Riders Republic Makes for a Mostly Exciting Sports Trek

Back in 2016, Ubisoft Annecy gave us Steep, a bold attempt at trying to create a massively multiplayer, open world, extreme sports game. You may have forgotten about it, though, because it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. But now the team is expanding their horizons and venturing out even further, going beyond snowy peaks and heading into biking as well, all with a style that should make things hard to ignore. The result is Riders Republic and its recent beta gave us our first good hands-on look at the game.

If it isn’t made clear just by looking at it, Riders Republic is a game clearly built off of the evolution of ’90s/early 2000s extreme sports games. It’s basically the explanation for all of this in-universe as well, as your mentor Brett, a former extreme sports athlete themselves, apparently founded the whole Republic in the ’90s and it just grew from there across the country. Aside from the colorful aesthetics when it comes to the loads of purchasable gear and the general attitude throughout everything, the ’90s vibes even extends to the soundtrack, which is nice and varied but also seemed to emphasize playing “All I Want” by The Offspring a lot, as if to try and trigger memories of Crazy Taxi.

Riders Republic bleeds extreme aesthetics from its gear down to its Jackass-style racing challenges that find you racing on the likes of rocket bikes or other unconventional means. Don’t be fooled by appearances, though, as the actual racing itself is still deep, while remaining nice and simple when it comes to basics. You can choose from one of two control schemes, with one being suited for racing and one more trick-oriented with an emphasis on the analog controls, and a nice range of accessibility options. But be it racing or tricks, the game still controls perfectly, even when having to master a drift while careening down a mountain towards a ramp that you have to perfectly align with. Indeed, all of the races are particular well-designed, with some rather enjoyable courses.

The highlights here, though, were massive 32-player races where riders have to switch between multiple racing methods in between sections, triathalon-style. So can start out on skis, slip through a huge bit of snow-covered terrain, then immediately swap to bikes once you hit a checkpoint where snow runs out, then over to a rocket wingsuit once to bike to a ledge, all seamlessly. Not only does this make for an epic test of skill as you have to master all of these different sports, but the game sells just how epic all of this is, with the massive player count and the large tracks that cover tons of terrain and breathtaking scenery. It feels like an absolute blast (even if the rocket wingsuit controls felt stiff and awkward at times).

Indeed, if there’s one thing an Ubisoft game excels in, it’s having a gorgeous open world, and Riders Republic does not disappoint in that area. The National Parks that you ride in are breathtaking and filled with awe, be it just biking through them or tracking down individual landmarks, which even provide a bit of history upon discovery. It’s the type of game that heavily encourages exploration, which allows you to discover new fast travel points, different challenges and new equipment, along with several other players around you, breathing further life into everything. Because who hasn’t wanted to trek across miles of wilderness just to find a way to ride a pizza delivery bike through a canyon? So the vast, gorgeous world on display here is highly impressive and has a lot to check out…which kind of creates a problem when it’s time to move on.

And that kind of leads to one real flaw with Riders Republic so far (aside from the rocket wingsuit controls, which felt stiff and awkward at times). Maybe it’s just the beta only having so much content at the moment, but Riders Republic kind of feels like it lacks any sort of direction when it comes to progress (not helped by the inclusion of the kind of much-loathed star-based progression system that you’d instead see in mobile games), not helping that this was one of Steep’s notable flaws as well. Sure, there’s a lot to explore, and the races are a blast, but between a somewhat cluttered UI and the traditional Ubisoft open world map that gets slathered in collectibles and markers, it’s not one hundred percent clear how any real progress is made when it comes to unlocking anything new.

So far, Riders Republic does feel a bit overwhelming, but it at least comes from a desire to create something truly ambitious, building upon Steep and blending together several extreme sports with a huge, utterly gorgeous open world and a hefty amount of MMO components, even if some of that game’s flaws still linger. The beta was fun and one can’t condemn any game where you can bike around a National Park at ludicrous speeds with an ice cream cart while wearing a dinosaur mask. Here’s hoping the finished product can provide even more fun and a lot more to strive for.