An even more extreme sports sandbox from the makers of Steep
Riders Republic is an open-world extreme sports fantasy that’s as mindless or high-stakes as you want it to be. It’s wonky, fun, thrilling — and yes, Ubisoft-as-hell — all at once.
Coming off of the winter-themed Steep, I feel like this wider-ranging follow-up game is going to find an even bigger audience, or at least, it seems designed with that goal very much in mind. On top of snowboarding and skiing in a national park mash-up map, you’ll also race and explore with a mountain bike, a wingsuit, and a rocket-powered wingsuit.
The game is a sandbox through and through, which means you’ll probably want to skip every cutscene you can and tackle the various activities in your preferred order. I ended up doing almost every main challenge in every sport because I have a problem, but you don’t need to; as I’ll explain later, the careers are separate. Once you get past the grating (but probably necessary) forced tutorial ramp-up, you’ll be set free; watch out for randos.
A word of advice upfront: You should stay far away from Riders Republic if you can’t play online, as the offline-capable Zen Mode is hollow outside of a fleeting, bare-bones exploration angle; there isn’t “progression.” But if you are looking for a social hangout game, or a big-but-not-too-big open world to chip away at, there’s a lot to like here.
Riders Republic (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Ubisoft Annecy
Released: October 28, 2021
Not all of the activities are equally enjoyable in Riders Republic, but the highs — namely, the harrowing downhill mountain bike races and over-the-top snow sports — deliver.
You could argue that there’s a “jack of all trades, master of none” factor here, and I wouldn’t entirely disagree. Other games have topped individual aspects of Riders Republic, for sure. With that said, the main draw is its versatility, free-form arcade structure, and social open-world appeal. The bikes and snowboards/skis are really fun to me — doubly so in first-person mode, where I truly feel like my rider could perish at any second. (They often do, but there’s a rewind.) The sandbox’s rough edges can hurt the immersion sometimes, yet I also feel like Riders Republic is tuned to be as intense-looking and frictionless as possible. Playability over believability, I guess you could say. It’s kind of a weird dynamic when you sit down and try to dissect it, but when I’m actually playing, it’s not distracting. The end result is a game that’s fast — and rarely frustrating.
As someone who didn’t even really skim the surface of Steep, I can’t approach this game with a “who wore it better?” comparison; I vaguely remember not vibing with that trick system as an SSX Tricky die-hard, and I bounced out before it had a real chance.
The larger-than-life trick system in Riders Republic took a while to click, but it ultimately did. There are a lot of broad and nitty-gritty control options to play around with (some of which are aimed at “Steep players”), and the game encourages you to experiment, especially when it comes to race- and trick-centric control presets. It’s easy to alter the controls, difficulty, and control assists (for things like landing) right before you begin a challenge with a few quick taps. The kitchen-sink approach isn’t the most elegant solution, but having this stuff front and center in the menu is convenient enough.
A lot of people are going to stick with the most basic default setup, where you use the face buttons for flips and turns in conjunction with the triggers for grabs, rather than the tougher, more nuanced options, which rely on the analog sticks. Riders Republic doesn’t get on your case about taking the easy way out, as it’s a very low-key game. That said, there’s an incentive to learn and master the more “manual” control options (and harder difficulties) for greater scores and XP rewards, assuming you can stick the landing.
There are some trade-offs with one control style versus another, especially when it comes to camera control for races in certain setups, as well as some initially confusing inputs needed for jumps and tricks. It’s not flawless, and I hope Ubisoft will fine-tune some of these aspects a bit more, or offer even more granular options for hardcore players. As for me, I eventually developed the muscle memory I needed and that’s been good enough.
The icons get more crowded as you level up, but at any given moment, you should have at least a few “new” activities to seek out and try on the world map. They’re broken down into categories: bike race, bike tricks, snow race, snow tricks, and air sports. (Some blended activities include mid-race equipment switching not unlike The Crew 2.)
Each of these activities has its own XP-based progression, and you’re free to approach them as much or as little as you want, generally speaking. There’s also an account-wide “star” system (with its own content-unlocking thresholds) that encourages you to either try everything or really hunker down with a particular discipline to knock out much-tougher optional challenges. You can more or less brute-force some of this stuff, or naturally earn stars by playing (with sponsor-issued goals). I’m at the 500-star mark.
Riders Republic is built with fast travel in mind, both in terms of warping around the map and also flying through the “national parks fantasy” world with a rocket booster that turns your rider into a human jet. If you want to beeline it for challenges, you can — but a large part of the experience is, or at least can be, carving your own path in the open world, potentially for other players to try and top. You can stumble on time-challenge stunts, find landmarks, or snatch up highly optional collectibles. You’ll see hundreds of rider icons flowing on the map, and a mix of players and AI screwing around on the ground or in the air. Who’s a live player? Who’s ghost data? I don’t know. But the vibe is right.
The fast load times on PS5 (and complete freedom to quickly go anywhere I wanted with no repercussions) caused me to enter a one-by-one mental checklist mode. That’s how I played as much as I did. I mean, I was having comfort-food fun, but still. One of the only things that took me out of Riders Republic is the finicky rewind system, which can get on my nerves when a bad crash or even simple slip-up snowballs out of control. It doesn’t really do what it needs to — other AI riders won’t rewind with you — so I typically either just “recover” from a crash, or fully restart the event if it’s too much of a disaster.
This is an approachable extreme sports game that doesn’t push back too hard. Does that mean it’s boring? Actually, no. The lesser activities — like the rocket wingsuit, which I just didn’t care for outside of its usefulness for zipping around the map — are forgettable at worst. Flying through those rings does get old. But the normal wingsuit challenges, where you skim the surface of mountains as close as possible to earn points, are really tense (so long as you don’t get stuck in a bad “rewind” loop). And the downhill biking, snowboarding, and skiing can be awesome in first-person (or third-person, if you prefer).
You’re going to hear complaints about the story — or should I say characters. There isn’t really a story at all. It’s a sandbox with some “festival” set dressing, straight up.
At the beginning of Riders Republic, there is heavily frontloaded fluff to get through with care-free fun-havers living in an Xtreme World, and the writing is offputting in that inauthentic-feeling corporation-behind-the-curtain way. Once you’re through it, though, and the game has given you a sufficient sample of the different activities, you can skip basically everything in terms of cutscenes to focus on the gameplay. The worst you’re gonna face is the occasional voice-over when you scroll by a hot spot on the map, or a commentator during a wacky mass race with globs of online players swarming you.
Speaking of which, these races are ridiculous in a good way. At regular intervals, you’ll see a prompt to assemble at a certain spot on the map and then group up with a bunch of players. It varies by current- and last-gen platforms, but on PS5 and Xbox Series X, there can be upwards of 50 players clashing in a multi-round race. It’s bedlam. Bodies will hit the floor. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be in first place, if only for a moment, before I made the slightest mistake and the ensuing horde caught up. The extreme-sports legion slammed into me, and I just had to laugh. Mass races are too silly to be frustrating even when cheap collisions happen, and while they’re gimmicky, it’s not in a bad way.
I could see myself getting tired if I took the mass races super seriously, but I focused on the main solo-player events, which are way-less-crowded competitions against AI riders.
What I dig about Riders Republic is that you can and will make progress — it’s an inevitability. You don’t need to set aside an hour, or even 15 minutes. It’s a short-burst kind of game. You’ll earn a star for finishing an event, many of which are a few minutes at most, and you’ll earn a lot more stars if you go for optional goals. Sometimes, you might need to meet a score or time threshold, or finish in the top three on a higher difficulty, or win with wacky equipment instead of your normal gear with ideal stats.
Thankfully, the gear system isn’t too in-your-face. You’ll slowly accumulate better bikes, snowboards, and skis as you level up in those and other careers, and you’ll always get a prompt to equip a new unlock, so you don’t need to dig into menus. The menu might look overwhelming or annoying out of context, but it’s not too bad. I completely tuned it out. I also tuned out the in-game apparel shop — it’s exactly what you’d expect from an ongoing Ubisoft game with fake and real currency, and I don’t need these outfits.
While you’re exploring the world, you can pull up a wheel that lets you hot-swap to any type of vehicle (like a snowmobile) or equipment (like a bike) that you have access to, which is convenient and leads to silly open-world antics. The actual look and feel of this map can be hit-or-miss. I love the national parks’ influence, with iconic sights from Yosemite, Sequoia, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and others smashed together. I also think this game looks pretty dated at times, with pop-in, a lack of detail, and open-world jank.
I understand that concessions had to be made to accommodate the live-service always-on multiplayer format, but even with my expectations set at that level, Riders Republic can look rough. Considering this is a natural world, not a bunch of cities, I expected a bit more.
On the bright side, I never had any game crashes on PS5, and the online felt stable, which was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t able to test out the smaller-scale versus or free-for-all modes; the mass races seem like they’d be the most prone to connection woes given the higher real-player counts, and they’ve been good so far. Flawless? No. But fine on my end.
I will say, it’s been a trip reviewing Riders Republic after Far Cry 6. I was worried that I’d be too burnt out. The extreme sports angle feels comparatively fresh — and the ease with which you can make tangible, satisfying progress is so tempting — to the point where I fell into a trance with this game. I shut my brain off and let my reflexes do the rest.
Riders Republic is one of those big, unwieldy games where there’s too much ground to cover as one reviewer even if I experienced it all. I spent a lot of time with the (surprisingly generous) Trial Week version that was publicly available, and more time with the full version. I’ve clocked 15+ hours at this point, with dozens upon dozens of events completed but not mastered. There’s plenty more to see, but I’ve seen plenty. That’s the nature of the beast. If you’re buying in now, you’ll have a solid game to sink into. If you wait for more updates (and a discount), you’ll have an even smoother time, I’m sure.
The framing of Riders Republic is much simpler than I was expecting, in a good way — after a ramp-up, you can just go do your thing with your favorite piece of extreme sports gear in this sandbox, and that’s “the game.” There are more carrots on more sticks, and there are going to be more live-service distractions trying to tempt you long-term, but that’s it if you want it to be. You can focus on downhill bike races or snowboard trick events and not worry about what other players are doing. I’m kind of relieved. It’s not every day that we get an extreme sports game, particularly one on this scale. The developers have kinks to work out, but Riders Republic is already in a pretty good place.
[This review is based on the Trial Week version and a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]