I am shocked at how much I enjoy Riders Republic. Dumbfounded. Agog. Flabbergasted. Thunderstruck.
I most emphatically did not enjoy Steep, Ubisoft’s last entry in the open-world extreme sports genre – a genre which is, in itself, an entirely Ubisoft-created invention. Having taken runs at The Crew 2 and Steep, and having been bewildered by the formless structure of both, I didn’t expect that Riders Republic would smooth the curve as much as it has, leaving me fiending for more every time I’m forced to turn off my PlayStation 5 to do stuff like work and eat.
The previous games open up so much and so quickly that I often felt as though I was failing at everything equally. I didn’t know what to focus on, and when I did lock in on one activity to enjoy, I felt like I was neglecting the others. Playing through events in Steep made me feel like I was just tossing hunks of meat into an amorphous blob, watching them be absorbed but not really sure if I was accomplishing anything.
I’m not sure what internal calculus was done at Ubisoft to tilt the dynamic a little bit, but Riders Republic feels so much better. After settling in, I was perfectly happy to bounce between Riders’ five career tracks, engaging with whatever event caught my eye and being satisfied that I was moving the needle in the right direction. While I don’t enjoy all five career paths evenly, there is more than enough here that I do enjoy to keep me merrily bouncing around the quilt-work mash-up playground that Ubisoft has created.
Riders Republic opens with a burst of cool-kid plot and setup, introducing a few characters that you can promptly forget all about, because they don’t matter even slightly. The player is bombarded with blasts of dialogue that can be best described as “Shaka-Extreeeeeme,” but the end point is that new players are introduced to the game’s mechanics quickly and efficiently, even if the onboarding causes one’s ears to bleed.
But Ubisoft wisely moves the player quickly into the action, rolling out one career path after another, until the player’s in-game map is absolutely slathered with waypoints, each of which is its own unique event. Don’t care for the downhill skiing races? Then perhaps the bike trick courses are more to your liking. Weary and frustrated by the jet-suit races? Try some snowboard tricks to shake the fuzziness out of your skull. For whatever reason, bouncing between the different tracks works for me so much better than it has in the past, and I found myself actually relishing Riders Republic’s variety instead of being bogged down by it.
Riders Republic is overflowing with friendliness towards the player. Perhaps the best video game analog to compare it to is Xbox’s Forza Horizon series, in that no matter what the player decides to do, they feel as though they are scoring points and advancing. Every event you engage with gives you some sort of credit, whether you win or come in dead last.
Events are scored on a “Star” basis; you get one star for just reaching the finish line, and then up to three more stars for accomplishing sub-goals – stuff like completing an event under a specific time, or winning on a harder difficulty. This is a game that believes in the participation trophy, and if you find an event overly frustrating, it’s a nice option to just muscle through to the end, collect your one star, and move on to something more palatable. But if you want to, you can dig in and engage on each event, trying to achieve the tougher goals. This dynamic gives Riders Republic some serious legs.
Rewards are unlocked with stunning regularity. It seems that every other event you participate in is unlocking a new piece of gear, leaving the player quickly slathered with bikes, skis, and jet suits of varying designs and abilities. All of this is accompanied by a steady flow of cash and other rewards – generally in the form of cosmetics and cool, goofy gear.
There is the usual amount of unobtrusive but beguiling structure built up around the core gameplay; stuff like sponsor contracts with daily goals to manage, seasonal prizes to strive for, and limited time events to jump into. You can engage with this barrage of content as much or as little as you like; ignoring the bells and whistles just means that you will occasionally receive a nice prize with little idea as to why.
Multiplayer is likewise completely optional. Sure, there are a ton of other players swooping around the map (and tenfold more AI ghosts – someone is always screaming “Woooooo!” in the background), but you can totally ignore them if you don’t feel like engaging. Events offer options to participate with friends, but are just as fun to tackle solo against the game’s adjustable-difficulty AI. The actual multiplayer-only events are strictly opt-in/opt-out, but are worth checking out at least a few times. The 64-person downhill racing is just as chaotic and unpredictable as you think it might be, and the rewards for completing one of those multi-stage events are pretty great indeed (I would usually gain at least a level for every sport included). The multiplayer offerings across the board are goofy, low-pressure, and fun, making jumping in to try them out far less daunting than one might expect.
But all of this would be naught if the actual gameplay itself wasn’t so much fun. But it is in the mechanics of its various events that Riders Republic really hits the ball out of the park; the rest is just window dressing for the thrills to be found while barreling down a mountain with abandon or pulling off a ridiculous trick chain.
Of course, I favor some events more than others. The trick events – both bike and snow-based – border on video game perfection. The racing events are finicky, but still pretty enjoyable. The wingsuit/jetsuit events are enjoyable in short bursts, but I find them too frustrating to engage with more than a passing interest. But that’s the beauty of Riders Republic; focus on the stuff you love, bounce on the stuff you don’t.
I had a blast in the early trick events just button mashing my way to victory. After a while, I realized that I was just doing the same tricks over and over again, so I pivoted over and engaged with the game’s excellent tutorial/practice area. At that point, I realized just how deep the systems at my disposal really were. Once I began practicing and really attempting to pull off more complex tricks, my enjoyment of these events deepened exponentially.
Riders Republic offers players are few different control options, one of which uses the face buttons to pull off tricks (grabs are handled by the trigger buttons), which was my preferred way to play. The other method surrenders control of the camera to the game’s AI, using the right stick instead to indicate trick direction. This probably offers a better degree of control for the various flips and twists, but I just couldn’t give up that camera control.
The camera control felt even more important to me when playing downhill racing events on both bikes and skis (Whatever, snowboard. What am I, some sort of youth?) Both styles of race have the player ripping down the side of mountains or swirling around bumpy tracks, passing through a series of marked gates. When everything is going right, races can be breathtakingly thrilling, but they can also lead to some controller-bending moments of anger. Players should expect a fair amount of frustration, as it is far too easy to get snagged on the geometry and watch your competition go sailing by.
It feels fair to get stopped cold when you hit a tree, and the game offers a rewind function to back your run up for another go at missing the foliage. But getting caught on the side of the track – or even more frustratingly, the finish gate – can be infuriating. The rewind has two issues. First and foremost, it does not rewind your competition, who can continue putting distance between you and them. It is also very easy to get caught in a bad rewind loop, cycling the same three seconds over and over while to you try to get yourself free from whatever you are stuck to. After a while, I just defaulted to starting the event over rather than wrestle with this nonsense.
The air-based events are probably my least favorite, mostly because I am terrible at them. Though I have improved slightly with practice (pro tip: the left trigger allows sharp banking), things still aren’t great. The jetsuit gameplay has the player flying through a series of rings – a gameplay convention that I’ve never enjoyed. Like the downhill racing, frustration abounds when you miss a ring and are forced to rewind while watching your competition sail off into the sunset. The wingsuit events are a little more fun, if solely because rewinding doesn’t penalize the player in any way. These events task the player with swooping close to the ground and other objects. The more daring you are, the higher the score. This leads to some pretty stellar wipeouts, but they are rarely frustrating.
But all of my nitpicks about the rewind feature are just that – small quibbles that I expect will be smoothed out in time. Despite some of my more rage-filled moments, I was having a blast playing Riders Republic about 95 percent of the time. Even the jetsuit has its own fun uses, as it is great for zipping across the map to your next event. This is a perfect game to just turn your mind off and zone out while bouncing from one event to the next. It's a weird as hell way to achieve a Zen state, but damned if it doesn't work.
Riders Republic is just what it sets out to be – a vibrant, ridiculously fun extreme sports game, all dressed up with the goofball trappings of a hard-partying community that really doesn’t exist in the real world. It offers brief bursts of colorful fun, laced with a bit of crunchy frustration when things go wrong. But for the most part, Riders Republic’s good heart comes shining through, earning it enough goodwill to allow most players to look past the bumps in the road. Or, you know, aim right for them and catch some sick air.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a super sweet gaming PC built by Joh Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.
Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here.View Profile