Ubisoft’s approach to open world game design has worn thinner than a snowboarder’s baggy pants, but the French publisher keeps returning to it because it works. Riders Republic does little to hide the fact that it’s effectively The Crew 2 in an extreme sports skin, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This multi-disciplined online sandbox is an outrageous technical feat, but it stumbles on some of the smaller details along the way.
But let’s get the oversized elephant costume out of the way first: this is a toe curling title with some of the worst dialogue we’ve heard in our 25 years playing video games. While narrative takes a backseat to the larger-than-life action, the middle-aged writers at Ubisoft Annecy need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. This is a game that unironically uses the word “steeze”, which according to the Urban Dictionary is a portmanteau of “style” and “ease”. It’s horrific.
When the game’s crop of “too cool for school” characters quit their “how do you do, fellow kids?” routine, you’re left with an enormous playground spanning several of America’s iconic national parks. Your objective is to cycle, snowboard, wingsuit, and more through increasingly daring courses, earning stars to boost your reputation. Events and equipment unlock as you level up, with Ubisoft committed to adding new content to the open world over time, such is contemporary game design.
The release is full-on arcade, which means handling is light and responsive. Downhill cycling challenges see you cutting corners at right-angles, while ShackDaddy Challenges – urgh! – introduce zanier gear, like rocket-boosted skis. Whether you’re riding down mountains or wingsuiting through canyons, there’s a consistency to the control scheme which has to be respected, and allows for multi-disciplined events like the Mass Races which occur every hour or so.
These see up to 64 players on the PlayStation 5 competing at once, switching between vehicles on the fly: snowboards to rocketsuits to bicycles to snowboards again. Collisions between competitors can be infuriating, but the sheer spectacle of seeing so many people on the starting grid at once is seriously impressive. In fact, the entire game is a true technical feat: the open world is always populated by thousands of players, all existing in the same space in a cross-platform environment.
This makes the enormous sandbox feel busy, and you can even buddy up and take on events against friends or strangers. The performance is largely flawless, but the visual fidelity does take something of a hit: an overuse of chromatic aberration along with aggressive pop-in mean that this is far from the best looking open world Ubisoft has ever created, although it does have its moments in the right light and the framerate is flawless almost all of the time.
Unfortunately, there are some design niggles that are going to have you scratching your head if the publisher doesn’t amend them during the release’s impressive post-release plan. Stunts, for example, are mapped by default to the triggers, but these also control acceleration and braking. The result is that you’ll end up performing unwanted tricks every time you come off a slope, unless of course you have the finger dexterity of a pianist.
You can switch up the control scheme to swerve this issue, but none of the options feel quite right, and that’s a failing of the game design. Tricks, as a whole, don’t really feel that fun to perform, which is unfortunate when a chunk of the events are dedicated to that discipline. There’s even an entire online multiplayer mode, Trick Battle, which is a team-based event that sees you attempting to control territory by performing backflips and other such bone-breaking feats.
But the matchmaking takes longer than you’d expect, owing to a lack of interest in these activities we suspect, and you need to launch the mode from the Riders Ridge, which is a kind of hub-like area in the middle of the open world. Why? On the PS5 at least, Sony’s underused Activity Cards come to the rescue here, but it’s yet another failing of a user interface that at times feels like it’s been designed by aliens. You should see the state of sponsors at launch.
These act as one of your main progression metrics, and each sponsor comes with a trio of daily challenges to complete. It’s all designed with player retention in mind, so there are cooldowns on changing your chosen sponsor to give you that free-to-play flavour. A daily storefront rotates cosmetics in-and-out, some of which can only be purchased with a premium currency, which means Mass Races are dominated by dozens of players all looking the same.
All these irritations aside, there’s so much to like about Riders Republic – it’s fast, frantic, and frivolous. We’re not overly keen on some of the aesthetic choices – who wants to play in a giant giraffe costume, after all? – but we can tolerate the occasional ugliness of it all. The release’s obsession with “gnarliness” means that it loses that serene subtlety of its predecessor Steep, but the sandbox is more varied and the cycling events are an exhilarating addition.
Riders Republic tries so hard to be cool that it deserves a roundhouse kick to the mouth, but Ubisoft’s technical chops come out to play here, with an enormous online sandbox stacked to the metaphorical ceiling with high-octane events to complete. This is a game that the French publisher has clearly designed to be built upon, but even day one, with its mix of disciplines and multifaceted Mass Races, it’s an entertaining ride. There are minor niggles for the French publisher to iron out, and we’d recommend muting the dialogue, but don’t bail on this if you have even a passing interest in extreme sports.