‘Riders Republic’ review: extreme sports bliss tempered by sickly set dressing

SSX Cringey

Riders Republic got a lot better once I turned all of the music and dialogue off. It sounds drastic, but swapping out most of the game’s audio for my own made Ubisoft’s latest tolerable, and I hope you’ll consider doing the same if you decide to pick it up.

And you should, because Riders Republic is easily the most versatile extreme sports game in recent memory. You can arc your way through a looping rail on Rocket Skis before flipping out into the icy brush, swapping to a Wingsuit and blasting into the sky towards a mountainside. If you time the landing just right, you can switch to a downhill bike and peel through a completely different biome, the wind rushing around you as you skid past trees and other players.

When it hits its stride, Riders Republic is a remarkable achievement in game design. When you find your sport and embrace it, with all the assists off in Trickster mode, it feels utterly incredible to play. You know that gutwrenching civilian vertigo you get when you crest the top of a rollercoaster or go over a steep hill in a car? Riders Republic trades in this euphoria when you’re gliding down its magnificent mountains. I imagine this is a mere taste of what it feels like to compete in actual extreme sports, without the risk of spinal discord or decapitation.

Ubisoft Annecy has clearly learned plenty from Riders Republic’s snowsport forerunner Steep, and whatever genius thought to smash that together with the vehicle-switching mechanic of the otherwise boring The Crew series deserves a raise. By making two of its cult game series smooch, Ubisoft has stumbled onto a peanut butter and chocolate combo.

Riders Republic
Riders Republic. Credit: Ubisoft

So why do I have to turn all the audio off to enjoy it? Well, for some reason, Ubisoft decided to put the brilliant gameplay of Riders Republic into a chokehold of pure cringe. It makes an absolutely horrific first impression. There’s a renovated school bus with the word ‘TRENDING’ on it in the hub area. You’ll watch potato-quality streaming videos of races instead of actually experiencing them for a while and my god, the dialogue. It’s the kind of guff that made Jose Mourinho pull his headset off, I imagine.

“How do you do fellow kids” doesn’t even cut it because Riders Republic is so off base with youth culture that it will threaten your gag reflex. I’m talking about an old man in a burger van calling you a “true ledge,” and NPCs waffling out phrases like “shiz wizzle” and “totally truesome” as you try to enjoy this mechanical peach. It’s not even ironic like Amped 3 was either. The good news is that none of this “shindiggery” matters, but you will have to grimace through Riders Republic’s first few hours before it lets go of your hand.

It’s such a shame, but please, heed my warning. Switch out the music for your Spotify playlists. Riders Republic is a great excuse to listen to albums in full and discover new genres. The radio host might cut in every so often and break your immersion with some absurd one-liners, but it’s worth it for the frisson you can feel when you curate your own aesthetic. Due to the variety of biomes, loud and quiet moments, all kinds of music will work depending on your tastes, from Jacob Collier to Inhaler to Halsey. Carving through the midnight snow to Oh Wonder’s ethereal latest 22 Break gave me genuine shivers.

riders republic 3
Riders Republic. Credit: Ubisoft.

This is why you need to play Riders Republic. It has taken the crown from Ghost of Tsushima as my favourite mindless podcast and music game. Give it a handful of hours and the better parts of the progression system will start to click into place, resulting in pure extreme sports bliss. You’ll be pulling off 720 Switch Mistys and Bios to please your corporate sponsors, earning regular gear and new vehicles as you go. Filling up gauges, ripping open card packs, you know the drill. Riders Republic is the Forza Horizon of extreme sports, and if you can get past the rubbish, it’s extremely reliable and hard to turn off.

I will say though, not all of the sports in Riders Republic feel equally as fun. Snowsports just feel better than biking, probably due to Annecy’s experience developing Steep. Maybe I just haven’t earned a good enough bike yet, but the controls are a little too rigid, with drifting feeling particularly drastic. I can’t get on with it, so I’m just ignoring it for now, and that’s fine because Riders Republic doesn’t care what you do, it just wants you to have fun on your own terms, and I really admire that. There are enough events for me to get plenty of hours out of each career, so I’ll get onto it eventually. Similarly, wingsuit races are cool, but at the moment that discipline feels more like a way to travel around the map than anything else.

Racing is a lot less interesting than performing tricks too because fluidity is Riders Republic’s USP. Especially on a powerful PC at 144 Hz, flipping between rails on my skis or snowboard is a stunning experience. At first, it will feel awkward, but spend enough time in the Trick Academy and you’ll be stringing together killer combos in no time. I’m constantly chasing the brain matter-slicking endorphins of a fundamentally nasty flip chain that makes me reach for the NVIDIA Shadowplay replay buffer button. It’s not quite there, but in flashes, the right-stick flicking reminded me of the glory days of Skate, which is about as big of a compliment I’m legally allowed to give. I just wish there was an easier way to arc the camera while using a controller on PC, as it can get a bit dodgy when you’re trying something ambitious, and I’ve had to reach for my mouse to fix it on multiple occasions.

Because of the above, I feel like the races in Riders Republic have some existential problems. If you just gun it and ignore tricks you might do better, but most of the fun is trying to pull off flips and spins off of a track’s many ramps. Consequentially, checkpoints manifest as annoying limits to your imagination and freedom. But listen, this is a living game, one of those big service behemoths with unnecessary microtransactions and premium currency. It’s going to get updates, and hopefully, Ubisoft will listen to the community that is forming around Riders Republic. Cut out the aesthetic guff, focus on the mechanics and flesh out the social elements and player verbs. It’s really cool to see everyone running around like ants & rushing to the multiplayer Mass Races, but Riders Republic needs more small moments of interaction and little dynamic – easier to track – challenges like Skate 3 had so that the world can feel even more lived in, like the old days of Test Drive Unlimited on the Xbox 360.

If Ubisoft can handle this teething period properly, it will have an extreme sports title that can go the distance on its hands, a beautiful proposition given that the genre has been floundering for ages. This will keep me busy until Skate 4, that’s for sure!

Riders Republic is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC. This was reviewed on PC. 

The Verdict

Riders Republic is the best extreme sports game in ages, but it is, unfortunately, drowning in cringe. Luckily, the game’s beauty is in its gorgeous world and mechanics and not its characters or dialogue. You have to check this one out if you like extreme sports games and fancy a more precarious spin on Forza Horizon. Just be aware that the first impression is rough, and you may need to mattock through some shocking set dressing and turn off the dialogue to break into Riders Republic’s deeply satisfying core.

Pros

  • Stunning biodiverse vistas summon frisson with good music in tow
  • Fluid, fine-tuned gameplay that evolves with every event
  • A genuinely exciting live service proposition

Cons

  • Woefully cringe set dressing almost completely spoils the show
  • Not all of the sports are equally as fun, but there’s enough content that it doesn’t matter
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