Ubisoft recently opened up the slopes with their latest online, multiplayer-centric sports title, Riders Republic. For all the tricks, fails, and excitement, it’s super relaxing to play.
Developer: Ubisoft Annecy, Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4|5, Xbox Consoles, PC, Luna, Google Stadia
Release Date: October 28, 2021
2016’s Steep was one of my favorite sports games in recent memory. Aside from some strange elements (like the Mountains themselves reading you poetry/deep thoughts), it was a fun title that brought together easy to grasp mechanics and the fun of an open-world. As such, I’ve been looking forward to Riders Republic (made by the same team and essentially a spiritual successor) since it was initially revealed.
Riders Republic takes the Steep formula and steps it up a notch in just about every way. There are more sports to mess around with this time with the addition of rocket wing-suiting, and biking on top of skiing, snowboarding, and regular wing-suiting.
I don’t have as much experience with online multiplayer titles (spoiler alert: I’m terrible), so my example here might feel a bit off, but…Riders Republic is like Destiny/Destiny 2 but for extreme sports. You have this vast open-world to explore where you’ll encounter other players roaming about, along with “story missions” (events) to take on either with friends or solo.
Then there’s the all important Social Hub, the titular Riders Republic, which serves as a home base for just about everything else. Here, you can spend the money you’ve earned to customize/enhance your gear, engage in mass races, set up events with other players, and a host of other things.
On top of other players, there are a few NPCs floating about you can chat with. The whole thing is setup to be this extreme sports community with you, the player, poised to be the “next great thing.” So yeah, there’s a story element to the game, which is largely focused on pushing you through to the next big sporting event, but that’s not where the game’s strength lies.
While it’s not bad, necessarily, much of the aesthetic in the characters/story feel like the stereotypical ideas about what constitutes “extreme.” I lived through the 90s and I’m reasonably sure they weren’t as obnoxious as certain elements presented in Riders Republic are. From the voiceovers laden with vernacular even the most hardcore “bro” would probably find over-the-top, and a soundtrack that feels a bit all over the place, Riders Republic isn’t lacking in the vibes department.
Even so, this is a minor quibble. Once you’re out of the game’s lengthy tutorial section, the game opens up to the point where interacting with those extreme personas/story elements is almost optional. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its charms, but the over-the-top nature of it eventually wears thin.
The gameplay itself is a fun, and well-balanced, blend of realism and arcade-style. Each sport discipline brings its own unique set of challenges, though the controls managed to feel familiar enough between each of them that you won’t feel like you’re starting from scratch when you switch.
From the outset you’ll be asked to choose between three different control configurations. Trickster is geared towards those looking to prioritize racking up big points with tricks (by mapping various stunts to the right joystick). Racer puts the focus on getting down the hills fast, giving you direct camera control and putting the tricks elsewhere. The third options brings in the control scheme from Steep, which I thought was balanced pretty well between racing/tricking.
You aren’t locked into your choice, and are able to change things up via the options (which also features a robust selection of accessibility features). If you’re just getting started, the Racer mode feels like the most beginner friendly and most familiar for these type of sports games.
One thing you’ll certainly want to hit up in the main Social Hub, is the Tricks Academy board. The function is all in the name, and serves as a place to learn how to throw down tricks and practice them. It’s super helpful and works well just for refresher purposes. I took a break from the game for a little bit and when I came back, found myself royally messing up the tricks on my trailers. A quick hop into the Academy (where you can select specific tricks to work on) and I was able to give myself a bit of re-familiarization in just a couple minutes. Then it was back to the slopes like I hadn’t missed a beat.
While you’re sure to find a specific sport you gravitate towards more than the others (I prefer snowboarding), swapping disciplines is nearly seamless. Pulling up the sport wheel is simple enough, allowing you to choose the sport you want to change to in a snap, no matter what you’re currently doing. There’s something inherently cool about flying down a mountainside on a pair of skis, only to hit a massive jump and transition into your rocket wing-suit to take to the skies.
On top of this, the scale of the game is ridiculously impressive. It features an open-world setting comprised of seven major national parks all meshed together in a single map. Lovingly recreated, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite Valley, Sequoia Park, Zion, Canyonlands, Mammoth Mountain, and Grand Teton serve as your personal playground packed with collectibles to find, ramps, pipes, and other obstacle courses to enjoy.
It’s impressively large, and looks gorgeous. Even as I was whisking by the scenery in a downhill race, or the slopes, I was struck by how awesome it looked. I felt immersed in the setting (especially when I changed the camera to first-person), and genuinely felt like I was experiencing these locations. This is enhanced by the fact that the game actively encourages exploration.
While the game features a number of standard landmarks notating races/events that are crucial to improving your gear and overall stats, there’s so much more to find off the trails. Heading to the map allows you start from a number of landing points you can fast travel to. On the PlayStation 5, these transfers were almost instantaneous. No sooner had I selected the location than I was there and ready to explore using my sport discipline of choice.
From there, you can scan the landscape to find new places of interest to track to. Hell, they even give you a snowmobile to make traversing the vast terrain easier. As you explore the “fog” surrounding the map clears up showing you more landmarks to hit up. These could be anything from a new competition, hidden away trails waiting for you to carve a new path, or any of a number of collectibles waiting for you to find.
Even among all the gorgeous realistic scenery (you’ll even seen animals scurry around out of your way at times), the arcade-y nature of the gameplay pops up. Rather than being distracting, or taking you out of the experience, however, it’s endearing. It’s almost like getting the best of both worlds for gamers. There’s plenty of realism to enjoy in the setting, but it doesn’t bog down the fun either.
The Multiplayer and Chill Factor
Though it’s built as a living ‘world’ and designed around this multiplayer aspect, you don’t necessarily have to play it that way. In fact, I was amazed at how much I’m able to pretty much do my own thing and interact with others only if I really want to.
I know that seems like it completely goes against the point of the game, but I was amazed to find out how relaxing the game is to play as a solitary experience. When you think of extreme sports, “chill” isn’t normally the first thing that springs to mind. Even so, there’s something cathartic about traversing the mountains and exploring these national parks. I’d find myself simply wandering the wilderness, enjoying the sights as I pedaled to find some new collectible, just as often as I would bust out some tricks/stunts.
That said, it’s still a hoot to jump into some of the multiplayer moments here and there. Mass races are a lot of fun, and as crazy as they sound/look. Periodically a mass race event will be announced, where you can jump back over the to Republic in order to participate. These are nuts and consist of a big race with up to 64 people competing at the SAME TIME. You’re literally bumping into people on the trails/in the air as you jockey for position.
It’s chaotic, but that’s a major part of its charm. It’s so much fun that even if you find yourself losing (or placing in the middle of the pack) you can’t help but enjoy the experience. Simply watching other riders fly off the track unexpectedly, and enjoying the rush of getting ahead when you switch to a sport you’re better at, makes for something far more enjoyable than I would have expected.
For those looking to fully immerse themselves in the social aspect of the game, there are tons of options. Beyond the mass races you can set up more personal battles between yourself and another player, or even a select group of friends. You get to set the parameters of these encounters (though there are also preset matches you can participate in), so you can truly play this game your way. You can even share things with EVERYONE online, giving the community a chance to try and beat your score/time on a path you forged.
If the community stays active, there’s virtually no end to the amount of things you can do in Riders Republic. Combined with the simple joy of exploring and messing around with the various sports, and there’s something to enjoy for just about every playstyle.