We’re going to level with you. The person writing this review isn’t generally known as a sports game fan.
The yearly entries of FIFA and NBA 2K are ones that pass by without much notice and, while usually gorgeous and well-made, racing games (simulators and arcade titles both), tend to be nothing more than a yearly blip on the gaming calendar. That said, Ubisoft’s new open world extreme sports game Riders Republic is making a very good case for why those who may be sports game averse should really reconsider their position.
If the whole idea behind sports games is that the sports that they depict are so fun, so compelling, that they remain enjoyable even when you stick ’em on a screen and play them with a controller, then Riders Republic is one of the most faithful distillations of that idea. Spread across three primary race types – downhill biking, snow sports, and a wingsuit/jetpack combo – Riders Republic releases players into a gargantuan natural landscape of snowy mountaintops, rocky canyons and beautiful forested hillsides. Notice our implication of the slightly less than 90-degree angle of the terrain there; Riders Republic is a game that banks a lot on the thrill of a downhill race, and it mostly cashes out on that bet to great success.
You may have read this in other responses to the game already, but we’ll sum it up for you here again: Riders Republic is just fun.
There’s a vibrancy and a ‘full of life’ quality that Ubisoft have managed to inject into the world of Riders Republic. It’s in the sense of velocity that you feel – careening down the slopes during the world’s seemingly endless supply of races and events. It’s present in the implementation of a game-wide ‘ghost’ system, wherein recordings of other players ride alongside you, a smart way to avoid having to queue for every race while also getting the feeling that you’re actually competing against other players. This even breaks down along skill lines, with ‘Pro’, ‘Expert’ and ‘Elite’ levels setting you up against faster players each time.
What about the races themselves? Riders Republic has three (or four, depending on how pedantic you want to be) kinds of races to test your mettle at. Snow sports (which you can complete on skis or a snowboard), aerial races (wingsuits and jetpacks), and our favourite by far, the cycling races. Each race type has sub-races within them, wherein you’ll be battling it out to get the fastest time, or the highest trick score, among other things.
The controls that underpin these races are a bit of an acquired taste, especially in areas that require precision like the cycling where obstacles and terrain can clear you out easily and cost you first place in a single moment. Moving left or right on the joystick has some millisecond delay before your character will actually respond. This could be Ubisoft trying to imbue Riders Republic with a sense of weight to its movement, but it’s definitely something that can easily result in oversteering, overcorrections, and silly, otherwise avoidable mistakes.
“You may have read this in other responses to the game already, but we’ll sum it up for you here again: Riders Republic is just fun.”
Outside of the races, you’re free to explore the world, moving between different environmental zones seamlessly, discovering stunt locations, vistas and other random bits in a world so stuffed with content it could only come from a studio like Ubisoft.
Slathered all through this are the kind of live-service, cosmetic and progression systems that are some of the most divisive when it comes to games from studios like Ubisoft, unfortunately locking many of the best outfits behind in-game currency. There is no way to simply grind until you get enough in-game points to buy what you want. If you’re willing to pony up the dough, you can deck your rider out in all manner of wild, colourful attire, aligning yourself with the game’s over-the-top ‘tubular’ vibe, or just stripping down to your bare dacks to ride a BMX off a cliff.
Alongside Guardians of the Galaxy, Riders Republic has turned out to be another unexpected highlight of the year. We’ve been around the ‘extreme sports’ roundabout plenty of times in the past, but Riders Republic is the first time this console generation where it’s really worth swerving off and taking a look at what’s on offer.
Riders Republic is available now on PS5, Xbox and PS4.