Fast, frenetic, and a whole lot of fun: Riders Republic videogame review
An exhilarating ride through a stunningly beautiful game world, with plenty of challenge along the way.
An exhilarating ride through a stunningly beautiful game world, with plenty of challenge along the way.
Cycling doesn’t feature in videogames all that often. Sure, there’s been the odd game here and there – the Pro Cycling Manager series, for example, or Descenders, or a cameo appearance in the Grand Theft Auto games – but rarely is cycling put front and centre in a game from one of the top developers.
But now, that’s exactly what we’ve got, with Riders Republic from developer Ubisoft Annecy.
Riders Republic is an open-world adventure racing game that features a handful of action sports disciplines, including bike racing. Available on most major gaming platforms (see highlight box, left), it’s the follow-up to Ubisoft’s popular winter sports videogame Steep, which came out in 2016.
Riders Republic is set in a massive, open environment comprising seven unique regions, each heavily inspired by a US national park, with geology and biomes to match. There’s Yosemite Valley, Zion, Sequoia, Bryce Canyon, to name just a few.
In the game’s Zen Mode you can ride (or ski, wing-suit, or even run) your way around the world at your own pace, exploring, and taking in the incredible sights. But at the heart of Riders Republic is career mode and the races you’ll do as part of your career(s).
You start Riders Republic as a promising athlete at the beginning of your action sports career. After being thrown head-first into a bunch of races that introduce you to the various sports disciplines featured in the game – bike racing, bike tricks, snow race, snow tricks, and air sports – you’re invited to customise your character, being as serious or as silly as you like.
As you play through the tutorial, a couple of characters welcome you to Riders Republic and show you around. From there you’re free to find your own way, dedicating yourself to the career – or careers – of your choosing.
Given this is CyclingTips, I threw myself into the bike racing career first … which was easy enough given it’s the first career available. You start with a bunch of races available to you in different locations around the game world. Simply bring up the map of the Republic, find a race of your choosing, and you can warp right there to get racing. Or, if you’re up for an adventure (and have some time to kill), you can always get there yourself, whether by bike, skis, wingsuit, or on foot.
Your progress through the game is marked by two main metrics: XP (experience points) and “stars”. You’ll collect stars as you complete races, participate in multiplayer sessions, practice tricks at the Tricks Academy, and even just while free-roaming. Collect enough stars and you’ll unlock new sports and career tracks, and new sponsors (real-life brands that give your character access to a bunch of new gear).
Finishing races also gives you XP for your given career (you gain XP for each career track separately). The harder the difficulty level you choose for a given race, the more XP you’ll get. Earning XP increases your level which unlocks more events for your current career, and new gear as well.
The career tracks overlap – you’ll start with the bike race career, but soon you’ll open up some snow events, then some air sports events, and so on. It’s up to you which direction (or directions) you’ll go.
There’s a whole bunch of races available in each discipline, including headline events. Do well in those ‘big events’ and you’ll find yourself at the Riders Ridge Invitational, the culmination of the game’s career mode.
To get there, though, you’ll need to be quite good at racing.
Riders Republic boasts a whole stack of different bike races for you to discover and tackle, spread out around the game world. Most are downhill MTB events of various flavours but there are road and gravel events sprinkled throughout too. You’ll do a bunch of individual time trials, but the majority of races seem to be mass-start events. Every race is unique with its own set of challenges to master as you go for the win (or try to earn more stars by completing secondary objectives).
For each race you have two choices when it comes to your competitors. You can race ‘solo’, against the ‘ghosts’ of other riders – that is, other riders’ previous efforts, recorded by the game, then ported into your race. Or, you can race against your friends online in Versus Mode.
I played Riders Republic on Playstation 4 and on Windows PC with a PS4 controller and I found the controls to be both simple and intuitive. If you’ve ever dabbled in a racing game of any kind, you’ll likely find the same. On PS4, the R2 button accelerates, L2 brakes, you use L1 to sprint, and you use the left thumbstick to steer. If you want to do tricks, the X, triangle, O and square buttons will be where you want to start.
And that’s about it. Getting a handle on the basics is pretty easy, but getting good is another thing entirely. I started the game on the easiest difficulty and found I was winning races right away. But after bumping up the difficulty, and progressing a little further into the game, winning became anything but trivial.
The opponents don’t just get harder to beat – the courses seem to get trickier as you go along as well, particularly when it comes to the flagship ‘big events’. I had to play through the ‘Ridge TV Lucky Straight’ event a whole bunch of times just to finish it. One small mistake was all it would take and I’d fall way back through the field and out of contention.
As with many racing games, Riders Republic has a ‘Backtrack’ function that allows you to get, well, back on track if you have a mishap or miss a checkpoint. You just hold the R1 button and you’ll be taken back to where you left the course. But this comes at a cost – while you’re being teleported back to safety, your competitors are free to carry on their merry way …
After a great many tries, and after much backtracking and restarting the race, it felt like a big moment when I finally managed to win the Ridge TV Lucky Straight for the first time.
The actual racing is seriously fast, frenetic, and a whole lot of fun. Some of the courses are particularly death-defying, and you’ll be getting serious air at times. Third-person mode is exhilarating enough, but racing in first-person mode takes it to another level again (see video below). This is the closest a videogame has brought me to the thrill and terror of bombing down a MTB run at the limit of my ability.
To my mind, the game’s bikes look, move, and sound just like they should. In fact, the sound design overall is terrific. Skidding tyres, spinning freehubs, the groan of your character as you land an ambitious trick awkwardly – it all adds a richness to the experience (see video above).
And speaking of landing awkwardly, crashes are an unavoidable part of this game. I found myself hitting the deck with great regularity, often inducing a wince from me as my character splattered to the ground, her bike somersaulting away down some majestic hillside. And while we’re on the subject: I’d recommend leaving the sight-seeing for when you’re not racing. Far too many times I’d get distracted by some breathtaking view, only to refocus on the action as my character was slamming into the deck, then rag-dolling her way down a mountain. Oops.
And again, this game is truly stunning. The developers did a stellar job of recreating the real-life national parks in-game. Haing visited a bunch of those very parks in the past couple years, Riders Republic provided a very nice nostalgia hit as well.
While I focused most of my attention on bike racing, that’s only one part of the game. There are whole career tracks and a great many events dedicated to both skiing and aerial sports. I dabbled in these modes a little and found them all enjoyable but not quite as engaging as the bike racing career. I found wingsuit races to be particularly tricky, especially to begin with. Having to control your character in three dimensions rather than two certainly increases the difficulty level.
It’s worth noting that a BMX career is due to be added to the game at some point in the coming months. It looks like that will cost extra, except for those who have shelled out for a Year 1 Pass, which provides access to a bunch of extra content throughout the first year of the game.
Racing games like Riders Republic lend themselves perfectly to the social, multiplayer experience. Why race against a computer when you can challenge real people online, or, better still, race against (and trash talk) your friends? In addition to allowing you to race against others in career mode, Riders Republic has a bunch of other multiplayer events you can tackle.
‘Mass races’ are events that happen every hour and that are contested by up to 50 players online. As you’re making your way around the game world in career mode you’ll get a notification telling you a mass race is about to begin. Warp from there to the game’s main hub area – Riders Ridge – and you’ll be able to join the action.
These multi-race events feature several disciplines per race – you’ll change from skiing to riding to wingsuit racing, for example, all mid race.
Doing well in these mass races is far from easy. I went from being competitive in Pro difficulty in career mode, to finishing dead last or second last in each mass race I tried.
There are other ways to get your multiplayer fix too. ‘Tricks battles’ pit two teams of six athletes against each other, to see who can perform the most rad tricks in a given time. And ‘Free for all’ mode is a 12-player battle where you pick a playlist of matches and compete against others for superiority.
Riders Republic doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s a good thing. While the racing feels tight and dialled, this isn’t some super-serious simulation game. From the very start, the tone of the game is fun and silly. If you want to, you can play it straight by designing a serious-looking character and racing the best bike in the biggest events. Or, you can fang down a mountainside in an icecream cart while wearing a dinosaur suit. The choice is up to you.
You can customise your character at any time too, including their appearance, their bike, their clothing – it’s all fair game.
The career mode narrative does have a distinctly North American “trail bro” aesthetic to it. Terms like “radness” and “gnarly” are thrown around with reckless abandon, and in one early cutscene there’s even a picture of a 🤙 on the wall behind one of the characters.
If that’s your vibe, great, you’re in luck. But if you’re like me and you find that whole schtick to be a little much, don’t despair: the vast bulk of the game is spent racing in beautiful locations, with only the occasional distraction from a shaka-wielding trail bro.
There’s a lot to love about Riders Republic. First and foremost, it’s exciting to see cycling feature so prominently in a game from one of the world’s biggest developers, and for that game to be so lovingly created and so well polished.
The racing feels intuitive, fun, and genuinely exhilarating when you’re barrelling down some gnarly path at the limit of your ability, particularly in first-person mode, and there’s a real thrill in winning a race you’ve been attempting over and over.
I did have my frustrations with the game though. Oftentimes all it takes is one single mistake, one tiny deviation from your line, and you lose any chance of staying competitive in a race. And I found that errors tend to snowball – once you’re tangled up in track-side trees or picking yourself up in a rock garden, poor maneuverability at low speed can make it hard to quickly navigate your way back on course without further grief. On trickier courses with narrow sections – or big drop-offs – that frustration is only compounded.
I also found myself battling with the field of view camera at times. In third-person mode, the game automatically adjusts the camera so it’s directly behind you, so your character is heading in the direction you’re looking. But some of the time – usually on tight corners and steep slopes – the camera seems to become decoupled so that where you’re looking and where you’re headed are no longer the same thing. That makes it very tricky to line up the next corner, or that next ramp.
You can control the camera with the right thumbstick, but that can be a little cumbersome in those important moments when you’re already struggling to maintain your line at speed, and when a crucial turn is coming up.
Other issues like being able to ride uphill on a mountain bike at 60 km/h ruined the verisimilitude for me a little, too, but I’m very aware that that probably says more about me than it does about the game.
Criticisms aside, Riders Republic is certainly worth your time. It’s great if you’re a casual gamer just looking to escape the real world with half an hour of racing in a bunch of beautiful locations. It’s equally satisfying if you want to take it more seriously, invest some time in improving your rad skillz, and really develop your racing career (or careers).
US$60 / AU$80 / €60 for the base game is about what we’d expect to pay these days for a flagship game from one of the big publishing studios. Whether that’s worth it or not for you will likely depend on how many hours you see yourself spending in this game.
I’ve spent maybe 10-15 hours in Riders Republic so far and I’m still working my way through the bike racing career, having barely touched any of the other career tracks. I’ve mainly been warping between bike races and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. And with plenty of additional content planned for the coming months and weeks – including that BMX update – there should be enough here to maintain players’ interest for a long time to come.
I know I’ll be heading back to the Republic in the future. The Riders Ridge Invitational awaits …
Thanks to Ubisoft Australia for providing CyclingTips with a review code for Riders Republic.