A lot of people criticize Ubisoft for making derivative games. They have many long-running series where each new entry just feels like it was given a new coat of paint over the same foundation. If you wanted to lay that criticism on Riders Republic I suppose you would be right; however, I think they’ve taken what worked before in games like Steep and The Crew 2, added in a few ingredients from the Forza Horizon formula and cranked the fun factor up to eleven. There are a few issues with Ubisoft’s new open-world extreme sports game, Riders Republic, which was primarily developed by Ubisoft Annecy, but the overall experience is extremely enjoyable.
Riders Republic features a short, forgettable story sequence near the beginning of the game that introduces you to the game world and some of the things you are able to do. Initially, I was worried that there would be more of these story segments starring a few stereotypical extreme sports fanatics, but luckily the story ends where it starts. All I wanted to do was get out and ride, shred, and fly. Riders Republic features three main types of sports: biking, snow sports, and wingsuit sports. Each of these categories is split into multiple disciplines. The biking section has off-road, racing, and tricks/freestyle. The snow sports – skiing and snowboarding – essentially have the same three disciplines as biking, and the air sports feature wingsuits and rocket-powered wingsuits. To accommodate all of these sports Ubisoft created a huge open-world map. They say that the game world is split into seven distinct areas that replicate seven real-world national parks found in the United States. Picturing it as only seven areas doesn’t do the game justice though, there are dozens of unique areas and biomes with all different types of trails and obstacles for you to tackle and explore.
The structure of Riders Republic is similar to other open-world racing/exploration games, but I think it most closely resembles what has been perfected in the Forza Horizon series. When you start the game there will be a few events you can participate in and as you complete these you’ll gain stars as well as experience for each of the three main sports categories. New events seem to constantly pop up on your map. I already mentioned how the map is huge, so instead of making you travel all the way to a new event the designers allow you to fast travel to a number of points all over the map, right from the start (and it doesn’t cost anything). When you select an event on the map it will teleport you to the closest fast travel point and then you have to get there the rest of the way on your own, but there are a number of extra pieces of equipment you are given right at the start that will ease this process even further. You receive a snowmobile, a pair of rocket-powered skis, and a large motorized tricycle. Perhaps the most useful type of equipment for quickly traversing the game world is the rocket-powered wingsuit, and luckily you are given one very early in the game. There are a few more wacky types of equipment (Funkies) that can be found on the map (similar to a barn find in Horizon, but you don’t have to wait for someone to repair it).
The game features a number of leveling systems, all of which combine to make you want to keep playing, as you are constantly rewarded with new equipment, gear, and events. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ubisoft had a team of psychologists and other scientists that figure out the best ways to get people to want to keep playing. If they exist they definitely earned their pay for this game. In addition to the regular levels which seem to give you a new piece of equipment at every level up, there are sponsor contracts that award you with currency, equipment, and clothing items for completing different challenges each day (if you have that sponsor selected). The challenges range from “Complete five snow events” to “Earn 25,000 points in a single trick with a land sport” and a whole lot more. There is also the Shack Daddy Bandits progression track, which rewards you for doing different cumulative tasks.
The game features an insane amount of equipment for each discipline, and as far as I know they are all real-world designs/brands. I’m kind of one of those people who just think of all of it as the same. It’s not like a car where each one’s differences are obvious, but as I unlocked new gear I always took the time to admire my new prize. Perhaps the biggest benefit of getting new gear is that each piece has stats that affect how fast it can go, how easily it can rotate in the air, the absorption level when landing, and a few other stats depending on the type of gear. Having higher-level gear will definitely help you climb the podium at the end of an event and your equipment is used in multiplayer too, which I kind of thought was unfair at first, but now that I have an advantage it’s A-OK.
Despite handing out rewards left and right it doesn’t seem to reward you with enough clothing items. If you know me then you might laugh because I hate getting clothing items in wheelspins in Horizon 4, but this game is different. Your character is always visible and they give you the ability to pick out five or six specific outfits, one for each sport discipline. The game does feature a shop with items that can be purchased with in-game currency or currency bought with real-world money. They actually give you a decent amount of this currency if you just play the game and complete some tasks, so I’ve been able to buy a few items, but I want more. I gotta look cool while I’m tumbling down a hill after a crash. The multiplayer events also feature lots of opportunities to show off your gnarly threads.
The variety in the events is one of the best aspects of the game. You can focus on only one sport for the most part if that’s what you want to do, but every single one of the disciplines is insanely fun. I came into the game being the most excited for the bicycle stuff. I have a thing for off-road bicycle games, I don’t know why as I’ve never been particularly good at riding bikes and embarrassingly enough I didn’t actually learn how to ride one until I was twelve. Despite my lack of real-world experience, I really enjoyed playing the indie standouts Descenders and Lonely Mountain Downhill. I was expecting the bike portion to be similar to Descenders and it is to a degree, but to be honest I was a little letdown. I think the biking gameplay in Descenders is a little tighter. It doesn’t help that the trick controls in this game are just plain awkward. You use the face buttons to jump and control the spin and then use the triggers and the left joystick for grabs. I’m finally starting to get used to it, but I still have some horrifically bad crashes that would surely kill a person in real life. Besides a strange button configuration, the fact that some buttons are used for multiple inputs also adds to the confusion.
Right from the start I really enjoyed the skiing, snowboarding, and flying parts. The movement and controls for those sports felt more fluid and natural. This makes sense though since Steep features those sports, so I’m thinking the developers used the experience they gained (and probably some of the code) to make those sports feel really good here. I like how the flying sports are split up into racing with the rocket wingsuit and then the regular wingsuit is used in trick events. You gain points when flying close to things, and can rack up some ridiculously huge scores. Fortunately, if you ever crash there’s a backtrack button, sort of like Forza’s rewind, but it doesn’t rewind the other racers. You can also mash B really fast to get back up and a lot of the time this is the best tactic so as not to lose too much time; however, if you miss a checkpoint then backtracking might be the best option.
There are plenty of other things to do in the Republic. There are a number of collectibles (a large number in fact, 500) as well as special locations that can be one of three things. There are landmarks that look like recreations of real-world landmarks and when you find one you get a little info blurb about it. Sometimes you will find unique pieces of equipment, marked as a little treasure chest on your map. I may have gone out of my way early on to try to find as many of these as possible. Some of them are pretty cool like the paper plane glider wingsuit, and others will have better stats than your early equipment. The most interesting special locations are the stunts. These are short, challenging events that will test your mettle, reflexes, and perseverance. There are about twenty of these in the game and each sport is featured. The first one you will most likely encounter is an ultra-technical bike course up and around the main meet-up area. In theory, I thought this was really cool, but it’s near impossible, for me at least, with the imprecise bike controls. These super technical stunts reminded me of a 3D version of a difficult level in the Trials series. There are other stunts like jumping off of a mountain with your bike and skiing through a treacherous tree-filled ravine.
One of the best mechanics in the game is one that they borrowed from the two franchises I mentioned before, Steep and The Crew 2, but they tweaked it and made it better. At any point, while you aren’t in an event (and I mean any point, even if you’re up in the sky) you can press up on the D-pad and switch to any of the pieces of equipment you own. Switching sports on the fly like this is amazing and the developers are aware of this. I’m sure this is what led them to create the Mass Race event. All of the multiplayer events are extremely entertaining, but the Mass Race event takes the cake. It’s a large field race (32 entrants on Xbox One, and 64 on Series X/S) that has you compete in a series of three races, but each race has multiple sport-changing points. The sports are predetermined, but nothing beats zooming down a hill on your bike and then switching to rocket-powered skis to careen down a narrow, obstacle-filled pass, and then blasting off with a rocket wingsuit. I was kind of disappointed that I wouldn’t get to experience the larger field-size race, but even with just 32 racers the beginning of each heat is extremely hectic, there are so many people on the screen a lot of the time you can’t see what’s coming or even tell which avatar is yours. This experience was pretty cool at first, but the novelty wore off kind of quickly; once the racers space out a bit things become much more enjoyable.
All of the multiplayer modes are incredibly fun. There are some basic free for all races as well as Shack Daddy Bandit multiplayer events where everyone has to use “Funkies” gear. I was somewhat skeptical of the tricks battle mode going in, but after playing a few matches I can safely say that they are a lot of fun. I think there are only two arenas for the tricks event at the moment (that’s all I’ve seen across a dozen or so matches), but hopefully they add more and add a bike course as well.
Perhaps my absolute favorite thing about this game is the fast load times. Riders Republic is going to have to fight to stay in my gaming rotation once Horizon 5 releases. They have very similar systems surrounding their open-world sports/racing gameplay; however, the one category where Riders has Forza beat without question is the load times. It might not be that big of a deal if you are playing on a Series console, but in these types of games, I like to get back into the action as quickly as possible. Each time I fast travel in Riders I’m blown away at how it only takes a few seconds for the game to load. The longest wait time I have experienced is when multiplayer events are loading, but in comparison to other games, the wait is minuscule. The quick loading times do come at the expense of higher quality graphics, on the Xbox One at least. There is A LOT of stuff going on on-screen at any given time, there are thousands of other rider avatars cruising through the republic at any given time, and there are a lot more details in the environment than I would expect, as in a lot of different decorations and unique assets. Overall the graphics don’t really compare to other recently released Xbox One AAA games; however, based on videos I’ve watched the game seems to look much better on current-gen consoles. One more thing I should mention is that the game has crashed on me a handful of times, but overall it seems more stable at launch than some of Ubisoft’s other releases. I’ve also encountered some stutters and temporary freezes while in the map menu. The map is very detailed and gets pretty busy with a lot of components, but hopefully they can clean up the issues in a future patch.
I was somewhat disappointed with the music selection. There is only one radio channel which I think is kind of unacceptable in a $60 game. Obviously, games like Horizon and GTA have much higher sales, but they manage to have much larger song lists, and they split them up into separate stations. I think they should have paid for a few more songs and split them up into separate stations here as well. I do really like the announcer guy who tells you about events while you’re on the map screen – he’s cheesy but he plays the part perfectly. On the other hand, the in-event announcer can get a little annoying.
I was lucky enough to be given a code for the Ultimate Edition, I did a double-take when I looked up the price – $120. It comes with some extra outfit packs (not worth the extra money in my eyes) as well as all of the upcoming season one content, which I have high hopes for. I think this content will make or break the long-term success of the game. I think if they had found a way to charge a little less than the regular $60 USD for the game it could end up being more successful, there are just so many other gaming options out there, and many of them are much more budget-friendly. The game also features a robust user creation tool kit that allows you to make all different types of events all over the map, and you can access this user-created content at any time from the pause menu, select an event, and it will load you into the event in a matter of seconds, truly amazing!
Riders Republic dropped in at the busiest time of year. There are many games vying for gamers’ attention at the moment, and I think the full price, AAA price tag could cause some people to bail. Overall I’ve had a blast during my time in the Republic. It has an insane amount of content and replayability, and I think most people could easily rack up enough playtime where they felt like they got their money’s worth. There are a few issues, like the awkward trick controls, but none of them get in the way of the pure fun I had while playing this thrilling extreme sports bonanza. Book your tickets, but don’t bother buying round trip because once you get a taste of the Republic you won’t want to leave.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.