Riders Republic is a multiplayer open world sports game developed by Ubisoft Annecy, in which every single character talks like they’re your mum’s new boyfriend after they find a bong in your sock drawer. And, hey, like, we get it, y’know, we all like to “hang loose” on Tik Tok sometimes, but – at this point Gareth the 43-year-old divorcé grabs a chair, spins it 180 degrees and sits on it in one smooth motion – dope just isn’t on fleek, fam.
Insufferable cutscenes aside, this is a thrilling downhill racing simulator in which you, a new arrival to a vast landscape of snowy peaks, scorched desert badlands, towering forests and rain-lashed mud flats, must repeatedly hurl yourself down the side of a mountain faster or more stylishly than your opponents. The world is a compressed version of California with all of the San Franciscos taken out, leaving just a bizarre population of baggy jeans wearing Urban Dictionary acolytes, and a vast interconnected series of freely roamable tracks and wilderness littered with activities to complete and landmarks to discover.
Riders Republic is alarmingly good fun, a seamless blend of bike racing, snowboarding, skiing and wingsuiting that succeeds in feeling cohesive by allowing you to instantly switch between sports at the push of a button. You can jetpack to the top of a mountain, pop on a pair of skis in mid-air and skid all the way back down again – a feat so technically impressive it would have irreparably shattered the feeble mind of an SSX Tricky fan in 2001.
The arcade controls are sensible enough to transfer from one mode of transport to another without your brain having to reconfigure itself, but critically, the physics of sliding down an icy slope feels distinct from biking around a sharp bend. Your various means of getting around aren’t just stylistic choices: tyres feel nice and sticky on slick mud, and just on the edge of control on loose gravel and when blasting through forest paths at high speed. Snowboards carve through powder with satisfying heft and take off on packed, wet snow.
Whatever you’ve got strapped to your feet or between your thighs, Riders Republic feels exhilarating at all times.
Whatever you’ve got strapped to your feet or between your thighs, Riders Republic feels exhilarating at all times, nailing the sense of breakneck speed as you thread your way through densely packed tree trunks and hurtle down wide pistes. In first-person mode, things feel legitimately perilous, as though the handlebars of your bike could come through the screen at any moment and smash out all of your front teeth.
Things get a little more fiddly when it comes to trick controls. There are gameplay assists to help you land perfectly every time, but you can also remove the training wheels entirely to unlock a trick mode that involves grappling with both thumbsticks to perform a full suite of grabs and rotations. It’s not a very technical trick system in either mode, and performing impressive stunts isn’t at the core of the game. You could happily progress through Riders Republic while refusing to do a single backflip (which is testament to how ceaselessly rewarding the game is), but could feel unchallenging to nimble-fingered fans of classic mid-noughties snowboarding games.
Riders Republic is designed without many opportunities to stop playing, guiding you seamlessly from one challenge to the next through a complete eradication of loading screens and a fast travel system that whisks you up to the next mountain peak before you have a chance to consider doing something else besides going really fast through a ravine again. Your aim is to collect stars by completing events in whichever order you please, and the game isn’t shy about doling these stars out like confetti. You get stars for crossing the finish line, you get stars for doing especially cool jumps or completing a race on an ice cream bike without falling over.
You also earn bucks, a currency that feeds into Riders Republic’s churning economy of custom skins and giraffe costumes, panda outfits, limited edition sponsored gear and premium stuff you can only get by paying real money. You can progress through different sports careers by picking off events as they appear on your map, or you can equip up to three sponsors, who set you a rolling itinerary of dynamic daily challenges to complete for exclusive gear. You can’t move without making progress in some way, especially early on in the game, when even complete failure brings you one step closer to unlocking something new. Once the gushing hose pipe of new stuff eventually slows to a trickle, each new unlocked bike or board feels exponentially more gratifying.
During events you race or compete for trick points against the ghosts of other players, whose times and scores are seemingly chosen based on the difficulty setting you selected before jumping into the event. Here, the game’s eagerness to dish out rewards starts to feel too transparent and forgiving. If you’re struggling to place, just drop down a challenge level or two to play against incrementally worse and worse versions of the scoreboard until you’re finishing on the podium. Or, as you’re more likely to do, go play one of the hundred or so other events littering the map.
The lack of challenge gates means you can freely tumble around the world having fun and jetpacking into stuff, but you never feel tested. Riders Republic sincerely doesn’t want you to give up on it, and does everything it can to ensure you never feel frustrated or snagged on a particularly tricky event, even if that means sanding down the difficulty.
There is a Sixth Sense vibe about Riders Republic’s approach to multiplayer. Everywhere around you, at all times, are hundreds of other players snowboarding and wingsuiting overhead, or zipping past you on jet-powered skis with perfect dramatic timing. Open the map and it’s swarming with other people, their countless icons streaming down mountainsides like dropped marbles. Most of these are based on ghost data, AI characters dressed up as human players to liven up the environment, but they succeed in making the world feel incredibly busy and fun, like you’re always in the middle of a fifty square kilometre rave in which you cannot speak to or interact meaningfully with anyone else.
(My theory is that Riders Republic is set in a kind extreme sports purgatory, inhabited by the trapped souls of every thrillseeker who ever jetpacked into a canyon wall at 300 miles per hour, or BMXed off a ledge and fell two storeys on to concrete paving. This explains why these haunted weirdos say things like, “Put some applesauce on that vibe, hepcat,” and, “Let’s cheese it on the flipside, daddy-o”, because they’ve all skied into fir trees and died at different moments in history, and now they must all live together in this collapsed point in time between realities.)
It’s during live multiplayer Mass Races when Riders Republic feels at its most corporeal. These are chaotic 64-player triathlons that appear on the open world map from time to time, bringing together probably too many humans to fit on a single track, and comprising multiple sports into a harrowing gauntlet run that feels less like an X-Games event and more like that weird annual tradition of chasing a wheel of cheese down the side of a steep hill. Collision detection is on, somehow, so that you’re helplessly bashed around by other players as soon as you leave the starting line, all 64 competitors moving en masse like a giant blob of flesh, carbon fibre and energy drinks.
It’s reliably brilliant fun, and the best multiplayer experience a Ubisoft studio has ever worked into one their many open worlds. Whether played alone or alongside 63 other warm bodies, Riders Republic is unalloyed gratification in a stunning natural utopia, a streamlined series of rewarding activities so open-ended and forgiving it can sometimes veer into a directionless fuzz. Things are certain to change shape as more stuff is added and the player-base settles in for the long games-as-a-service haul, but there’s enough arcade fun here at launch to delight your inner extreme sportsperson, the one who looks at Tony Hawk at 53 and thinks, yes, there is still time for me.