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Reviews

Riders Republic reignited the spark I once had for extreme sports games

Ubisoft delivered a best-of open-world sports game that doesn’t take itself too seriously

Riders Republic is an expansive extreme sports game that effectively builds on the foundation set by 2016’s Steep.

I used to pour hours into games like SSX Tricky and Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX as a kid. The extreme sports game genre was important to me during my formative years. Though, as time went on, my interest waned. Riders Republic takes the inherent spirit of the classics and modernizes it with contemporary systems and an open-world setting.

Ubisoft Annecy first broke into the extreme sports genre with Steep. While still having an emphasis on snowboarding and skiing, Riders Republic adds BMX circuits and wingsuits into the mix. This combination added a bit more variety and texture for me. As a newcomer to the Riders Republic, I found myself thrust into a career mode centred on ranking up in hopes of participating in the Riders Ridge Invitational. The narrative outside of this base concept is thin. You’re mentored by a character that is the embodiment of Steve Buscemi’s ‘How do you do, fellow kids’ meme. The dialogue is silly and inconsequential. My focus was always driven to get to the next track and unlock new aspects of the game.

The game is set in the expansive social playground comprising seven regions based around national parks, including Yosemite Valley, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To build a name for myself and reach those career highs, I had to begin tackling the five different careers — Bike Race, Bike Tricks, Snow Race, Snow Tricks, and Air Sports. As you progress through each career, you unlock new tracks and bigger events. It’s not before long that the map is covered in various event icons for you to complete.

The progression system in Riders Republic is built around accumulating stars. To hit new milestones and unlock additional tracks, circuits, and sponsors, I found myself on a mission to win as many stars as possible. You’ll earn a single star simply for completing a track, whether it’s a straightforward race, time trial, or score competition. Each event also offers optional challenges to earn more stars. The criteria can range from completing the track in a certain amount of time or accumulating a certain score by completing tricks.

On top of the multitude of events to complete, you can earn stars by seeking out collectibles through the map. Relics reward you with special rides and boards like a pizza delivery bike. Additionally, stars can be earned by completing stunt tracks and finding landmarks.

“At no point did I find Riders Republic demanding in how it wanted me to approach an event.”

New gear is obtained by completing events. You’ll slowly amass a full collection of different boards, bikes and wingsuits, all with their unique stats. Cosmetics can be purchased using in-game currency earned by completing sponsor and weekly challenges. There are also legendary outfits that can be purchased using real-life currency in the store.

What I find truly compelling about the game is how much emphasis it places on the player’s personal preference. At no point did I find Riders Republic demanding in how it wanted me to approach an event. If you’re like me and feel drawn more to the racing aspects than the tricks, you can lean into that or vice-versa. The game offers two options of Racer and Trickster riding options. The Racer option is more forgiving, while the Trickster option raises the skill gap for advanced players. You can even customize whether landing tricks are manual or automatic without taking a penalty. There’s simply no wrong way of playing.

I found the controls relatively tight, especially when tricking out over jumps. Each sport handles a bit differently. When on a bike, there is a pedal metre in place that provides a small speed boost. On skis and snowboards, you can change your stance. While in the wingsuit, propulsion systems are in place to help boost or slow you down while in the air. Throughout my time with Riders Republic, I grew quite partial to the snow and biking tracks. Hitting a ramp just right and combining a set of tricks for a large score can be very satisfying. Air spots left me wanting a bit more. Out of the three, the gameplay in the sky felt less dynamic than the others.

“Racing with others can be as chaotic and fun as you’d expect with one major drawback: the game’s inconsistent collision detection.”

The map of Riders Republic is filled with other players, all completing their own careers and showing off Photo Mode creations. Whether you’re in a race or simply exploring, you’ll see other players riding around. It’s a large social hub that incentivizes shared experiences. All events can be completed with friends. Every half hour, a Mass Race will spawn on the map. Players have a limited time to reach the destination, which spawns them in a three-run race against roughly 60 other players.

Racing with others can be as chaotic and fun as you’d expect with one major drawback: the game’s inconsistent collision detection. I found that there was no rhyme or reason to when I’d get shoved into a rock or launched off the track. I could be steadily in the top five and suddenly be thrown off a hill and end up back in the 40th spot in seconds. There were proven times when I could ride straight through another player with no resistance. Unfortunately, collision isn’t reliable enough to be used competitively.

Playing on Xbox Series X, Riders Republic has impressively fast loading times. The map has a ton of fast travel locations that are automatically unlocked as soon as new tracks are earned. Fast travelling takes only a second or two and you can take a snowmobile to your destination. Restarting a race takes a bit more time but there’s not too much delay before you’re right back into the action. That said, I have had the game crash on me multiple times. I even had the game lock up on the tail end of a Mass Race, which is more of a time commitment than the standard events.

Overall, Riders Republic has broken the 15-year-old hiatus I had with extreme sports games. Ubisoft Annecy took what was successful with Steep, added modern open-world conventions and made a compelling sports game. The game’s biggest success is not taking itself too seriously. With a whopping three tracks from The Offspring, you can tell Riders Republic knows the vibe it’s aiming for. While the dialogue flounders, having player agency and preferences at the forefront more than makes up for it. It’s a laidback game that incentivizes social presence.

Riders Republic is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC and Google Stadia. Physical copies of the game are available at Best Buy, Amazon and more.

Image credit: Ubisoft

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