Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 4, Switch
In the world of Trials Rising, life is cheap and the dirt path to victory is paved with dead bodies - yours and your opponents’. Your reward for finishing first is dying first - by catapult, explosion, or slamming face first into the wet cement of a Hollywood sidewalk.
Human beings are just meat puppets waiting to be crushed by their own out-of-control motorbikes or slammed face first into a myriad of obstacles. It is a world unfettered by the consequences of gravity as long as you land wheels side down, a world where Death is told to sit down and shut up because dammit, you’ve got a race to run.
In Trials Rising, thousands of spectators show up to see a motocross rider drive off a ramp into petrol barrels in a competition to see how far the explosion will throw their ragged corpses. I got a silver medal for flying ~350 meters! But don’t expect blood and dismemberment; this ridiculous violence is rated T for Teen.
Trials Rising is what happens if Excitebike, a physics engine, and a Rube Goldberg machine somehow had a baby. You play as a motorbike rider desperately attempting to keep your motorbike balanced and wheels down as you blast through huge ramps, 360 degree loops, and jumps that would make Evel Knievel cry.
The controls are simple: you brake with the left trigger, accelerate with the right trigger, and keep the bike balanced using the left analog stick. It seems simple, and for the first few hours, it is; but the difficulty ramps up quickly.
Luckily, Trials Rising provides a decent tutorial section that eases you into the mechanics of the game. Your instructor completes the tracks alongside you, and the game shows you the exact control combinations necessary to conquer each obstacle. It’s one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen in a racing game, on par with driving school in Gran Turismo Sport.
Still, even if you pass every tutorial event with flying colors, you’re still gonna fall down and die a lot. The Trials devs know this and provided the fastest “track restart” option that I’ve ever seen in a racing game. On a PS4 controller, you tap the left side of your touchpad and boom, done. If you want to just restart from the most recent checkpoint, press O. No loading time. There isn’t even a confirmation screen. The devs know you’re going to start over CONSTANTLY and make it as painless as possible, but that means it’s easy to restart on accident. I lost progress on a difficult track that way more than once.
For most tracks, there’s no penalty for starting over, but in some special events, you only get three restart attempts throughout several races. This was a huge difficulty ramp, and I ended up avoiding those events when possible, which is unfortunate, because you have to successfully complete them in order to access more single player content.
Opposition and advancement
It’s important to note that you have no interaction with your AI opponents. This isn’t Wreckfest or Burnout Paradise. You can’t crash into your opponents or drive them off the road. Your real enemy is the tracks themselves, which are actively trying to kill you. You don’t control your turns, only your balance, which is initially simple, but becomes more complicated as the game goes on.
You’re given access to several tracks at the start of the game, and you unlock more by completing contracts, such as finishing the race before a timer runs out, limiting your number of crashes, or beating an AI character in a head to head race. Things get a little more interesting with sponsor contracts, which come up a few hours into the game, and ask that you not only complete the track, but also do backflips or other stunts.
I wish the contracts were a bit more varied. The two most common contracts are “finish this track in X amount of time or less” and “limit your crashes”. Given that crashes cost you precious seconds, it seems like both contracts boil down to “don’t crash”.
That being said, this is a $25 game designed for maximum zaniness, not deeply variegated gameplay or multi-hour play sessions. At the cost of two movie tickets, you can easily get enough amusement out of Trials Rising to justify the price.
That being said, this game does have MTX, and cosmetic items are handled via a lootbox system. The items are almost all cosmetic, but there are also two bikes locked at the start of the game that must be purchased with in-game currency or real money. This doesn’t necessarily bother me, but I know that some folks take a hard stance against this sort of monetization. I will say that it didn’t stop me from enjoying the game, and I found it easy to ignore.
Fit and finish
Trials Rising is a good looking game. Don’t go in expecting sim racing levels of photorealism, but the animation is fluid, the rag doll physics are often hilarious, and frame rates stay high no matter how many things are exploding and flying through the air. Sound is decent too, though I could do with less butt rock on the soundtrack - though the inclusion of The Gold Song by The Bouncing Souls was a nice touch that this Jersey boy enjoyed.
The game always feels fast and out of control, but in a good way. The best moments in racing games provide a sensation of pushing yourself to the limit, and Trials Rising manages to frequently provide that feeling.
There’s a multiplayer component, but I played the game in preview, and wasn’t able to properly rate this section of the game. There’s also a track editor which I found baffling, but Trials enthusiasts will most likely enjoy, as it includes track components from the entire series.
Rising to the challenge
Every so often, I find a “night game” - something fun and low commitment that you can play right before bedtime. Night games are easy to learn and hard to master. (For the record, my last night game was heist simulator Monaco.) I can fire it up a few minutes before bedtime, have a few laughs, and hit the hay with a smile on my face. Trials Rising is my new night game. I’ll never be obsessed over it the way I would over deeper, more complicated, story-rich games, but it’ll be living on my HD for a long time to come.