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Outside of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise and the original SSX Tricky, action-sports games have never really been my thing. I enjoy cycling, skateboarding and rollerblading - so why wouldn’t I find hyped-up adaptations of these kinds of sports in video game form to be of interest? I genuinely don’t know. But that’s changed now that Riders Republic has come around.
The game first clicked during E3 2021: a clip of first-person downhill mountain biking gameplay looked so intense and genuinely overwhelming that it left a pit of fear in my stomach, the kind usually reserved for seeing these kinds of shots from a helmet-secured GoPro. My inner video producer, the person who has mounted GoPros in several WRC rally cars and chased speeding off-road mountain motorbikes with a drone, was just in awe. It was the first time I’d seen a video game actually capture the feeling of being in an extreme sports situation. I was hooked.
Riders Republic is so much more than downhill biking of course - and in a way, my personal hype for the game was probably more exaggerated than it should have been. When playing the game now,, I barely ever switch to the first-person view - and in reality, not every sport is made to be tried in that mode. But despite my fascination with this first-person viewpoint, that isn’t the true selling point of Riders Republic. It’s the game’s open world, and the many ways to explore and traverse it that really stand out.
There was a genuinely jaw-dropping moment when I was flying across the landscape close to the ground in my jet-suit, where the world below was entirely populated with the ghosts of other players taking part in races, doing flips off ramps, snowmobiling through the mountains and wingsuiting right into the ground. It all felt so alive.
Actually seeing other players go about their business (even if it isn’t actually them at that moment) makes the map feel populated in a way I never expected. I suppose it’s something similar to what you see in the Forza Horizon series, but here it’s taken to the next level, in a way I personally haven’t experienced in a game before.
However, despite all these moments of pure brilliance - like 66 players snowboarding down a mountain wearing giraffe heads in a Mass Race, or skimming the top of a mountain in a wing-suit to grab the “RR” collectable balloon at the top - there are so many aspects of Riders Republic that fall flat.
The whole game is filled with this obnoxious “How do you do, fellow kids?” vibe that just rubs me up the wrong way. It’s full of irritating characters that the developers clearly thought would come across as cool and memorable, but it all feels a little bit try-hard. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear “gnarly” or “totally tubular” come out of any character’s mouth.
While we’re on the subject of audio, the soundtrack is weak and often spends a lot of time appearing in the game as diegetic sound, playing through tinny speakers in the game world. It helps sell the illusion this is a real festival, sure, but I want to wingsuit to full-blast, absolute bangers. Instead, I feel like I’m hearing some kid’s tunes screeching out of an iPhone 3G at the back of the bus. It’s not a killer, of course, just mute the music and whack your own Spotify playlist on, and everything is golden.
Getting back to the gameplay, it is often extremely fun. The races that switch between sports are genuinely thrilling at times, and make you think on your feet as you adapt from the simple left and right controls of cycling, to flying through the sky in a jet-suit with inverted up and down controls and full spacial manoeuvrability.
Regrettably, there seems to be an issue with the camera. There were multiple times when I would take a sharp turn in the jet-suit to fly through a hoop against a wall in a race, and after the turn the camera control would be taken away from me and seemingly recenter itself or point upwards, adjusting not only my character’s direction but also my orientation in the 3D space. I’m not sure if it's just an issue I’m having, but something to be aware of.
The scenery is unforgiving and inconsistent. Trees will sometimes be real obstacles while other times you’ll drive or fly right through them. The nature of the races being built over an open world means that sometimes you have to be either really lucky, or know the courses very well, to avoid obstacles that are almost entirely invisible until you hit them.
One example is a rocky mountain ramp leading into a jump on the event Beam Me Up, where there are actual nicks and bumps in the surface of the mountainous rock that, in my first attempt, knocked me off my bike. Then, during my second go, a different bump pushed me off course and over the edge. These sorts of obstacles don’t seem to offer any skill challenge - instead, they are indicative of a lack of polish that has gone into making sure the races are complete.
And while we’re talking about failure, let’s chat about the rewind system. There seems to be a fine line in Riders Republic between playing amazingly well and messing up irreparably. The worst part is that a simple mistake is often made 100 times worse by the game’s ‘rewind’ and ‘get back up’ systems. The rewind system often won’t take you far back enough to reverse the error. Or, you go so far back that you may as well just accept you’re not in the race anymore.
The mash to get back up option also orients you in the way that you failed. So if you tumble on a landing and roll off the track, when standing up you will be facing away from where you need to go - which is not ideal when cycling and turning is a chore. The same problem applies if you’ve bailed in an aerial segment and you reload yourself so as to smash into a different wall, or towards the ground, as that’s the way your character was directed at the time.
Not everyone will feel this issue, especially those with experience in action sports game titles like Steep, but it can feel like an extra kick on the face to newcomers. Failing in a game should be a personal issue, something to improve, but when the game’s mechanics don’t know the difference between a player who has made an error and one who’s been thrown off by invisible world geometry, it feels like there’s no incentive to continue. It all piles into the “Yeah that was fun for an hour” feeling that many rookie players will experience.
My grievances with the rewind and get up systems have plagued my experience with Riders Republic. But the game’s freedom in allowing the player to focus on whatever sports they want to, without much pressure to dive into areas you have little interest in, is admirable. Besides, the open world is a great place to explore and discover all sorts of fun little secrets.
There were times playing when I had the biggest grin on my face, in those snapshots of time where it all comes together. I can’t help but feel those with more experience in the action sports genre will absolutely get those moments of delight far more than I have.
Riders Republic’s failures in effectively catering for newcomers - despite its excellent range of accessibility features - are clear for me as a newbie. But anyone experienced with this genre will have a bloody fantastic time here, and it's well worth picking up if you’re into it.
Pros: Excellent world exploration, mass races can be brilliant
Cons: Not great for newcomers
For fans of: Steep, SSX Tricky, Forza Horizon
Riders Republic is out now for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, Amazon Luna and Stadia on November 9th. Review code for Xbox Series X was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Ubisoft
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