ask you to finish under certain conditions for additional XP and dosh – catch up with a fast rider while pulling off 15 speed-sapping backflips, for example, or wheelie for 40 metres with no faults. These twists shift your focus from maintaining good flow and taut lines in the same way Fusion’s challenges did. Pleasingly, those secret alternative objectives are also still present and correct, and they’re brilliant: I finish one course in pitch-black darkness guided only by the light from my wheels (both of which are on fire, natch) after discovering a hidden button.
Rising also takes cues from Trials Frontier, presenting its sponsors as a mix of original characters and caricatures of the dev team. Thankfully, none of Frontier’s questing or characterisation comes along with them, RedLynx wisely allowing players to get on with the business of playing the game rather than clicking through dialogue. Their presence is handled with a light touch, and provides additional encouragement to revisit earlier tracks.
A more divisive element inherited from Frontier is loot boxes. Some players will take pleasure in them, I’m sure, though I’m not among that demographic. They have no effect on progress, and it’s entirely your choice whether or not to spend money on accelerating the arrival of the game’s more outlandish cosmetic items, but somehow they just don’t quite sit right in the context of the rest of the package. If you’re into admin, then opening boxes of mildly interesting stickers, bike parts, and clothes before painstakingly selling off all the duplicates one by one is going to really spice up your evenings. For my palate, however, their presence adds a slightly bitter aftertaste to what is an otherwise generously spirited game. Still, I hear that loot boxes are popular, so what do I know?
If you prefer rolling wheels to RNGs then the University of Trials is waiting for you. This brilliant addition to the series leans on the knowledge of Professor FatShady – an Australian YouTuber who has been making in-depth Trials tutorial videos since 2013 – and represents the most comprehensive, detailed tutelage in the series so far. The 12 lessons cover everything from the basics of throttle control and maintaining flow, to clearing uphill obstacles or shifting weight to achieve consistent bunny hops.
There’s instruction from FatShady himself, slow-motion footage of the techniques, a variety of meters which communicate button inputs and suspension load, and the option to watch FatShady’s own efforts as he rides along beside you. You can even ask for additional help or reminders during the lessons. It should mean that the point at which challenges appear to be insurmountable comes a little later for new players, and that can only be a good thing.
Talking of helping people out, Rising’s new tandem multiplayer mode – which puts two players on a special bike and grants them half the controls each – is a work of terrifying genius. It’s nowhere near the disaster it sounds like it should be on paper, and allows for various interesting scenarios including skilled players helping newcomers to learn, and spectacular feats of cooperative bravado from the best riders tackling tracks of extreme difficulty.
The more traditional competitive multiplayer mode is bolstered by vastly more interesting tracks, some of which include the brilliant environmental dynamism of the main game’s courses. You can also tinker with options such as no lean, throttle stuck on, or low gravity, and even stipulate forfeits such as the loser having to dance or do the dishes. Even so, at the time of writing there is sadly still no evidence of a local skill game party mode. Here’s hoping one is included in Ubisoft’s far-reaching DLC plans because it’d be a riotous pass-the-pad option. There will be no shortage of additional modes and tracks once players sink their teeth into the track editor, however, which is as dauntingly powerful as Fusion’s.
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All in all, Rising is a slick proposition. I’ll certainly be lost in it for the foreseeable future, painstakingly honing my times through the game’s fiendish extreme tracks and seeking out the series’ infamous hidden squirrels. Perfunctory microtransactions and occasionally messy UI aside, Rising is a magnificent effort. The only thing that could improve it for me now is if I find an A-ha track in one of those insufferable loot boxes.
A marvellously accomplished realisation of RedLynx’s deranged vision for the series, which somehow manages to be both the most accessible and most unforgiving Trials game to date.