Riders Republic Review: A Diamond In The Rough
Riders Republic makes an awful first impression. Dropping players into a tutorial that feels far too long, you’re forced to listen to the closest thing this online extreme sports playground has to a story, and it is almost immediately rough. Your new mentor and a friend talk to you like characters from the worst extreme sports movie the 90s never saw, if they had time-traveled to the present for about five minutes and understood nothing of what they heard. A combination of slang that no one has used in twenty years and newer phrases that the developers clearly don’t quite get create a world that is trying really hard to be cool but was clearly created by people who have no idea what that means in 2021. It feels deeply out of touch.
Stick with it. Once you get past the tutorial Riders Republic opens up and becomes one of the best extreme sports titles we’ve had in years. It still isn’t perfect, some parts work better than others, and the game’s terrible vibe creeps back in now and then, but for the most part, it recedes to the edges and allows you to focus on the wonderful game within.
It’s Time To Ride
Five main events make up the bulk of Riders Republic, and once you’re through the tutorial, the game does an excellent job of feeding them to you a little at a time. You have races, both on a bike or with your choice of skis or a snowboard. There are also trick events for both modes of transport. The fifth are air events, using either a wingsuit or a rocket wingsuit.
Most of these are great. Both the snow events and the bikes feel excellent, providing the sort of arcade-style but not too over-the-top action that has become far too uncommon. Those who liked games like MX Unleashed and SSX back in the day will be in heaven. These modes of transport control wonderfully, allowing you to speed along and then make the tight turns and adjustments you need to smoke your competition. Racing down a steep mountain on a snowboard has a sense of danger that few such titles come close to capturing while flipping through the air on my bike makes me feel like a rock star.
The game’s trick system is more or less the same no matter which of those rides you’re on, allowing you to go back and forth between biking and shredding down a mountain with ease. It’s simple with all the default options on, but those wanting more depth can turn off some of the game’s hand-holding options to up the difficulty, and be rewarded with more points. The different modes thankfully feel different enough, there’s a great sense of variety here, but they’re close enough to feel like part of the same game. If you mess something up, you can also rewind at any time, an incredibly useful option. In practice, though, I wish this worked a bit better. It feels imprecise, with me often rewinding further than I was trying to. In trick mode, this can accidentally erase a trick I was happy with. In races, this works better, but your opponents aren’t rewinding with you, so you’ll have to keep that in mind. Still, if you miss a jump and end up way off track, this is often way faster than trying to get back on the track.
Each event awards you with the opportunity to level your career up and earn stars toward unlocking more events and options. Over time the huge map of Riders Republic fills in with an absurd number of events to try out and challenge yourself with. The various difficulties provide an option for everyone, while extra challenges in each event give the hardcore an option to gain more stars and challenge themselves. Sometimes leveling up brings a few more lines to listen to from the game’s awful characters, but they’re mercifully brief.
Take To The Skies
While most of the game’s events are a ton of fun, I can’t quite say the same about the wingsuit and rocket wingsuit. Don’t get me wrong; they’re fun to mess with. They provide a great sense of speed and become one of the best ways to get around this massive world, made up of a strange puzzle of seven national parks. One of my favorite early moments in the game was flying as high as I could into the air and then switching to my bike, feeling the crazy fall all the way to the ground. Events featuring them are much less fun, with not enough common ground found with the rest of the game to ever feel quite right. It wasn’t long before I was actively avoiding them, which Riders Republic thankfully makes easy by making each career mostly separate. The downside is that you’ll have to get used to them enough to survive in the game’s cross activities which have you switching between the various events mid-race, kind of like a twisted triathlon. They’re cool, but I know at some point I’m going to be stuck making precision turns in that wingsuit, and that’s just not something I want to do.
I make an exception for the mass races. While Riders Republic has plenty of perfectly fine multiplayer modes, the one that shines are the mass races. These feature up to 64 players on next-generation consoles, putting you all together in one race track which clearly wasn’t built with this many players in mind. That’s actually the fun of it. Everyone starts each race jostling for position in a way that feels pretty visceral. Coming out toward the front of the pack feels great, while ending up near the back pushed me to come out ahead. While I wish these less frequently featured the wingsuits, I was willing to put up with them for the thrills these races provided.
A Wonderful World
Just exploring this incredible world Ubisoft Annecy created is worthwhile. There’s a ton to see and fine. Balloons that give you bonuses, landmarks pulled from the real world, hidden rides which can be a ton of fun to race around on, but I won’t spoil here. You can go long periods having fun without needing to start an event. Just seeing the vast variety of other riders racing around, some real people and others AI, all blending together, is worth your time. Not to the point where I’d recommend you spend much time in the game’s Zen Mode, which gets rid of events. I liked the option to jump back and forth. But seeing every corner of this playground was a great experience. Don’t worry if you want to go from one corner to the other quickly either. There are an incredible amount of fast travel points, whether to get you near events or just to fast travel to, and on the PS5, there’s virtually no loading to do it. It’s incredibly impressive.
While players can mostly ignore the game’s characters and world and focus on the actual gameplay after the tutorial, you won’t be able to totally escape that vibe. The soundtrack is another example of how out of touch it feels. Look, I was a 90s kid. I like The Offspring as much as anyone. I won’t deny that the first couple of times one of their songs came on, I grinned. They’re hardly the people you want on your soundtrack if your goal is to be cool, though. The soundtrack here is all over the place, and never feels cohesive. A few radio station options do let you switch things up to find something you like, but events often feature a setlist of songs that tends to pull from a rather small portion of the soundtrack. Each time you restart the event, the song resets too. This is a game where you might want to turn the music off and put your own on before long.
What Are You Looking At?
My only other real complaint is that despite looking good at a glance, thanks to a ton of color and a huge world, things look a little more rough when you get closer in. Environments are fine, though they don’t quite feel like what one would expect of a next-generation game. Characters, though, are another matter. The game’s character creator provides only a tiny set of options, leaving me with a character who looks more creepy than anything else, and that’s after trying a variety of combinations and coming up with the best I could.
You’ll initially have few costume options, leaving too many players looking identical. You can unlock more in the game’s store, with in-game currency, but this is given to you incredibly slowly, trying to push players to spend real money to buy more. Some costumes can only be purchased with a separate currency you can only get with real money. The balance of this economy feels wrong, in the sort of way too many games pushing you to spend more after you’ve already bought a full-price game land.
Once you get through the tutorial Riders Republic opens up into a sandbox only limited by your imagination. There’s enough to do to keep players busy for a long time and enough variety to keep things fresh. So grab your board, hop on your bike, it’s time to ride.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Stadia, Luna; Publisher: Ubisoft; Developer: Ubisoft Annecy; Players: 1 (up to 64 online, varies by event); Released: October 28th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Riders Republic provided by the publisher.