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February 2023

Riders Republic

Platform(s): Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Annecy
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2021


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PC Review - 'Riders Republic'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 10, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Riders Republic invites players to an exhilarating social playground, where they can experience the thrill of extreme sports in an open and densely populated world.

Buy Riders Republic

Through four extreme sports games, Ubisoft has established a pattern of sorts. Shaun White Snowboarding was a by-the-numbers sports game with bits of humor in the loading screen chatter between environments. By comparison, Shaun White Skateboarding featured themes of freeing the world from a totalitarian regime while using your board to grind invisible rails and produce color by pulling off tricks. Steep brought things back to the realistic side by focusing on extreme sports in the winter against a vast mountain backdrop. As one would expect from this small but emerging pattern, Riders Republic swings the other way by going crazy with the Steep formula.

At the start of the game, your character is introduced to Suki and the Riders Republic, a coalition of thrill-seekers and extreme sports riders stationed in an area that has access to some of the best ranges in the world. If you're familiar with The Crew, the format is similar; places like Yosemite will somehow be a stone's throw away from the likes of Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton and Mammoth. Impressed by your potential, Suki introduces you to the founder of the place, Brett, and promotes you as the next best thing in the sport. Seeing the same promise, Brett takes you under his wing and helps you prepare for the biggest event, the Riders Ridge Invitational. Like many games of this type, the story is mostly there to set up the mood, and the brief phone calls from Suki and Brett emphasize this more than they deliver any actual narrative. Some may appreciate that the game doesn't try too hard to be cool with out-of-date slang, while others may hate the corny jokes, but there's nothing that'll make you sigh loudly.

The opening moments are reminiscent of Forza Horizon. You take control of dirt bikes. Races are done in a checkpoint style, with some leading to ramps for big tricks. A sprint button lets you add extra speed while you're going downhill, but it refills over time when it isn't used. After some time, you transition to skis and are still doing checkpoint races, but you trade in a sprint for the ability to ski backwards. Then you transition to jetpack checkpoint racing before finally reaching Riders Ridge to begin.

From here, Riders Republic takes you through a few different bike races before teaching the trick system, which applies to bikes, skis and a snowboard. Depending on which control method you choose (except for Steep mode), you'll use the face buttons or right analog stick from your gamepad to pull off tricks, with one button being used as a preload and the other activating the trick. It's a system that can result in some real variety before you add grabs and directional inputs. After a few snowboarding/skiing races, you can peruse the world and some events before returning to Riders Ridge to get a full tour of what you can do in the game.

Pick an event from the world map, and you'll be placed close to it. Approach the event, and you'll get a brief overview before you can accept the event. The game takes away control when you spawn in. While it's setting up the next tutorial step, you sit motionless in the game world while everyone else moves around normally. The game showcases repeated control prompts, but the prompts don't go away until we transition to the next screen. This continues until you return to Riders Ridge for the tour, where more than half of the options have already been explained. That's roughly an hour of stops and starts and instructional repetition that should've been edited for brevity. Luckily, once the tutorial is over, it's smoother to jump into and out of events thanks to the lack of unexplained stoppages in the flow.

Events are split between races and trick scoring events, all of which take place across different environments in the game; some even have ghost players driving through the courses to promote the feeling that events are impromptu events. The Shackdaddy events are similar, except for the fact that you're using an offbeat means of transportation, such as a pizza delivery bike or a snowboard made for one leg.

No matter what form of transportation you use, you feel like you're moving at a fast clip. When you consider the steep drops in terrain and some of the narrow trails, every race feels exhilarating. The physics are mostly forgiving, but there are still opportunities to smack a tree or hit a large boulder the wrong way to fall hundreds of feet, but at least the recovery time is quick. For those who might not feel confident in their skills, the game employs an auto landing and auto grinding system, so you don't need to land perfectly, but you get bonus points if you remove the assists. Just about every event has secondary objectives, like making it through the course at a higher difficulty, pulling off a specific score with a certain trick, or grabbing a few collectibles along the way. The game features a rewind feature if you mess up, but it's more harmful than helpful since you're the only one going backward and everything else moves along normally. Time still counts down, and racers still move forward so you have no reason to use this tool.

Both the race and the secondary objectives grant stars, but what's unusual is that you don't have to finish in first place to get the star. You don't even have to place in the top three. Instead, all you need to do is finish the event, so placing last is still good enough to get a star. For a racing game, the lack of emphasis on winning might seem strange, but you'll soon thank it once you encounter an event that you can't nail. The focus is on racing and having fun, and the removal of roadblocks helps with that.

The stars are important, as they comprise one of two progression systems. Getting 11 stars gets rid of the tutorial, 20 unlocks the Shackdaddy events, 35 unlocks the jetpacks races, and so on. The pace at which you earn stars seems fine, but with 750 needed to get to the Riders Ridge Invitational, there's motivation to complete as many secondary objectives as possible. The other progression system is XP, which is doled out for every race. Each level grants new equipment in that category, like higher-stat wingsuits or bikes tailored for off-roading or downhill. Considering that it's the only way to get new equipment, there's going to be some temptation to grind to get the good stuff early, even though the higher-ranked stuff doesn't feel like a huge leap. Later on, sponsorships can yield rewards, including precious stars, for completing daily challenges.

Outside of the events, you have the open world, which is sizable compared to most other titles. There are other ways to travel, including snowmobile or a fan-propelled parachute, and you can even walk. You aren't restricted in where vehicles can go, so it's acceptable to use a snowboard to trek across the desert. Like many open-world games, there are a decent number of pips on the map to wipe out, but unlike most games, those lead to something tangible. Eleven of those are new vehicles to add to your garage, and even though they aren't great stat-wise, they add to the game's offbeat vibe. There are 45 landmark spots where you can see digital versions of natural wonders, along with some history and trivia for each. Both of those also grant stars, so you can seek them out if you don't feel like racing for a spell. There are also 500 balloons to pop for cash, but the payout is low, so there's not much incentive to seek them out.

Aside from exploring the world with others who are also doing their own thing, Riders Republic features a few other things to do. At any time, you can enter photo mode and take pictures with any filter and angle. Considering how good the environments look, stop for a spell and take a shot. The shot location shows up on the map, so everyone knows where it came from. You can set up races on the fly by placing checkpoints in the world, and the races can be posted for others to try in a one-on-one race against your ghost. Unlike the other events, this is just for fun since there are no rewards.

One thing to appreciate about the open world is the lack of loading times. There are loading screens when you go from the open world to the event and back again, but nothing feels like it takes ages to load. The diverse environments also don't cause any hitches when you transition from one major area to another. What may be more impressive is how there aren't loading screens between the map and the open world. This also applies to going from one landing spot to another, as the transition is either instantaneous or brief enough for the transition animation to hide it. Switching equipment is also quick and seamless. Of all the things the game does, this is perhaps the most impressive to even the most jaded fan of open-world games.

There are a few opportunities for online multiplayer. If you form a party, you can tackle every event in the world with your friends racing alongside you as the competition. Free for All hits up multiple event disciplines in any config, while Tricks Battle is team-based in specific trick arenas. The craziest mode and the focus for multiplayer is Mass Races, which comes across as an unruly mass of humanity trying to race toward the goal. Thirty-two people scramble to enter, and once the race begins, the crowd of players races toward the end while swapping disciplines along the way. You may all start by racing on skis, but that can change to a bike along the way to jetpacks and a rocket-powered bike before the race ends. It is a chaotic experience and one of the game's hallmarks, but if you tried this during the beta period, you'll see that they've improved it to the point that one bad spill won't automatically drop you to last place. You can be in the middle of the pack if you tumble a few times, and with three rounds to participate in, there's a real chance to make it to the top or come away with a respectable showing. It takes some time to complete, but it is also a great way to boost for stars.

All of the above makes for a chaotic good time where you get to show off and mess around in the presence of other people. Seeing the multitude of people markers on the map and a near-constant stream of real players in your session and ghost players from other sessions makes for an open world that feels very populated. The game still has something to offer those who want the world to themselves: Zen mode. Set offline, Zen mode is for pure exploration without any other players present and no prompts to find a secret or participate in events. Its inclusion is perfect when you consider how the game often preaches about enjoying the great outdoors, but it also serves as a hint to other open-world game developers to include something like this; increasingly more players would like to explore those crafted places while free of distractions.

With all of the things that Riders Republic does right, from the diverse, open world to the myriad of things that you can do in it, one thing sticks out negatively: the presence of microtransactions. To be fair, all of the things that you buy with real money are merely cosmetic, so you don't gain an advantage in races or buy your way to the top of the game. Not all of the costumes can be purchased with in-game currency, and some of the more desirable stuff is premium currency only. On top of that, the store adopts a free-to-play style of rotating things out, which gives it a "buy it now" mentality; this might be passable in a free-to-play game but not a full-priced product.

Graphically, the game is impressive. The character models animate well, and the details are nice to see, especially for the more outrageous costumes you can acquire. The environment holds a tremendous amount of detail in the biomes. There are tons of long grass blades in the forests alongside full trees. The more desert-like areas have loads of different rock formations to gaze at, while the snowcapped mountains always have deep enough snow that deforms when you move through it. No matter how fast you're going, pop-up is at a minimum; the only time that detail gets lost is at the map borders, where the parts you can't visit look barren. All of the textures are clean and high resolution enough that it'll take careful examination to find something sub-par. Similarly, extreme close-ups expose particle effects as less than ideal, but they look completely fine at a glance. There is a bug where you can give yourself a glitched-out look while changing equipment on the fly, but it isn't consistent enough to be bothersome.

For the most part, the audio is quite good. The ambient sounds of nature will be the main thing that fills your speakers, while the whooping of passing riders interrupts that but not in an annoying way. Crashing always sounds painful, while the voices of the cast are energetic and a pleasure to listen to, even if Brett sounds like a gruffer version of Ryan Reynolds. The original music that plays in the menus and after every event is awesome, and the game has a bevy of licensed tracks from most genres. Some are odd choices, such as a ukulele cover of "Gangsta's Paradise," but then you have something "Colors" by Ice-T, which is surprising since no one has bothered to license it before. The music plays at a very low volume. It becomes more noticeable when the radio DJ comes on at a much louder volume. The music gets turned up a bit during races but not at a volume that's consistent with other games of this type. With the volume so low, you'll mostly be surprised that a cool song is playing because of how invisible it seems.

If you can get past the initial hour, Riders Republic becomes a very strong title. The world is a joy to explore thanks to the many biomes and landscape types you see. Compared to the rest of Ubisoft's open-world games, each pip on the map serves a much higher purpose than providing something to keep you busy. The instantaneous fast-travel, and the races pull off many adrenaline-pumping moments that you'll want to revisit. The title still has some issues, like some odd collision during the exploration and the unnecessary presence of microtransactions. Fans of racing will love what the various Ubisoft studios have pulled off with Riders Republic.

Score: 8.0/10

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