What is it? An extreme sports open-world—think Steep 2 with bikes.
Expect to pay $60£50
Developer Ubisoft Annecy
Reviewed on i7 9700K, RTX 1080 TI, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer? Up to 64 players
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
"It might not sound like it, but trust me—it's hip..." One of the many disembodied voices guiding me through this bold new society of extreme sports types in the mountains is telling me I can win a pizza delivery bike in the next event. She's also, knowingly or not, critiquing herself. Everybody here talks like they're hooked up to a Red Bull IV drip and graduated English class taught by Life is Strange's Chloe. It's a bit much.
A bit much can also be a good thing, you understand. Ubisoft Annecy's spiritual sequel to 2016's Steep is a decidedly maximalist game, albeit an untamed and jabbering one. Joining the snowsports and wingsuits from its ancestor are biking disciplines and powered vehicles, all ready to be swapped between in real-time with a button press and thumbstick flick.
A patchwork quilt of real-world national parks forms the sumptuous world map, red rock giving way to budding tundra succumbing to powdery white peaks. Event markers pop up like energy drink-branded pestilence, waiting for the park ranger protagonist to clean them all up using their aptitude for shredding, catching sick bumps and other such hijinks. Marquee events, unlocked by reaching milestones in a given discipline, are particular highlights and throw in wildly different geographical propositions. And tucked away behind the events are super-technical pro line runs that require Super Meat Boy-like feats of daring and dexterity. There's definitely variety here.
Once in a while, a different disembodied voice ushers us to mass events, where up to 64 players embark on logistically absurd jaunts by bike, skis, snowboards, and rocket wingsuits. It's like speed-dating SSX, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX and Superman 64 with an entire lobby of PUBG sociopaths for company.
There's a lot more to digest in this melange of Forza Horizon, The Crew 2 and Destiny than Steep offered. With each completed event, Riders Republic showers new stuff everywhere. New gear, a new character level, new events, bucks to spend on outfits, sponsors who offer daily challenges which, when completed, shower even more stuff all over the floor.
It's easy to just let yourself get caught in the jetstream of this frenzied progression and whizz along in it, enjoying Riders Republic on its own terms. Do a race, listen to someone describe how rad that thing you did was, watch a brief cutscene of a snowboard being unlocked, do another race.
That's my advice. Don't think too much, just keep nodding along with the X-Games bros and winning stars. Because like many a 20th century communist republic, this one is built on shaky ground.
It starts with the physics models underpinning the many disciplines on offer. It's clear from the first overcaffeinated whooping noise that Ubisoft Annecy is going for simplicity, but in whittling each handling model down to such basic terms it's taking away much of what ought to be interesting about sending a MTB down a mountain.
It was hours before I accepted that there really is no wheelie function, and no way to endo. Once I'm airborne I can stick it to Isaac Newton in myriad ways from 360 superman backflips to tuck no handers, but on terra firma GTA V's cast has a wider repertoire of tricks than the denizens of this Republic. One named, lest we forget, after Riders.
It's impossible that their inclusion simply didn't occur to anyone during the four-year development of an accomplished extreme sports game by an experienced studio, which means a) Ubisoft Annecy thinks we don't want to wheelie, or b) some dark, code-gargling force in the game engine makes it impossible to implement properly. It's a shame, either way.
With little opportunity to outpace rivals using subtlety of control—pumping round berms, shifting rider weight and front and rear brake controls are top of my own wishlist—victory comes down to three variables. One: the lines you pick. Two: the bike you're on. And three, most important of all: where you've been thrown following collisions against the tide of other players. 64-player mass events, remember.
Stunt controls fare much better under long-term exploration, particularly with manual landing selected. There's a joy to prepping a stance before takeoff and then unleashing grabs and poses like a maverick gyroscope that doesn't get old for quite a long time. Certainly longer than the bushel of trick-based events across the world map. No, it's the races where you have time to want more.
Bike events feel the most flimsy, while snowsports come off rather more unscathed by the accessible controls. Ground collision detection can be spotty across all disciplines and that can harsh your lines down the piste whatever's strapped to your feet. Infrequent dead-stop landings and race-ruining bumps off invisible geometry aside, if you're in the snow you're having fun. As for wingsuits, whether of the rocket or naturally aspirated variety, it's like you'd expect. Flying through coloured rings has a fun ceiling, and there's nothing any of the disembodied voices in this republic can do about it.
On the topic of tone, then. Ubisoft Annecy's either lampooning the cringey exuberance of extreme sports culture, or emulating it sincerely. Much has been made of the playlist; of that Gangsta's Paradise cover; of all the Offspring songs and the general sensation of an omniscient Steve Buscemi in a backwards cap somewhere above, gazing down for approval. It's true that music and dialogue miss the mark, wherever the intended mark is, and that very often Riders Republic sounds an awful lot like game developers approximating cool, in the same way those Medieval artists who'd never seen lions had a stab at them on a coat of arms.
Between us though, I'd take a soundtrack comprised entirely of tiresome Coolio covers in exchange for some mechanical tweaks. By all means serenade me with C U When U Get There in exchange for a no-contact online race option. Let's hear some 1,2,3,4 played on ukulele in a trade for rider weight controls that allow fine control and wheelies. Play me a cover of Rollin' With My Homies performed by Mumford and Sons themselves if it means hitting the backtrack button actually rewinds the AI too, not just me.
There are tonal irritations. There's a drunken imprecision to control at times. But I'm not ready to pack up, shave off my soul patch, laser off my meaningful tattoo and join the ranks of the normies. If Riders Republic isn't delivering on its premise, why do I care so much about winning mass events? And why do I get genuinely excited about a new pair of skis with a higher number?
In truth, because I've stopped wishing for it to be the extreme sports game I want and started embracing the anarchy.
It might not be the perfect extreme sports game, but it's compelling on its own terms. A simple, socially awkward jamboree of adrenaline and player progression with some suspect tunes in the background. To put it another way: it might not sound like it, but trust me—it's hip.