Restraint is antithetical to the values espoused by Riders Republic. This is an open-world, extreme sports game that prioritizes fun, freedom, and community engagement above all else – a personal playground where you are free to follow your passions and sidestep any anticipated monotony while flipping two fingers to the establishment.
Riders Republic does not stop. With every passing hour, the playable space seems to get a little larger, the races a little faster. Its exhilarating events escalate steadily from the ridiculous to the utterly outrageous. There’s real joy to be had in gunning a mountain bike down the perilous pathways of the Canyonlands National Park, or in shredding the wicked steep slopes of the Grand Teton on a snowboard, and to whipping over the Mammoth Mountain ranges while strapped into a rocket-powered wingsuit to survey for collectibles. That all of this activity is frequently soundtracked (opens in new tab)by a truly ill-advised, soft ukulele cover of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise is certainly unfortunate, but it isn’t a total deal-breaker.
Should any of those activities sound unappealing then you needn’t worry, because Riders Republic rarely stops you from doing what you want to do, where and when you want to do it. With an enormous open-ended world in place, you’re free to venture across this amalgamation of seven awe-inspiring US National Parks and find your own fun. And if you can’t find it, you can create your own and share it with others.
Welcome to the Republic
Release date: October 28, 2021
Platform(s): PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Developer: Ubisoft Annecy
Riders Republic is unlike most (but not all) open-world games from Ubisoft. If you played Steep, the 2016 snowboarding game developed by Ubisoft Annecy, you’ll likely be familiar with the foundational design of the studio’s latest release. What we have here is a visually vibrant social playground that pays tribute to three extreme sports scenes: Skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, and Wingsuit flying. After a brief onboarding, you’re basically let loose. Of all the little decisions Ubisoft Annecy made to help ensure that Riders Republic works as well as it does, it’s the lack of linear progression that helps elevate the experience. Like Steep before it, there are no mandatory challenges or win requirements gating your progress or holding you back from pursuing your favorite activities.
If you find yourself gravitating toward a particular style of play, you can just run with it and Riders Republic will respond in kind by constantly delivering new streams of content. Complete an event and more will open across the map in that particular discipline, as will any relevant gear that you’ll need to continue thriving. I have a particular affinity for the ‘Snow Tricks’ events, recalling memories of a wasted youth with SSX Tricky, and the ‘Bike Race’ events, which feel absolutely phenomenal – particularly when shifting the perspective from third to first while hurtling down perilous pathways; the sense of momentum is dizzying.
So that’s what I spent so much of my time enjoying in Riders Republic. Completing activities and participating in multiplayer sessions rewards you with ‘stars’, which are used to unlock new career tracks, progress your sponsorship deals, and give you access to more prestigious (and ridiculous) invitational races. Each event also comes with side objectives – finish under a certain time threshold, complete a number of tricks – which will net you additional stars and XP upon completion, furthering the progression of your career and the acquisition of better gear. As you push toward the end-game – reaching the Riders Invitational and unlocking the coolest clothes in the game that don’t require microtransaction purchases – you may have to reach outside your comfort zone to gather the necessary stars but, then again, maybe you spare your patience and invest that energy scouring the map collectibles and in completing Stunt challenge courses for rewards instead.
If there’s a downside to a world as open as this, it’s that Ubisoft Annecy saw the need to narrate so much of it. Because events and opportunities are opening across the map constantly, a handful of voiced NPCs are in near-constant communication with banter that borders on the inane. Brett, the founder of the Republic, who is clearly trapped on the wrong side of a mid-life crisis, is a particular annoyance – one Buscemi-short of being the absolute embodiment of the ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ meme.
The tone of Riders Republic is gnarly. The dialogue reads like it has been written by a well-meaning staff who have fond memories of watching the X-Games, but haven’t interacted with actual human extreme sports enthusiasts since the summer of ’95. That this incessant chatter from NPCs is met with a fairly dire soundtrack is disappointing; much of my time at skateparks was soundtracked by The Offspring blaring out of a busted CD player, and even I think that four tracks is three too many. Honesty, I’ve never been so thankful for robust in-game audio options and Spotify’s system-level integration with the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Follow your passion
Of all the sports experiences packed into Riders Republic, I found Wingsuits a little unwieldy, particularly in races that require precision checkpointing, so I swerved away from them wherever possible. That isn’t always possible, as some events will have you switch from bike, to board, to flight at intervals throughout the same race – these are largely fun, although I did find myself making more liberal use of the ‘Backtrack’ feature (rewinding your racing line after a mistake) when Wingsuits were involved. Admittedly, checkpointing in the desert areas of the world is also a little difficult to read generally, particularly when traveling at monstrous speeds, but I found riding and drifting bikes fun enough to ease that frustration.
Still, that capacity to switch between experiences on the fly isn’t restricted to certain event types either. In fact, it’s this freedom that makes Riders Republic such a blast. Like Steep, Riders Republic features a “sports wheel” (now mapped to ‘up’ on the D-Pad), which will let you instantly switch between any of your gear. Be it the Slopestyle, Freeride, Enduro, and Downhill bikes, your collection of freestyle and racing skis and snowboards, your wingsuit and rocket-wingsuits, the snowmobile and paramotor, or the ‘funkie gears’ which have little application in events but sure are fun to see people using out in the world.
Having never visited a US National Park, I’ll take Ubisoft at its word when it says that each region’s geology has been faithfully recreated with GPS data and faithfully dressed with procedural technologies. Either way, it’s an impressive space to play around in, enough so that I found myself crossing it on the back of bikes and boards at all opportunities rather than using the instant fast-travel feature. Not only is it a nice world to spend time in, fast travel robs you of seeing the full scope of the social space – as you move around, you’ll constantly see other connected players. They could be exploring for collectibles, in the middle of an event, or fooling around with their friends. It’s this element that transforms Riders Republic, making it feel like an event – a more organic one, at that, than the similar grounding that Forza Horizon typically pursues.
It’s always particularly awesome to be rocketing around in free-roam, only to pull up the map to set a waypoint and spot hundreds of player icons swarming one area and whipping down to investigate it for yourself. This social element is great for revealing hot spots, discovering new racing lines, and bringing a vibrancy to the space that helps elevate it beyond your typical Ubisoft open world.
The speed in which this world streams in around you is certainly impressive, be it in speedy race events or in free-roam exploration, and I noticed little to no framerate stuttering or slowdown. That isn’t to say that Riders Republic is free of technical problems that work to detract from the fun. Be it in the fun 6v6 trick battles or the hyper energetic, chaotic 50+ player Mass Races I encountered frequent connection issues. More egregious, however, are the multiple hard crashes I experienced on Xbox Series X, forcing a full reset of the console and repeat of some content.
Riders Republic isn’t perfect, but it is a hell of a good time. Ubisoft Annecy has clearly learned all the right lessons from its time working on Steep and applied them to a broader and more freeform experience, one that’s built on the foundations of the best extreme sports and racing games that have come before it – Amped, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, Forza Horizon, SSX, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Don’t sleep on Riders Republic.
Riders Republic was reviewed on Xbox Series X. Code was provided by the publisher.
4 out of 5
Riders Republic review: “Prioritizes fun, freedom, and community”
Riders Republic is a hell of a good time, a freeform open-world sports game that encourages you to follow your passion and find your own fun.