It’s a rarity these days in the triple-A industry to come across a game that is unlike anything else out there. Peel away Ubisoft’s familiar open-world layers and Riders Republic reveals itself to be just that. It’s a breath of fresh air and while parts of it might seem familiar, the overall experience is unique. I’d almost recommend it for this reason alone, but it isn’t quite smooth wingsuiting all the way.
Riders Republic is an spin on the familiar open-world game structure that Ubisoft has refined to a tee through numerous entries in the Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs and The Crew franchises. Here, however, the focus shifts to adventure sports, and while Steep (from the same lead studio) – and The Crew 2 to an extent – come closest to what’s on offer here, Riders Republic brings plenty of new ideas and gameplay experiences to the table.
The game is split into three broad disciplines – bike (bicycles, to be precise), snow and air – and each of these is further split into separate race and tricks careers. Think of careers as separate progression categories, with each category – bike races, bike tricks, snow races, snow tricks, and air – featuring its own progression and unlocks. You can play through all careers simultaneously and can even choose to ignore ones that you don’t like as much. This is a great decision, because most players will prefer certain disciplines over the others. I most certainly did, but more on that in a bit.
Before getting to the good and bad of each of the disciplines, let’s talk about the star of the game for a bit – the brilliant game world. From my understanding, Riders Republic sees major national parks in the United States combined to create a familiar yet fictional open world. Names like Yosemite and Sequioa will sound familiar, and they look stunning, but in combining all these varied locales into this Frankenstein’s monster of a game world, Ubsioft also presents players the ultimate adventure sports playground. Winding country roads, lush jungles, deep canyons and treacherous ice-capped mountains all come together beautifully, and are seemingly hand-crafted to make riding, skiing and flying around them an absolute joy.
While flying in games is always fun, and we’ve had a taste of snowboarding/skiing in the recent past with Steep, the most fun I’ve had in Riders Republic is on two wheels. The biking careers – the bike racing ones, especially – stand out as the highlights of the game. You’d think that these human-powered vehicles may not pack a punch, but the game world design and downhill nature of most events brings an on-the-limit sense of speed to the game. And while it feels similar to off-road racing games in some ways, the unique characteristics of bicycles and the emphasis on momentum and stamina make biking feel quite unique. Bikes – split into types like road and downhill – control well and are fun to ride even when free-roaming.
Snow events can be fun as well, but it’s here – and especially in air events – that one of the glaring issues pops up – the camera. With skiing events requiring acute slaloming and rocketwing events demanding lots of swerving, the camera often fails to keep up. And using the right analog stick to control the camera manually doesn’t work too well either as it tends to pan in a completely unintended direction. In addition to the camera issues, the snow and air events also don’t benefit from the quality of courses that are present in the bike events, which is why I found myself sticking to the bike events more than others.
Tricks is probably my least favourite activity in Riders Republic and this is mostly down to the way in which they are pulled off. The controls don’t feel intuitive and it’s also quite hard to tell when to pull out of a trick so that you don’t mess up the landing. It’s a shame because the trick events themselves are really well designed and deserve to be played. Career progression is done through unlocking major and boss events by completing smaller events, and you’ll have to complete around 25 events in each career to complete it. Then there are The Crew-esque multi-discipline events that have bike, snow and air segments in a single race. It’s great in theory, but my dislike for air races made these events far less fun than they might be for other players.
I must commend Ubisoft on how easy they’ve made it to enter events. You can instantly fast-travel close to any event on the game’s massive map, even if you haven’t previously travelled to it. That’s not to say you should fast-travel all the time. Free-roaming can be a lot of fun, thanks to the absurdly good free roam vehicles the game throws at you, from rocket skiis to jetpacks. Over 25 hours into the game and the exhilaration of equipping a jetpack and blasting off to the skies still hasn’t gotten old.
Ubisoft sold Riders Republic on its mass races and an open world populated with other human riders, and the game very much delivers on that. It’s not uncommon to run into fellow players as we all try and repeatedly (and hilariously) fail to parachute onto elusive collectibles. The 64-player mass races are quite fun too, as are the 12-player free-for-all events that are also tied to progression across 10 divisions.
The ultimate goal is to unlock better gear to tear through the open world, and to look good doing it. In an adventure sports game with hundreds of players such as this, character customization should have been a cornerstone, but the game is severely lacking in this regard. The character creator is criminally limited in options, and the in-game store only offers a handful of cosmetic character items at any given point. All of these either require real money or an absurd amount of game currency, and only a miniscule number of cosmetics are actually given away as rewards. I currently have 2300 premium currency sitting in my account but nothing available in the store is even appealing enough to me. This is most definitely an area Ubisoft must address going forward – maybe take a leaf out of Forza Horizon’s generous outlay of cosmetic rewards.
Riders Republic isn’t without it’s niggles and frustrating design decisions, and I didn’t even address the absolutely dreadful characters and dialogue (even if that’s only a bother for the first couple of hours). The core experience though, of competing and free roaming, is captivating. With Ubisoft known to support its games for several years post-release, there’s no doubt that the minor issues can be ironed out and oversights addressed. But even as it currently stands, Riders Republic delivers on its promise – a massive adventure sports playground populated with hundreds of players that still manages to offer experiences that feel curated and hand-crafted. And it will only get better.