When Riders Republic was first announced last September during a Ubisoft Forward event, I must admit I was left scratching my head. It’s a massive multiplayer playground that isn’t quite Steep 2 but definitely is, imbued with the edginess of Watch Dogs 2 and the racing mechanics of The Crew 2.
In essence then, this is 'Ubisoft: The Game', blurring the already substantially blurred lines between the company’s contemporary franchises. After four hours of gameplay, ranging from solo exploration to massive multiplayer action, I’m left with a better idea as to what Riders Republic is actually aiming for. It’s big, bold, and jam-packed with things to do. I’m just unsure as to what the focus is.
SPORTS, SPORTS, SPORTS
Riders Republic takes the open-world extreme snow sports of Steep and adds in bikes, rocket packs and all manner of ways to hurl yourself over cliffs and onto ramps. You can switch between these modes of transportation at any time, and you’ll need to if you want to traverse every area of the map.
There are snowy peaks where you’ll need a snowmobile, rocky outcrops where a precise downhill bike is best, and long winding roads where you’ll want the speed of an ultra-light road bike. Basically Rider’s Republic is about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. Sometimes you’re racing, other times you’re exploring, or attempting to top a leaderboard by landing tricks.
There’s an extreme sports style tying it all together, but if this all sounds like a lot of disparate parts, that’s because it is.
Hiking, Not Biking
I think Riders Republic might just be the busiest, most overwhelming online game I’ve played for some time. Over 50 Players can occupy events on next gen, and hub areas are filled with a dizzying number of brightly dressed players all doing flips and riding bikes. The map is also packed with different event types and activities. Most are variations on races and trick-based events, but some offer completely different experiences focusing on exploration.
It’s the exploration where I think the game is at its strongest. The gargantuan map is broken up into seven areas each representing a North American National Park. Yosemite, Bryce Canyon and Sequoia Park all shine in their own way. It really is a beautiful set of environments to explore, when you actually take the time to step away from the mayhem of the main events that is. Like Steep before it, I’m not sure Riders Republic places enough emphasis on exploration. Steep was full of races, events and activities, but many players would agree that it was at its best when treated as a chilled out-sandbox, perfect for setting custom waypoints and spending a couple of hours carving through the snow.
The jarring mish-mash of sports, events, exploration and wacky sandbox play bleeds into the overall vibe of Riders Republic as well. It’s a little bit The Crew, a bit GTA 5, and a lot of Watch Dogs 2. Think of a hipster’s paradise where straw hats and mushroom burgers are king. Oh, and everyone has rocket-powered wingsuits.
This tendency to lean into Californian hipster aesthetics gets old pretty quickly, and at its worst it flat-out detracts from the best parts of the game. In my solo session, I was exploring a snowy mountain’s peak on skis. I saw an icon for a purple box, so I followed the winding road up the mountain. It was serene, genuinely gorgeous and a great showcase for the versatility of the snow-faring transport options. I crested the hill and found the item I was looking for.
Unfortunately, I also found a man in a ponytail doing acoustic drumming on the back of a guitar, talking to me about all of the gnarly air he’d grabbed earlier in the day. It was a depressing reminder of the strange, often cringe-filled world that the beautiful hills and striking mountains exist in. It’s hard to properly enjoy the breathtaking views of some of North America’s most beautiful National Parks with The Offspring blasting in the background.
It’s clear that Riders Republic is aiming to be more than just an open-world racing game. It mostly reminds me of the racing/non-violent parts of GTA Online, a space where players can hang out and take on a huge variety of death-defying stunts and races.
It’s a great social space, with smart matchmaking tools and lightning fast-loading between events. Character customisation is extremely wacky, and I was able to create a unique character after a couple of hours of play. It’s in this gaming grey area where I think Riders Republic could really thrive. It’s already a more solid platform than something like GTA in terms of gameplay, and it genuinely feels next-gen.
Creation tools allow players to come up with their own events too, even if they are as simple as setting custom waypoints for your friends to race between. If you ride for more than 30 seconds, a trail is created. This can then be used to create custom tracks to base a race on. It’s all seamlessly accessible from the quick menu, allowing you to quickly create activities for your group to take on.
A large part of why I’ve found myself going back to the Riders Republic beta is that the gameplay is absolutely rock-solid. The snow-based events are king, which is no surprise given that they’ve been further refined from Steep.
The bikes are also pretty great too and I’ve spent a lot of time cruising around on a downhill bike, going from the top of a mountain down into a ravine at the bottom of the map. Tricks feel great to pull off, and there’s a real feeling of zen once you start chaining together jumps, tricks and sprints. At times, it actually felt like playing a Tony Hawk game in co-op multiplayer.
Some events even reward teammates who do tricks while in close proximity with each other. Once it all clicks, The game takes a step back and allows the social aspects to shine. I have no doubt that Riders Republic would be a blast to play with a solid group of friends.
There’s definitely something exciting at the core of Riders Republic, even if the overall focus and tone are messy to say the least. Whether you’re cruising on a bike, a pair of skis, a snowboard, or a rocket-powered wingsuit, it feels amazing to travel across the map. Much like Steep, I do worry that Riders Republic is trying to do too much, trying to nail too many different ideas, all the while shoehorning in a particularly dated style of humour that seriously clashes with the rest of the experience.
To take a look at everything we know so far about Riders Republic, including release date, latest news, and more, head here.