Trials Rising has this uncanny ability to alter your perception of time. When you're trying to get your motorcycle across the finish line as fast as possible, jockeying for leaderboard superiority against friends or speedy strangers, a few seconds can feel like an impossible amount of time to shave off your best run. But when you finally put the controller down, you'll realize that 45 minutes have just elapsed in the blink of an eye. Though Trials Rising falters in some seriously buzz-killing ways - particularly in its level-up progression system - the core gameplay is just so continuously, addictively fun that you'll always want to rev up for the next race.
If you're new to the Trials franchise, Trials Rising is a great place to start, giving players every opportunity to master the art of racing and platforming on a motorcycle governed by finely-tuned physics. With controls no more complicated than the gas, brake, and the positioning of your rider, you'll need to drive from left to right across over-the-top obstacles courses as quickly and flawlessly as possible. Whether you're a fledgling Trials biker or a virtual Evel Knievel, Trials Rising will offer you stages that perfectly test your skills and force you to get better.
Exciting, inventive, and deceptively difficult tracks have always been at the heart of what makes Trials games great, and with over 100 stages, Trials Rising knocks it out of the park with its world tour of exotic locales. The futuristic, samey cityscapes of Trials Fusion have been ditched in favor of stages set around the globe, as you bounce between continents in search of ever-bigger gaps and hurdles to clear on two wheels.
From Egyptian ruins to the Great Wall of China, American skate parks to Russian missile silos, each stage feels distinct thanks to excellent theming and gorgeous backdrops. There's a ton of depth to each level, with all kinds of chaotic background activities you'll spot from the corner of your eye, and the use of vibrant colors make the visuals pop like never before. You can also go for the gold in over-the-top Skill Games featuring absurd circumstances (like launching yourself off explosive barrels for maximum distance), or fiddle around in the full-fledged level editor featuring environmental objects from throughout the series' history. You can create some professional-grade tracks of your own if you've got the patience, or just enjoy others' masterpieces when they're shared online.
School's in session
10 essential Trials Rising tips to know before you play
Besides the globetrotting premise, Trials Rising does its players a massive service with the fantastic University of Trials tutorial mode. Hosted by Professor FatShady, an expert Trials YouTuber now immortalized as your in-game instructor, these test stages gently ease you into the basics with helpful voiceovers, then eventually ramp up to the kinds of physics-dependant maneuvers you'll need to make it past the endgame tracks and their Extreme difficulty.
FatShady's scripting and delivery are just so well done: you can ask him for some encouraging pointers at any time during your test, and he'll make playful jabs at experts who just want to speed past his explanations of essential moves like the Bunny Hop or Flapping. Finally crossing the finish line alongside your motorcycle sensei to score an A+ grade is such a deeply satisfying feeling, and it's great knowing that you're being set up for success in the face of increasingly demanding track designs. Even having played every game in the Trials series, I learned so many invaluable skills from the University of Trials that improved my fundamentals in tangible, leaderboard-climbing ways.
That innate sense of progression - sharper skills, mechanical mastery, and the confidence to take on whatever a track throws at you next - is the driving force of the Trials series. So it's baffling that Trials Rising feels the need to bog you down with a concrete, cumbersome progression system, as you gain experience and level up in order to unlock new courses. Each time you level up, you're awarded a 'gear crate' loot box containing cosmetic costume pieces, stickers, and rider animations. These are largely inoffensive as loot boxes go, though I stopped opening them entirely when I realized that their contents - typically uninteresting stickers you can slap on your bike - would never spark joy.
But from the very start, you'll encounter quests called Contracts, doled out by static images of NPCs hailing from real-world biking brands. Initially, these Contracts may seem like optional, amusing diversions, asking you to do special tasks like beating a specific time, showboating with some flips and wheelies, or finishing the level with no more than a few faults. But if you want to see everything Trials Rising has to offer, I assure you that finishing Contracts for their precious XP rewards is very much a requirement.
Work before play
When you first start selecting tracks from the giant world map, it seems like simply completing tracks quickly enough for a gold medal is all you need to keep playing new tracks at a steady clip, as in previous Trials games. But around level 50, a horrifying realization will sink in: you've slammed into a wall of content gated by steep level requirements, and the only way to move forward is to complete those Contracts regardless of whether or not they sound enjoyable. The Contracts themselves are poorly balanced: some are drop-dead easy but yield tons of XP, while others require masterful driving yet offer barely anything in return.
Making experience points and Contract quests so prevalent has the adverse effect of cheapening your achievements. Early on, I spent an hour trying to clear an Extreme challenge, only to dawn on the fact that from a time-to-XP ratio, my efforts were essentially being wasted, and it was more efficient to give up and complete a different Contract that was easy but unengaging. Yes, it feels incredible to finally ace a particularly tough Contract - like scoring gold while doing a certain number of front flips and never letting off the gas - but again, having that sensation of accomplishment boiled down to a piddly XP value can really take the oomph out of your satisfaction. From about level 60 on, you'll be desperate to just jump ahead and try out some new tracks, instead of eking out XP with Contracts in stages you've already conquered.
If there's anything I hate more than the leveling system, it's Trials Rising's insistence that I participate in Stadium races. You can think of these as boss fights, where you race against AI riders on multi-lane tracks across three heats, until only one of eight bikers stands triumphant. On their own, these races are just fine - but the Stadium Finals that you need to beat in order to see the Grand Finale are utterly hellish. You need to survive all three races in a row, and if you lose, it's back to the very beginning - which completely runs counter to the Trials principle that copious checkpoints exist to let players of all skill levels enjoy each track at their own pace. In the Stadium Finals, one fault is essentially an instant restart, trapping you in a cycle of load screens as you replay heats over and over again versus near-flawless opponents.
Speaking of load screens, the time it takes to get into levels (playing on PS4) feels a tad too long - but once you're in, you're golden. Resetting to a checkpoint or restarting the whole track happens instantly, which is essential for a game that makes such precise demands of your driving and platforming abilities. I did notice some weird textures popping in on many a track reset, but that's a small price to pay for such speedy restarts. What's less ok is the occasional hitch where everything stops moving for a split second, which thankfully never ruined any of my runs but always upset my sense of flow while driving.
On the topic of minor annoyances, I've got a bone to pick with Trials Rising's soundtrack. This is the first game in the series to use licensed music, and it's a nice, eclectic mix of rock, hip-hop, and dubstep that brings Tony Hawk's Pro Skater to mind. But for some reason, each track only loops a measly three songs, turning tunes that once sounded alright into maddening anthems that will surely send me into a rage should I ever overhear them out in the world.
Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage
Trials Rising's regular method of multiplayer is nothing too special: racing in real time against other players represented by translucent ghost riders, or zooming across the multi-laned Stadium stages in local play. But Trials Risings makes an ingenious addition with the Tandem bike, letting two players ride the same elongated motorcycle and pray that they can coordinate their movements to make it out alive. It's hilarious to hoot, holler, and grunt your way through a track on the heavier, potentially faster bike, and I can't wait to see what speedrunners do with it.
Every time I hit a snag in its progression system, it feels like Trials Rising is trying to pump the brakes for no good reason. And yet, pulling myself away from the handlebars each night is always a struggle. Whenever I set a new record or beat a particularly grueling Contract, all I want to do is jump straight into the next track. Nothing beats the toe-curling tenseness of launching into the air, going for an iffy double backflip, then nimbly readjusting your balance to stick the landing and blast forward with a burst of speed.
Leveling up adds an extra layer that Trials really didn't need - it's always been about chasing after faster times and flawless runs, not grinding for levels and loot. Perhaps fixing the leveling issues would be as simple as a post-launch patch tuning some Contract reward numbers. But whenever you're actively revving up your bike in Trials Rising, the XP faff falls away, and all you can think about is maintaining your smooth, speedy ride.
This game was reviewed on PS4.