Ah, a Ubisoft game. Giant, unfathomably-massive open world? Check. Technical problems that make it feel like it could all fall apart at any second? Yep, check again.
Imagine an enormous open space -effectively all of North America’s best extreme sports locales stitched together – and you’re given the freedom to ride bikes, snowboard, wingsuit and even rocket around like Iron Man. Sounds good right? Well it is. That’s what Riders Republic lets you do. As a pseudo-sequel to 2016’s Steep, a game about mountains and how you can slide down them, Riders Republic adds an entire downhill biking system to its array of tricks and then throws in the ability to fly around the map in an Iron-Man style rocket suit.
Discipline equals freedom
Amazingly, and crucially, you can switch between these disciplines at will, immediately, and continue your descent with barely a second’s delay. Power down a dusty slope on a gleaming mountain bike, leap into the sky off a ludicrously-placed cliff-edge ramp and instantly don a wingsuit to soar through the sky, taking in the incredible sights for a few fleeting seconds, before you morph into a snowboarder, crash into the powder and carve your way down the rest of the peak. When it works, it’s an intoxicating thrill – the type of fantasy only videogames can deliver upon, and the sense of freedom and freeform creativity it allows for is almost unparalleled.
A shame, then, that technical issues, ugly monetization, wonky controls and an alarming sense of overload and clutter ultimately let the project down.
There’s a lot to do in Riders Republic. A LOT. Every discipline has a seemingly endless supply of crafted events for you to tackle, from standard races to extreme trick challenges, and even a race where you ride bikes while dressed as giraffes. The sheer volume of content is laudable in many ways – a lot of these races work because of the craft Ubisoft has put into the open world itself – this giant map is littered with expertly built runs that feel like actual racecourses, and the way events link into familiar sections of terrain gives you an increased sense of mastery over this giant map.
However, man does it feel cluttered. Not only are there multiple disciplines to keep track of, with different event-types within them, but the map is also absolutely drowning in icons (not helped by the fact that all other player and npc riders are shown on the map too), and there are multiple progression currencies all ticking up as you progress. Perhaps it was designed to give you a constant sense of improvement, but in truth, it just feels migraine-inducing. You never know what you’re working towards, what the actual path of the game is, instead you’re just stuck in this kind of gnarly purgatory, where off-screen characters consistently demand you complete more challenges or locate hidden rewards, all so you can just compete in other, very similar challenges. If you’re the type of player who enjoys methodically checking off objectives, good luck – Riders Republic will break your brain.
While there’s never a quiet moment in Riders Republic, it’s a travesty that the core connection you have with your bike, flying apparatus or powder-carver is never as responsive or tactile as you’d want it to be. There’s an odd dead-zone on the sticks (it can be reduced in the menus, but not completely) that makes small movements feel like they’re lagging, so traversing tight areas becomes unnecessarily tricky.
Worse, though, are the choices you’re asked to make during the tutorial. The game has a ‘racer’ and ‘trickster’ mode, one of which uses the face buttons for spins and flips, and other the right stick. The former is baffling and makes stunts far too complicated, while the latter means you lose any control of the camera. Small movements of the left stick (still with us? Yes it’s that clunky) in mid-air actually activate little tweaks to tricks instead of crucial movement, so you’ll end up clattering into the ground far more often than you’d like. Games like SSX and Tony Hawk have shown the importance of flawless controls in this genre, despite their grand old age, and Riders Republic never reaches their heights, despite its much grander scope.
In keeping with Riders Republic’s ‘more is even more’ philosophy, there are public online events called Mass Races, which are just nothing more than complete chaos. Every 30 minutes, a new mass race starts, and you have a few minutes to get to the event start, back at the hub area, before 64 of you are set off, at once.
It’s as insane as it sounds – 60-plus riders all bouncing into each other with questionable physics and latency issues. There’s often so much happening on screen that you can’t even see your rider. These are stupid, hilarious and an essential part of the experience. Don’t take them remotely seriously and you’ll be laughing your head off every time. And let us know if you manage to win one! That’s a true gaming achievement right there.
Like every Ubisoft game, monetization soon creeps into Riders Republic. The in-game item shop has much more in common with something you’d find in a free-to-play game like Fortnite. But this ain’t free to play. Now, of course, you don’t NEED to deck your rider out in new clothes, but considering how little you’re awarded while playing, and how long it takes to grind the in-game currency, there’s definitely an ‘encouragement’ to part ways with another tenner for some new threads.
It’s an ugly side of premium gaming that never sits quite right. It’s understandable that Ubi wants some longer-term income for a game it’s planning to support with content for a long time, but when you’ve just dropped full price on a game and it’s immediately reaching out its hand asking for more? It doesn’t make you feel great about your purchasing decision.
A stumbling cliff-fall of incredible scope, amazing freedom, migraine-inducing progression, wonky controls and grubby monetization. A Ubisoft game, then.
However, Riders Republic is still full of magic moments, but you just have to be prepared to deal with a lot of faceplants to enjoy them.
Ambitious, rough and ultimately memorable.
Switching disciplines on the fly is amazing
Near endless content