Whether you’re an old fan of extreme sports like myself, or you’ve just been cooped up in the house too long over the course of the ongoing pandemic, Riders Republic provides a virtual breath of fresh air to the MMORPG genre. In Riders Republic you’ll be able to take to the air, the trails, and some fresh powder with a series of extreme activities, but not everything is a shredders paradise.
Ubisoft Anecy, the studio behind Riders Republic is no amateur when it comes to creating extreme sports games. Steep, a popular open world winter sports game, was also developed by the studio, which essentially paved the way to the game that thousands of players are testing right now. In many ways, Riders Republic is simply a continuation of Steep, with its extreme pack that included the Rocket Wingsuit, but with a much larger map, and the inclusion of mountain biking. Within each of the extreme sports of Biking, Skiing, or Flying, players will be able to create and advance their careers down 6 separate paths, which are split between racing and freestyling (tricks). In the beta, the career options were extremely limited and after a few short matches within each of the career paths, I was notified that I had reached the limit to what I could achieve.
Extreme Gameplay for Extreme Sports
As a one-time extreme sports enthusiast, myself, replicating a sense of the hard-charging adrenaline fueled activities is of great importance to me. In many cases, Riders Republic has managed to provide substantial excitement in most of the activities you participate in. Racing down dangerous mountain trails against a dozen or so fellow riders is a thrilling experience, even if, for many of your initial races, they’ll simply be AI reconstructions of other players’ matches. That means, if you’re getting beat by one of the ghost players in your solo match, that’s not really a computer that is getting the best of you, it’s actually another player's previous run.
Most of the sport modes are a lot of fun. Spread throughout the map are landmarks where you’ll begin your match, broken up by the types of sports available. There are some special Shackdaddy challenges that utilize specialized gear, for interesting and often wacky games that can be pretty entertaining. Matches can be played solo or against other players, through races, or trick battles, with massive races lining up 64 players to barrel in to a triathlon of biking, skiing, and flying, where mostly chaos ensues. Outside of structured races, there are stunts and scenic overlooks to find throughout the world. The stunts are often challenging, but completionists will find that they are worth the time to master them to earn your stars. Earning stars and cash are the majority of what you'll be competing for, with sponsorship contests and various open world challenges available, on top of the multiplayer and career based matches.
The most enjoyable of the sports, to me, has got to be biking. It’s not just that I’ve found I’m exceptional at bike racing, but mountain biking, and even performing tricks, felt more natural to me. The reasons probably revolve around the ability to control my propulsion more accurately, allowing for better speed control. Skiing and snowboarding are both really enjoyable, but I found the controls to be far from precise for prolonged trick strings, like I used to be able to do on games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater. I even liked the Rocket Wingsuit gameplay quite a bit, even if the majority of it felt like playing the old school Superman 64 game, where you fly through rings with little fanfare. My least favorite was the Wingsuit, sans-rocket. The main purpose of this Wingsuit mode is to stay close to parts of the world such as trees, the ground, etcetera, without hitting them. In the event you do smack into one, and you most certainly will, there’s no propulsion to boost you ahead and keep going. You end up having to rewind in real-time and play it back prior to your crash. Balancing altitude is also a tremendous pain in the Wingsuit and overall, just doesn’t feel very enjoyable. The most fun thing about the Wingsuit is watching new players equip it, and faceplant multiple times on the ground as they try to figure out how to use it.
It’s a Big World Out There
Kudos to Ubisoft for their world design. Riders Republic built their world by taking real elevation maps iconic national parks and recreating them on a 1:1 scale, with some creative license thrown in. Bryce Canyon in Utah and Yosemite National Park in California have never been closer, and somehow, they’ve made it all work into one, huge world. In fact, after over a dozen hours of playing, I still haven’t unlocked every part of the map. Aside from your ability to bike, ski or fly anywhere, Riders Republic also provides alternative methods of traversing the land in the form of a Snowmobile, and a Paramotor, which is a fan powered parachute.
The world is gorgeous. For an extreme sports game, there are times I want to stop just to look around. I found myself speeding through mountain passes, marveling at the mountains in the distance, as I inevitably perform a front flip over a river. Traveling through this huge world isn’t exactly lonely either. When you open the map, it looks more like a colony of ants than a video game. Little white figures are shown spread throughout the world. As you ski down your favorite slope, you’re bound to be in the presence of several others, some of which might inadvertently knock into you. With so many players on the slopes at a time, it feels like Riders Republic is the hottest ski resort around.
It’s Fun, Until It’s Frustrating
I’m looking forward to the release of Riders Republic. The career mode sounds like it’s going to be fun, even if I don’t feel that the supporting characters of Suki and Brett are particularly interesting. Sometimes I just want to get out into the world, pop on some Offspring (which luckily is part of the soundtrack) and shred, and that’s where Riders Republic truly excels. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that hampered my enjoyment of beta. From the jump, the tutorials and introduction really dial you in to every little thing that’s happening, and in many cases you can’t skip ahead. You’re essentially taken by the hand through a few of the beginner races, but every time you complete a challenge a long animation of new unlocked challenges pulls you out of what you’re doing. I found this especially annoying, because all I wanted to do is rerun the last event quickly if I happened to place poorer than I wanted.
There was also some extreme inconsistency in the way your character reacts to the world and other players. In one particular match that I ran many times called the Bob Races, where you take a modified bike through a dangerous canyon, there was a particular rocky ramp area where, half the time, I would ramp up it normally. The other half of the time I would smash myself into it, fling myself sideways, or simply fall over, despite following the same route and patterns. Similarly, in the 64 player races, there were times that a little tap by another player would send me way off my mark, pushing me around the checkpoint and forcing me to backtrack, while other times I’d be in a crowd of 10 other players and somehow whiz by unfettered.
Between the plethora of challenges, the beautiful open world and the focus on extreme sports, Riders Republic lands far more tricks than it fails, which is a good sign for gamers looking for a different kind of online gaming experience. The frustrations related to inconsistent races, or difficult challenge assignments can, at times, be enough for players to set their controller down for a little while and take a breather. Whether some of those features will be ironed out on launch, it may be too early to tell, but for this extreme sports fan, by no means is it a dealbreaker.