Riders Republic is going to be available in beta form starting today and going until Saturday (August 25th to the 28th). Yesterday, I got the chance to access some of the nearly six hours’ worth of content you will be able to consume. And, boy, do I have some thoughts!
First up, Riders Republic is basically Ubisoft Annecy’s second shot at 2016’s STEEP — which was great fun but didn’t really have enough of a hook to keep it going.
Perhaps Riders Republic’s enduring quality is that it just keeps going — quite literally, this game is full of over-the-top characters, races, equipment, environments, and fails from fellow riders and I’ll have more on that a little later on.
Like Forza… but for freestyle extreme sports
The moment you jump into Riders Republic, you’ll come to appreciate that this is a game that wears its influence on the sleeve of its biking suit. Ubisoft is hoping they can find some of the success Playground Games has with the ongoing Forza Horizon series.
Your time in the beta will open with a multi-sport event that introduces you to the bike, skis, wingsuit and rocket wingsuit in the same way that Forza Horizon uses its opening moment to introduce you to its various forms of racing. The overall feel of things is just close enough to the seed of inspiration that it feels flattering.
However, there are certain ways that Riders Republic adds its own… spin. Sorry, that was a pun! I’ll stop now. I am thinking about the fact that even Playground Games acknowledges that Forza Horizon needs an element that ties the story mode to co-op and online play.
Riders Republic expertly addresses this issue through the use of an always-online hub known as Riders Ridge — picture the campgrounds at Coachella decided to pick up and move to the Colorado Rockies. Positive, there’s a lot of energy and life around Riders Ridge. It brings back calming memories of The Division seeing a bunch of fellow riders doing their thing. Negative, there’s a seemingly microtransaction-heavy storefront, but bonuses and buffs seem to be tied to exploration while vanity is tied to money, so it doesn’t feel at all like we’re going to be cheated.
I also love how Ubisoft uses recordings of fellow riders’ exploits in the area of the map your in as ghost data on your game. It makes the game’s world feel populated and alive. It’s great if you need help landing a trick or getting one of the game’s hundreds of collectibles and lastly, it’s hilarious to watch them wipe out.
Seriously, this game is a lot, Bro
Another area Riders Republic improves upon its influences is in its characterization of extreme sports and the media that goes along with it. Your player character’s goal is to get noticed on The Ridge TV. Did Spike TV ever make an extreme sports channel? Because if they did, it’s The Ridge TV, right? But that’s what everyone wants, and they’re willing to sleep in FEMA tents to get their 15 seconds of fame.
Brett and Suki are totally stereotypes, but they are endearing ones that feel kind because they’re clearly connected to the call of sport and protecting the National Parks where it takes place. Too often, extreme sports titles come off as douchey. Riders Republic is not one of those titles.
But it doesn’t stop at crazy characters because Riders Republic loves throwing unexpected oddities at you… like, say, a race on rocket bicycles through the desert, or maybe a downhill BMX chase where everyone is dressed as a giraffe in a tuxedo. Basically, expect nothing and be open to everything!
Trick or threat
Regardless of what sport you are up against, Riders Republic follows the same principle: unless you have to be a trickster in order to score massive points, you’ll have to decide whether you want to be technical or methodical. It seems to me that it makes sense to hang back and focus on control, especially in the mass races where there’s no collision for the first seven seconds and too much going on to worry about anything aside from staying upright — granted, there are some progression stars that are hidden behind singular and run-wide trick scores, and ticking just feels satisfying. Riders Republic is also taxing when it comes to perfection because it uses a gate system. Missing a gate will force you to use a rewind that pulls back only you, so these can drop you all the way from first to Ricky Bobby’s last and all the way to actually being last.
Trick modes in the beta are only available in ski and snowboarding events, so I haven’t had the opportunity to tackle those enough to talk about yet. But I do really appreciate the trick battles I’ve seen, which are an event where teams of six fight to see who can score the highest amount of points and capture zones. A captured zone is a set of jumps or rails where a member of the red or blue team has but down a line of tricks. Another team can capture the zone by doing a combo that’s higher scoring.
There’s also a simple high score mode that’s all kinds of disorienting because it refuses to tell you what you have scored and will occasionally show you how well your opponents are doing. Talk about rude!
Accessibility for all
I’ve got to say that I was very interested in seeing how Ubisoft would handle accessibility. It’s something they take really seriously, but it’s not something that easily translates to mass-multiplayer online games aside from things like colorblind modes and narration. And all of that regular personal accommodation is there. Narration is so great that I left it on to help me deal with the sheer cognitive load things like mass races cause. Captions offer great size and contrast options, are accurate, and occur enough that I don’t feel like I am being left out. Button remapping allows you to remap everything and use as few inputs as you want.
But it’s the in-race accessibility that’s great here. STEEPS‘ trick stick system is still here and feels familiar, but there’s also a button input system that favours those with disabilities. There’s also an automatic landing system that removes a lot of the timing components from tricking. And sure, there are penalties associated with these aids in the form of lower points attributed to these selections. Still, I’m assured by my demoist that the final game will pair riders with other riders and AI riders of a similar skill level so that things stay enjoyable.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. And let’s be honest, Ubisoft takes that mantra a little too far at times. In the four hours that I spent playing Riders Republic, I’ve come to appreciate it as a formula that improves on the mass-multiplayer online games that are out there right now. For this reason, I am sure this game is going to stick its landing in a way that STEEP wasn’t able to. Riders Republic is a lot and truthfully, it’s hard to handle at times. But it’s got a lot of heart and a lot of skill that are sure to keep you coming back to The Ride for more.