I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really get Riders Republic when it was first announced. It seemed to be the amalgamation of all things Ubisoft, with elements of The Crew and Steep having been smushed together into an intimidating and confusing mess of extreme sports racing. Having spent nearly 30 hours with it, I’m still a little unsure as to what Riders Republic is exactly. It’s part open-world social space, part Tony Hawk-esque arcade trickster, and part Yosemite walking simulator. I must remind myself to switch off the parts of my brain that are constantly trying to make sense of it all. Because once I do, Riders Republic is the most fun I’ve had with a game in a very long time.
The first feeling that you may experience as you boot up Riders Republic is one of frustration. Make no mistake, the world in which the game inhabits is a cynical and oftentimes vapid one, with hipsters spouting one-liners that could only come from a AAA gaming exec. There are constant pop-ups, hundreds of menus and unlikeable characters spewing early 2000s surfer talk into your feed as you play. It can all be ignored, and it should be if you want to enjoy your time in what is an otherwise stellar racer/sandbox hybrid. Jumping into one of the many event types sees everything click into place all at once. Tight arcade racing meets impressive open world design. You largely forget about the fart-jokes, the neon graffiti motif and everything else about the game entirely. You are locked in, racing with surprising precision, eager to throw yourself into another event as soon as you’re finished.
Jack of All-Trades, Master of, Well… Most of Them
Riders Republic features a genuinely overwhelming amount of extreme sports disciplines. There are downhill events that task you with holding on for dear life as you careen down mountains and over ridiculously massive ramps. Trick-based events give you a set number of moves to pull off within a time limit, urging you to take a moment to plan out routes and maximise air time. There’s a rocket wingsuit that’s akin to Marvel’s Falcon, and a set of transportation options called Funkies that encompass rocket skis, pizza delivery bikes and more.
What’s most surprising is that Riders Republic manages to nail every single one of these event types. Tricks are tight and exciting to execute, as you match the rotation of your character to an ever-evolving landing slope. Wingsuit events score you on just how close you’re willing to get to the ground, as well as trees and cliff faces that you speed past. There are several different control schemes to manage, but they are all so closely related that jumping from one to another barely feels like a change at all. In fact, Riders Republic is even bold enough to let you switch to any vehicle and any mode, just with a couple of button pushes. This is where things get truly special, as you go from wingsuit, to bike, to rocket skis, sometimes multiple times in a single race event. Traversing the massive map becomes an exercise in play, a challenge to switch and jump and switch again, as you go from snow into rocky mountain and back.
There are hundreds of events to take on, even some that are only live for a day or a week at a time. Most of the fun I’ve had in Riders Republic has been off the beaten track however. The simple act of travelling between events in the most stylish way possible becomes a game in and of itself, much in the way the Forza Horizon series manages its similarly massive open world.
Riders Republic thrives because of its versatility. Events can range from serious, skill-focused affairs, to more artistic set pieces that leverage music and mood to create a distinct ambiance. My absolute favourite event tasked me with riding a bike in what seemed like a pretty regular downhill time trial. Once I started, I was greeted by a thick fog that hung over the twisting road ahead. The music was calm and chilling, the perfect soundtrack for curving down towards the finish line. On my way down I regularly passed police cars that were parked by the side of the road, their sirens shimmering in the fog. It invoked Twin Peaks, X-Files, creating a moody 80s aesthetic. It was unlike anything I've played in a racer, and decidedly different from the loud and extreme tendencies shown in other parts of the game.
Solid as a Rock
The core of the game is extremely solid, it’s the fluff around it that drags it down somewhat. The main currency in Riders Republic is earned quickly and regularly, but due to over-inflated store prices, you end up not really engaging with it at all. Most of the truly fun items are locked into a pay-only currency, with the usual Ubisoft approach to aggressive microtransaction marketing rearing its head regularly as you play. You can choose not to engage with any of it, as I have done so far. I just wish there were more of a reason to want to progress through the game, aside from unlocking incrementally better gear.
Riders Republic’s map is genuinely breath-taking at times. It’s a sort of theme park version of North American National Parks, all stitched together into a cohesive land mass. Snowy peaks are perfect for skis, and narrow canyons beckon those handy with a wingsuit. There’s exploration challenges that teach you about the environment, with landmarks taken from Yosemite and Mammoth Mountain to name a couple. It almost seems like a shame to blast through them at such speed, but nothing is stopping you from taking the long way round to your destination.
Tip of the Iceberg
Events take place in-map, which has been designed to feature endless courses, trails and ways to traverse it. Players can use the creation tools to form their own challenges. The sheer possibility here is impressive. I'm certainly intrigued to see what the community does with the game in the coming months. Special events designed by the developer also feature, and have been exciting and creative so far. I could see Riders Republic feeling very different after a year or two, as the landscape is leveraged and explored by players. In many ways, Riders Republic is yet to prove its full potential.
The main way you’ll interact with other players in Riders Republic is in Mass Race events, arguably the game’s headline feature. So far, I’ve played several of the 32 player races, and found them to be brilliant showcases of not only the game’s tech, but its creativity too. One race placed us all in giraffe costumes and started everyone without any gear equipped. It resulted in a mad-dash to the first Switch Gate, where we were each given our bike of choice. From that point I was constantly jostling for a position, with 20 or so players bumping shoulders and trying to stay on course. The track opened up into a Rocket Wingsuit race at the end where only the boldest of players managed to place on the podium. Every single Mass Race has played out with the same level of wackiness, prioritising fun over serious competition.
Even if you don't interact with other players directly, you'll constantly meet their ghosts. The map is absolutely packed with these AI-driven avatars that represent other players. It's a neat trick that helps make Riders Republic feel busy and bustling, even if you'd rather play it solo. It's also a great place to meet up and mess around with your pals. There's something of a social space feel to Riders Republic, and at times it has more in common with a game like Fortnite or GTA Online than other racing games.
I suspect Riders Republic might be something very special indeed. We’ll have to wait and see what the community does with it, but early signs look promising. There’s a rock-solid foundation to build upon, and such a wide range of events to take on that each set a high bar in terms of what could come next. It does feel a little directionless at present. There's simply so much on offer that it's difficult to find focus within the noise. This direction and focus will likely be shaped by the community in the coming months, as user-created content takes over from the events on show at launch.
Whether you want to race on a bike, fly through rings with a rocket strapped to your back, or simply explore the gorgeous natural views, Riders Republic has you covered. If you can handle the incessant hipster speak, that is.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S
Code provided by Publisher
Available NOW: Riders Republic at Amazon