Opening the map in the PlayStation 5 version of open world extreme sports outing Riders Republic is a mesmerising moment. You’ll see hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of player icons, swarming down mountains in a synchronised fashion. Building on the foundations of Steep, this is a connected sandbox where every player exists in the same space, and it’s without question a technical feat.
But where the release’s snowy predecessor was mostly calm and serene, its successor is brash and obnoxious. An opening cut-scene sets out the title’s paper-thin narrative stall: there’s nothing of note here in terms of characterisation, just Red Bull-fuelled noise, as ADHD-inflicted individuals scream 90s buzzwords like ‘gnarly’ down your ear.
Whether or not this level of intensity will be tolerable over long periods remains to be seen, but fortunately the gameplay is a lot more palatable. It takes over an hour for Ubisoft to remove the training wheels, but in the publisher’s defence there’s a lot to learn here: mountain biking, skiing, rocket suits, and snow mobiles – and that’s to name just a few.
The game starts you out with a basic two-wheeler and sends you on an outrageous descent through some forests: performance is a fairly smooth 60 frames-per-second on PS5, although there are some inconsistencies that the firm will need to even out before launch. There’s an outrageous sense of speed, especially in first-person, which makes the descent feel as daring as it looks.
Those who’ve played Descenders or even Downhill Domination will feel familiar with the handling, and it’s extremely well-executed here. There’s an automated landing mechanic enabled by default which makes backflips and spins safe to perform, but disable this and you’ll be responsible for aligning your rider with the ground manually – with additional points on offer for the added difficulty.
Structurally, the development team owes a lot of credit to the creators of The Crew 2, because it’s almost identical to the multi-discipline racer. As you complete events, you’ll unlock gear with better attributes, allowing you to replay courses to unlock stars. As you progress through the tutorial, more equipment will be made available to you, like the aforementioned skis and wing-suit.
It’s here where the game finds a unique identity of its own. Mass Races encourage up to 60 players to assemble in the same area at once, and from there you all compete simultaneously. These descents leverage multiple disciplines, so you’ll jump off your mountain bike and use your rocket suit to boost through the countryside before dropping onto your skis and racing to the finish line.
The pure adrenaline when you’re at the front of a 60 player event is unmatched, but we found some courses to be a little unfair with their obstacles: there’s very little you can do when you’re being flanked and there’s a bundle of tires in the middle of the road in front of you. Mashing circle to get back up will sometimes reposition you behind the tires, and by that point you’ve fallen into last place.
It’s also janky beyond belief. Those starting lines with 60 players, while technically impressive, look absolutely ridiculous, as everyone crashes into each other and triggers the same animation cycles. While it is exciting all being on the same course at once, the starts are far too chaotic for our tastes – the race only gets interesting once the competitors are a little more spaced out.
The sheer ambition and scale of the game also comes at the cost of visual fidelity, too. Make no mistake, there’s a varied and interesting world here, spanning desert-like canyons all the way through to snowy mountains – but it’s the scale that impresses, and not necessarily the individual details. This is a game best experienced when you’re moving at speed.
As is the case with so many titles now, Ubisoft clearly sees this as a service, and all of the common hooks are there. An in-game store offers a rotating selection of items, complete with its own premium currency, while there are daily missions and rewards for player retention. Expect the final game to feature a Battle Pass and all of the other common Games as a Service staples.
But it’s the core gameplay set against the backdrop of a genuinely impressive online open world that stands out here. Once the shackles are released, Riders Republic is the kind of game where you’ll want to spend time in it just to explore the boundaries of what’s possible. See that mountain? Not only can you go there, but you can perform a 920-degree Superman off the edge of it. Like, totally gnarly, bruh!
Has Riders Republic cycled to the top of your PS5 most wanted list? Did you fall in love with the beta, or are you tired of it already? Pedal away in the comments section below.