Title: Riders Republic
Developer: Ubisoft Annecy
Release Date: October 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Sports Racing
From the makers of Steep comes Ubisoft’s newest extreme sports game, Riders Republic. Seen as the spiritual successor to Steep, Riders Republic has players start as a rookie trying to join and compete in the famous Riders Ridge Invitational, a prestigious sports event taking place at various locations across the United States. Unfortunately, the narrative dissipates after the introduction and follows an unoriginal formula of a small fish in a big pond. But that’s okay because the real reason for playing is to skid on some dirt and shred some gnar!
The game starts with a lengthy tutorial, introducing players to the basic controls and the different sports disciplines. Riders Republic offers 5 different career paths: bike races, bike tricks, snow races, snow tricks, and air sports. The developers even went above and beyond by adding goofy and funky variations to the traditional “finish first out of X people” or “score Y points in Z time” by introducing multi-sport events with unconventional tasks like delivering pizza. A defining selling point is the massively multiplayer online events that invite up to 64 players in a series of races that involve all the sporting disciplines back to back.
Subtle MMO vibes are felt because social presence is enormous. Real-life players populate the world, so you never feel alone in this digital rendering of the United States, and you can compete against friends and strangers alike in versus races and trick events. In addition, there’s a central hub known as Riders Ridge, where you can access different modes and visit the accessory shop to buy cosmetics, often packed with other players.
Although there are technically five different careers, it’s more like three instead, and they get repetitive quickly. Each path down a particular career boils down to the same premise, just on a different scenic map and route. You’re not bound to do multiple events of the same profession in a row so be sure to vary it up from time to time. Further, there’s an abundance of activities to do aside from the main events, ranging from locating famous landmarks to collecting funky relics that unlock special gear.
Ubisoft excelled with the visual fidelity of the featured national parks. Every location is nothing short of gorgeous, and being able to traverse the open world on a pair of rocket skis or a snowmobile is equal parts relaxing and exhilarating. An easy-to-access equipment wheel allows vehicle switching on the fly, so if you want to change from a wing-suit to a bike, the game’s got your back. Each area is charmingly represented, with vibrant color palettes and geographical accuracy.
From the powdery hills of Grand Teton Summit to the breathtaking Angels Landing of Zion, there’s always a spot to pause and admire the natural beauties of America. However, for those who don’t feel like exploring, there are convenient fast travel points. Oh, did I mention there’s a photo mode and soundtracks from renowned artists like Wiz Khalifa, Ice T, and Green Day?
The physics, especially in biking and snow sports, are well-done. Biking feels exceptionally smooth when drifting to get by tight corners. Controls are simple, with tutorials doing a great job of teaching different tricks and tips during gameplay. Shredding the gnar is also brilliantly fun, with frequent ramps to launch off and pipes to grind on for extra stylish points. On the other hand, air sports feel lackluster and awkward, with janky controls that make gameplay unpredictable and often frustrating. Directional turns are super stiff, and the default vertical controls were inverted by default, causing me to crash downwards instead of flying upwards. In addition, there are animation issues with getting stuck in random terrain, such as a bush or a rock, but thankfully there’s an unlimited “backtrack” button that rewinds time.
Accessibility and customization options are aplenty, though. Alongside snowboard riding, third-person and first-person perspectives can be switched. Depending on what event you are participating in, two control options are offered. Racer allows complete camera control and the ability to perform tricks at the push of a button. On the other hand, Trickster offers no camera control but the versatility to pull off more complex and advanced tricks. Difficulty settings can be easily tweaked before the start of any event, ranging from standard to elite. Aside from the basic accessibility choices, Riders Republic also conveniently offers auto and manual landings for those seeking a variable challenge.
Completing main events and side missions grants you stars, the central system of progression, and cash used to purchase cosmetics for your character. Each event grants you one star, with optional objectives that give additional stars. Better gear and equipment are acquired as you level up, with an easy-to-read score system for you to distinguish which bike or snowboard is better for which event. As you progress, you also get sponsorships from big-name brands such as Redbull and Ford that task you with more goals to accomplish.
One of my gripes is that it requires an online connection to Ubisoft’s servers to play the campaign, even if you plan to play it solo. If you’re stuck without internet, you’re limited to the offline Zen mode, the developer’s take on relaxation. The entire world is open for you to explore, with all vehicles and gear unlocked. However, there is no actual progress to be made. It’s essentially a pure sandbox to do whatever you want to do. This isn’t a pure negative, but the fact that the career mode depends on online servers is a huge downer.
Riders Republic has a certain sense of longevity because it doesn’t force you to spend hours on end at once to progress. Everything you do rewards you with a bit of progression, even if it’s just biking down a trail to find a landmark. Events are fast and quick, so even if you have only five minutes freed up in your day, the game has suitable enough content to offer.
Riders Republic is a step in the right direction for open-world games. It fills the void for extreme sports games in an industry mostly filled with narrative or combat-driven projects. From the sprawling mountains of Bryce Canyon to the luscious forests of Yosemite, there’s always something beautiful to see and exciting to do. Ubisoft crafted a brilliant social, digital atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re actually participating in the Rider’s Ridge Invitational. See you on the slopes, kid.
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