Trials Rising Was Still Dumb and Great but in a More Cohesive Way [Hands-On Preview]

I’ve always loved how stupid the Trials games were. Breaking, bending, and blowing up that poor crash test dummy turned driver was the necessary comedic balance to steadily trying to make it to the end of the course in one piece. Trials Rising, the newest upcoming game in the series, seems to have that core silliness but with an updated presentation and more cohesive, down to earth set of levels.

And I mean “down to earth” in a literal sense. Trials Fusion, the first entry fully published by Ubisoft in 2014, often favored synthetic, metal tracks instead of the muddy, natural environments the series built itself on. It had that signature Trials gameplay, but felt a little out of its element when taken out of the elements.

Trials Rising Preview: Putting the “Dirt” Back in “Dirt Bike”

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Trials Rising seems to be aware of this slight idiosyncrasy, judging by the few tracks I played on. One took place near the iconic Egyptian pyramids while another was on a traditional rally map with a crowd and camera crew. Even the non-copyright infringing version of Disneyland felt grounded but just with a little bit of that ridiculous Trials lunacy. Although the game would feel the same if it lacked textures, crashing into the dirt in earthy environments is just more appropriate for a game centered around a dirt bike. Ubisoft Community Developer John Lloyd said that that was the point.

“There was a strong desire from our community to have a more grounded Trials game,” he said. “People really liked the gritty real feel of Trials Evolution so yeah, we were trying to throw back to that. And then we were also throwing this new element on it where we wanted to kind of emulate real trials competitions but obviously with that over-the-top Trials flavor that we like to bring to the game.”

Trials Rising Preview: More Ways to Compete

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These real trials competitions take place in the Stadium Finals, which is one of the game’s biggest features. It’s a hybrid of motocross and trials, meaning all eight players race on an obstacle-filled track as quickly and cleanly as possible. The players on the bottom half of the scoreboard gets axed each time until it’s a one-on-one race to the finish line.

Whether played asynchronously or simultaneously, it’s a better take on the traditional “ghosts” system because the eliminations add a previously unseen layer of tension. The ghosts are still in the campaign, as they should be, but this mode is latches onto that competitive feeling that Trials feeds on. Linking your survival to beating your friends makes the pressure even more palpable and that pressure doubles in multi-stage levels where restarts are more costly.

Trials Rising Preview: More Ways to Cooperate

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But Trials Rising also has another standout multiplayer mode. And boy, is it dumb. The new Tandem Bike is exactly what it sounds like: two players control the same bike at the same time in tandem with each other. It’s a cooperative twist on the typically competitive sport and, according to Lloyd, that was the point.

“We had a fairly big portion of our audience that was really into playing local multiplayer and so we were really thinking what else we could do for them,” he explained. “We can give people a mode where they’re not playing against each other. They have to cooperate and play together. We started prototyping it and obviously we had a ton of fun with it.”

My bike partner and I also had a ton of fun with it regardless if we were landing sick flips or landing face-first into the dirt. While beefing it is still hilarious, finessing tricky obstacles and staying wheels down requires heavy communication since you’ll most likely both have different ways of tackling every little bump and jump. There were times where he would lean forward and I would lean back during a huge jump, which looked like the famous airborne bike scene from E.T. No sweet backflips. No rad frontflips. Just a boring cruise through the wind. And that’s what we deserved.

It forced us to learn to talk and shout at each other, which brought out the best part in that mode. Separately controlling the brake, gas, and leaning is challenging but it’s funny when you crash and gratifying when you succeed. And while Lloyd said the Tandem Bike won’t be available for every track due to the later, more difficult tracks, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ubisoft eventually patches it in if the community suggests it.

The Tandem Bike is a welcome twist of the core Trials gameplay, which is still in tact and just as solid as before. It controls just as well as it did before, but Ubisoft is trying to add more replayability through its optional objectives and customization. Hitting optional objectives in certain sponsored matches unlocks new gear that will show up on your ghost in other multiplayer games and gives another incentive to go back into old levels and master them. It’s all tied in to the sponsorship system, which is a nice, small narrative justification for both campaign progression and item unlocks.

Trials Rising appeared to be a better Trials game with a more polished visual presentation and appropriate refocus on what worked in the past: grounded trials with just enough slapstick humor. At its core, it’s still iterative and I wasn’t able to play the game’s new tutorial modes to see if they would be able to grab any new fans. But as someone who already likes the series, it seemed like the game I wanted in the package I always wanted it in.