I had expected to dislike Riders Republic because Ubisoft's marketing made the open-world xtreme sports game look like it was about gnarly middle-aged dudes with sikk lingo and twatty hats. And it is, and they are awful. But behind the rude 'tude and Fortnite-grade fashion, Riders Republic makes riding a virtual bike feel like riding a real one in a way few video games manage. Switch to the first-person camera, turn off the music and HUD, and just cycle through American national parks with your bike humming beneath you. Bliss.
Riders Republic is an arcade racing game which evokes enough of cycling to be delightful in a way the official Tour De France game isn't. The hum of your tyres and the whirr of your drivetrain, all throbbing slightly as effort shifts across each pedal stroke. Your view wobbling and jostling. The shudder when a corner is a little tight. The sound of tyre biting into terrain on turns. Little creaks and rattles from components. My rider panting and gasping. The whoosh of passing objects. Long grass tapping in my spokes, bushes scratching at my side. It's no simulation (it is extremely forgiving of ambulance-worthy manoeuvres, for one) but it feels good. Simply riding a bicycle is fun in this game.
I especially like that Riders Republic evokes some terrors of cycling. Bikes noisily skid and shudder when pushed too far, threatening to go out of control. Brakes aren't enough for really steep hills either, leaving you wrestling with an unstoppable skid (the absolute worst feeling on a bike). The field of view pulls out at high speeds too, a slightly out-of-body experience. As someone who fears heights and has lost a little skin to hills, the game has me pulling back in my chair and twisting uncomfortably during some downhill races, so sucked into the screen that I want to get away. I hate it, and that's great.
I've been playing the whole game with the HUD off. No position numbers in races, no sprint meter, no stopwatch, no course progress percentage, only what I can see and feel. This also makes Riders Republic even better as a walking simulator.
I've had a grand old time in free roam mode, exploring its mash-up of shrunk-down US national parks including Yosemite, Sequoia, Canyonlands, and Joshua Tree. It's a good-looking game with good-looking routes to bumble along. Follow roads, hop onto trails, hop off into wild terrain, admire birds and bears, tumble down hills... that's adventure, baby.
Some of my roaming adventures in Riders Republic have called back horrible/wonderful memories of cycling in the Highlands last summer. Hills are not my friend so I would relish opportunities to rest my legs while freewheeling downhill, but I couldn't relax at all. Going far faster than I normally do, and on worse roads, I had to keep focus. With potholes to dodge, flocks of grouse lacking any sense of self-preservation, and loose gravel eager to taste blood, I was genuinely afraid at times. And then dusk fell. Yet here I am thinking I might return once this horrible heatwave ends.
I have my gripes and wishes, mind, but this isn't a review (see our actual Riders Republic review from last year for a complete opinion). My concerns fall away when I ride through forest, up mountains, and along rivers, the day running through evening into night. It is very nice cycling. Do have a go next time Ubisoft run a free trial weekend.