Rider’s Republic careens down a very treacherous path with shocking abandon. It’s a game that features mechanics so tightly self-assured it knows it needs to give you little else other than its core features to sustain engagement. It’s also a game that had me skipping cut-scenes faster than I would (frequently) smash into a tree on one of its many vertical slopes.
It’s a fascinating and somewhat embarrassing collision of confident design and self-conscious presentation; the gaming embodiment of “how do you do, fellow kids?”.
But it’s also very, very good at what it sets out to do. A sprawling open-world that begs to be explored by way of land and air with your mates in tow. A worthy spiritual successor to a genre we so rarely get the chance to experience anymore, Riders Republic delights and challenges equally – when it gets out of its own way.
Riders Republic Review
Loosely speaking, Riders Republic is a bizarro world in which some corporation with the resources of Umbrella has reshaped a portion of the Earth into a colossal extreme sports playground. The open-world is a collage of real-world American national parks and geography, an impressive and immense sprawl of jagged hills and gorgeous scenery ripe for adventure. Like most Ubisoft titles at this point, this map is staggeringly huge and flooded with contractually obligated icons but unlike most Ubisoft titles at this point, its scope is necessary and consistently enjoyable.
After crafting your customisable rider avatar you’ll be dropped into a sizzle reel of Rider’s Republic’s core racing modes – by bike, by ski or by air. Here you’ll also be introduced to the game’s extensive accessibility options including default subtitles with text to speech, as well as the three control types, Racer, Trickster and Steep. Racer offers complete control over the camera, Trickster takes it away but offers more trick options with the right stick and Steep is, well, Steep controls.
I stuck with Racer for the most part and found the game’s arcadey riff to be incredibly easy to pick up, let alone the variety of options you can tweak for your own personalised difficulty. For instance, players are invited to let the game auto-land you after tricks, reducing points but allowing for a smoother play experience if you want it.
Riders Republic smartly focuses on its three major sports fields and in turn yields expertly crafted results. Each sport feels tangibly different despite the game’s core controls leaning arcade-lite in their design ethos, the slight changes underfoot evident in your steering and the PS5’s haptics. Biking, either down a mountain, road or across trick courses, is the most demanding in terms of nuanced movements and control, but this also makes it the most rewarding.
On the flip side, skiing whether by ski or board is fluid and hyper-responsive, the resistance of the dirt tracks giving way to snow’s more pliable surface by comparison. Flying is the only sport I found myself frequently ignoring, not for want of more scale from it (the audacity of these sections is thrilling) but the controls felt at their weakest here.
The variety of events within these core mechanic groupings also adds another layer to Riders Republic‘s appeal. Traditional races are breakneck speed affairs that encourage tricks but if you’re after the latter solely you can hit the slopes on shorter, stunt focused courses. Certain races feature two or three types of traversal, switching between each on the fly seamlessly, while the Mass Races function as massive events which pull in 64 other racers for a chaotic time. Occasionally the fun is hampered by oddly placed checkpoints that require you to pass through a slim set of flags to progress in the race, a choice that feels at odds with the freedom and speed afforded by the game in the first place.
Riders Republic’s take on difficulty is somewhat player-driven, meaning each mistake can be a toss-up between a laugh and a stifled yell. Races and events offer tiers of rewards based on how tough you want to make them; turn off landing assistance, finish without breaking etc. It’s a testament to the game’s balancing that I was never all that concerned with chasing greater rewards this way, fully allowed to just race in a somewhat chill manner without compromising my character progression.
That said, when I did feel so inclined to push myself harder I sometimes found the arcadey controls not quite attuned enough to the split-second choices I had to make while hurtling down a hill. Nothing game-breaking by any stretch, but just the slightest twinge of frustration at the back of the neck. When you do inevitably crash you can quickly rewind a portion of the race to set yourself back on track or mash a button to put yourself back up and keep going. It’s a forgiving system that makes your mistakes feel weighty but not game ending in a nice way.
Running somewhat antithetical to Rider’s Republic’s strengths, the reward systems in place here are overwhelmingly messy. I was constantly inundated with new gear, an endless stream of marginally better loot that not only prevented me from getting attached to any one bike but also numbed the part of my lizard brain the game is clearly trying to engage. It is, I guess, a byproduct of the game’s Live Service bones but between the different types of currencies, stacked menus and a steady supply of loot, I started to lose sight of what makes Rider’s Republic so fun in the first place.
There’s also the, uh, plot. Rider’s Republic’s Umbrella Corp theme park is the quasi-set of an in-universe TV network looking for its next star. You’re essentially the new Chosen One of extreme sports and you’ll be playing the role of ingénue to an aging, burger-flipping former star. Generally speaking, I think we all need to calm down about Cringe on the internet, embrace it even. But Rider’s Republic isn’t even fun enough to be cringe with its writing, it’s just aggressively off.
A strange pastiche of stoner dudebro culture and sanitised corporate America slang that should, by all means, be a parody but is most decidedly not.
The one-two punch of Rider’s Republic’s slew of live-service frills and grating presentation does its best to derail the experience but ultimately the game is just too damn fun to really care all that much. For every gripe, there are two little joys to be found, like the track editing or Zen mode, which allows you the full breadth of the open world completely undisturbed. I took a damn walk in a video game when I found this mode just to soak in the Vibes™ and it doesn’t disappoint. Rider’s Republic is gorgeous to behold in this sense, a densely packed world that (especially when zipping past at sixty frames a second) looks photorealistic at times.
Paired with the game’s online component, which essentially sees countless “ghosts” of other players zipping around the map with you to make the world feel full and alive, Riders Republic taps into some magic. The sense of forward momentum as you recklessly hurtle toward the finish line, debating with yourself if you can pull off one more sick move on the final jump, is unmatched and unbridled fun.
Riders Republic is one of the coolest games I’ve played this year – especially when it’s not trying to be.
Riders Republic was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.