Riders Republic is Ubisoft Annecy’s second stab at an extreme sports game. Steep, released in 2016, was the first title for the southeastern France studio nestled in the Alps — the game’s open world was initially restricted to Europe’s highest mountain range too. But the Alps are gone on Riders Republic, and Ubisoft has also gotten rid of the Steep moniker. Opting for a rebrand signals that the video gaming giant is hoping for a fresh start after the mixed reception for Steep. It’s expanding beyond winter sports and jumping across the pond, as Riders Republic is set amidst US National Parks that are fused together into one giant map. You can go from Yosemite Valley to Grand Canyon to Mammoth Mountain in a matter of minutes.
While Riders Republic is not due for a couple of months — the release date is October 28 — Ubisoft rolled out an invite-only beta earlier this week that was made available for two days. From the face of it, not much is changing under the hood. After all, it has the same developer, many of the same sports, even a legacy control scheme, and Steep’s biggest annoyance is still here. Like its predecessor, Riders Republic is an always-online title. It will log you out if you walk away for a bit, forcing you to start over from where you last were, pick a fast travel location and then slow travel to the next race’s starting point. Why is it like this? It’s not exactly clear though Ubisoft seems to be pushing for an open world where you can encounter other players in free roam.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Multiplayer activities in Riders Republic are anyway structured — you must go to a specific spot in the main Riders Ridge hub to take part in “Mass Races” that involve 32 players on current-gen consoles and 64 players on PC and next-gen consoles (PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S/X). Mass Races switch between sports midway through the event, borrowing on the style of the open world racer The Crew 2. Or you can pull up the “Social” tab in the menus where you can create groups of up to six friends and take part in 6v6 team modes, performing tricks and capturing districts. There are 12-player free-for-all multiplayer events too in Riders Republic, wherein you will battle each other through a series of events. And oh, there’s full crossplay support.
What matters ultimately is how the game plays. The Riders Republic beta offered access to three main sports: biking, skiing/snowboarding, and rocket wingsuit flying. Except for the last one, you’ll find yourself travelling downhill. And every race type is based around checkpoints — and missing them is costly. Riders Republic does have a rewind option called “Backtrack,” but it doesn’t function as in other racing games such as Dirt and Forza Horizon. Here, as you rewind yourself, other players will keep moving forward, even when you’re playing with ghost versions of other players. Is this because it’s always online? Maybe. You can’t rely on backtrack to maximise performance, the way I use rewind in Forza, but it does make the transition to PvP easier, I’ve got to admit.
The reason you’ll find yourself using “Backtrack” is because Riders Republic is a high-speed arcade venture. In some events, my bike or skis hit excess of 110 km/h — that’s Olympic level for the latter, and beyond Olympic level in the case of the former. I’m not sure if the pedals can even spin so fast in reality. Riders Republic has arcade-y controls to go with that too, with my bike’s rear tire skidding like crazy when I hit the brake button, reminding me the crazy drifting from the daft Need for Speed Heat. It’s insane that your rider can keep their balance, only thrown off when you ram into something head on. Getting back on is simply mashing a button, you don’t have to manually walk back to your vehicle, don’t worry — this isn’t Road Rash.
You will also be pushed to “Backtrack” as most races aren’t barricaded*. And add to that the fact you’re cutting across all sorts of terrain during Riders Republic events. If you’re not careful, you will easily find yourself off track — this happened to me usually because I was trying to maximise my speed with the help of “Boost,” available with biking and rocket wingsuit flying. It either involves rockets (duh) or superhuman pedalling. To make matters worse, Riders Republic won’t always reset you when you go off track so you could end up losing a lot of time. But it does reset you in races where you can gain an advantage by skipping checkpoints. I prefer the automated option to the manual one, though it’s about picking between time lost (former) or momentum (latter).
*At the same time, some races do have hard barriers like mesh wire that you would imagine to be destructible, but they aren’t, weirdly.
Ubisoft is no doubt pushing for a fast-paced Riders Republic because it does contribute to the enjoyment. But skiing in a Mass Race with 30 other online players, I felt it was impossible to steer and never really felt truly in control. With rocks and trees zipping past, it was inevitable that I would crash into one now and then. That similar feeling resurfaced in a special event where Riders Republic stacked two rocket-powered boosters to the side of my bicycle. At times, it’s like Forza Horizon cross country with a few extra shots of adrenaline.
Riders Republic is not all about speed though, thankfully. There are game modes where it’s about scoring points — in the beta, snowboarding was the only one. You have to perform tricks in the air, grind on rails, and land in style to build a high score. Riders Republic offers three controller presets: use buttons (“Racer”), use the right stick (“Trickster”), or use trigger to launch and left stick for tricks (“Steep”). The last of them is built for Steep fans and veterans, naturally. You can also decide if you want to automate landing (easier) or figure it out yourself (tougher). Bad landings are more frequent with the latter but that does mean higher scores if you can pull it off. With “Steep,” you get an assisted landing bonus but you’ve to release tricks to activate the assist.
When you’re not busy racing, you can roam around Riders Republic’s massive map using any equipment available to you — including just your feet. There’s also a Zen Mode to relax but that wasn’t available in the beta. You can also spend time in the “Creative Mode” making trails and challenges for other players, that will get voted on by the community and featured in game. Another way to make a splash is by diving into Riders Republic’s photo mode and clicking pictures that impress others. The photo mode allows you to play with filters, depth of field, time of day, solar azimuth, and amount of fog, dust, rain, snow, and wetness. You can then tweak brightness, contrast, and saturation. It’s not as extensive as what I’ve seen elsewhere but it should satisfy casual photographers.
We will find out more about Riders Republic when it arrives October 28 on PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X with full cross-platform play support. Hopefully it won’t get delayed again. It was initially set to drop early September, but then in July, Ubisoft announced that it was pushing back nearly two months to give developers more time to refine the experience.
Catch the latest from the Consumer Electronics Show on Gadgets 360, at our CES 2022 hub.