It’s funny just how similar Trials Fusion is to its predecessors. On picking up the controller I was immediately thrown back into the light touch input mode that has caused me no end of repetitive strain injury symptoms from playing the series in the past, and before long the nuances of traversing across perilous platformers on two-wheels came flooding back. Trials is a simple concept that has been finely tuned between entries. It started as brilliant physics-based platforming disguised as a motorcross game; and Fusion is no different. At its core Trials Fusion is the same game as Trials HD and Trials Evolution before it. And that is in no way a bad thing.
Video games are strange beasts of things. The environment in which they exist is constantly changing, as technology brings with it new opportunities and expanding horizons. Games adapt to these changing parameters, as developers seek squeeze every ounce of new power from new consoles, in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ game. Of late this has been cleverly disguised by creative directors coming out and claiming that the new game is ‘how it was originally imagined’. Of course what this is all leading to is changes of the guard from old to new.
Progress is a great thing and it’d be naive of me to claim anything otherwise. But when it comes to a long running series, it can bring with it wholesale changes that can in some circumstances represent a significant departure from previous entries. Sometimes this results in something that plays worse – the long-running Sonic the Hedgehog’s transition to modern consoles immediately springs to mind, and while I have fond memories of Doom 3 it is far from a critical darling, especially compared to its predecessors. But for the most part, anecdotally at least, games improve largely in line with technology, resulting in modern masterpieces like Rayman Legends or Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. And we so we should all rejoice in knowing that the best is still ahead of us.
But this definitely has its downsides. If you look at it from a slightly more cynical angle, you could argue that these small steps forward for games represent mass redundancy of everything that came before. Rayman Legends is so beautiful and so fluid that going back to the first Rayman game released in 1995 is nearly impossible. It is slow, it is plodding, and while it looked a treat at the time, it is well and truly showing its age now. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, but when its compared to more modern entries in the series, it suffers in just about every respect. It is a problem that is almost unique to video games and one that makes so much of our past near impossible to appreciate to anyone that doesn’t have that historical context.
While many series are widely criticised for stagnation, there is an argument to be made for slow and methodical evolution rather than revolution. Trials Fusion is a great evolution of a great series, but it doesn’t make everything that came before redundant. I could (and have) happily gone back to some of the best tracks in Trials Evolution without their brilliance being lessened by the new and shiny sequel. Rather than the Trials game to rule them all, it is just another solid entry in an incredibly solid series. In no way could, or should that be levelled as a criticism.
Revolution is a sure fire way to gain critical and consumer acclaim, and it would be hard as a creative director to contain the desire to do something new and exciting. But I think we give far less credit than is deserved to a developer that knows its formula and maintains a steady state. While it may not get our hearts racing, and our Twitters tweeting about just how “our minds were blown”, being safe can in some ways be much kinder to your own legacy. In the case of Trials Fusion it can, and likely will, be viewed as stagnation or void of creativity, but I prefer to be positive and think of it as future-proofing their series roots and legacy. After all it would be nice to avoid those all too common words “it doesn’t hold up by modern standards” from being uttered by future video game enthusiasts.