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By this point in the game, Ubisoft should understand what makes a multiplayer-centric sports game fun. And for the most part, they do. Looking back, I enjoyed Ubisoft Annecy's first foray into the space with Steep, which admittedly was not a perfect game, but the idea of giving players a large amount of freedom to explore a playground, choosing to ride when and how you want, was a pretty solid one. Ubisoft Annecy has taken everything they have learned from their previous outing, Steep, and expanded on it, offering more to do and a more varied world to do it in. This newfound freedom increases the way that players can experience their world, and with each addition, the player is given more ways to experience the world of Riders Republic and more ways to interact with friends.
But the world of Riders Republic, just like its predecessor, isn't perfect. Similar to another Ubisoft game, The Crew 2, the game definitely looks back on what made its first game 'tick' so to speak. When it comes to this genre, it is hard to toe the line between extreme sports and arcade games. A space that used to be populated by a vast array of accessible games has given way to niche titles that cater to the hardcore fans, the people that continue to come back. With that in mind, Riders Republic should open up the genre with its easy accessibility to get you riding, boarding, and more.
Both it and its predecessor are light on story, which, if we are being honest, is the way the game should be. Looking back on The Crew, another Ubisoft game built on the idea of community, I remember loading that game up only to be hit with some story about revenge and racing around the country to take down a crew that wronged you. My only response was "why"? Everything I saw about the game revolved around the idea of teaming up with your friends and building a crew together, the story was not only generic but it felt completely out of place. Thankfully, Steep and Riders Republic both learned their lessons, skipping the overblown storyline for one that simply walks you through the motions to get you on your way.
Basically, the world or Republic, of Riders Republic, if you will, is filled to the brim with Riders who compete in extreme sports like mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing, and flying through the air with wingsuits. And why do they do this, you might ask? Well, the same reason anybody does anything anymore, or at least the reason developers think anybody does anything, for the likes and follows. It is this, almost narcissistic personality that permeates the early hours of the game. Your character is introduced to the area by a few characters, all of which are complete caricatures of what human beings are. Basically, they are a representation of what somebody who only watches Disney Channel Original [athletic] Movies might think a snowboarder acts like. The game opens up and allows you to completely forget all that nonsense should you finish the tutorial and jump into the main game, but in truth, it will always be present in both the radio that follows the character through the story, but also notifications when new events open up.
In truth, I could almost forgive the vapidness of all this, if it wasn't steeped (pun intended) in the most generic usage. There was a time when sports games were all too serious with the usage of dark colors, shadows, and a depressing theme that clashed with the traditional usage of a rap soundtrack. Somewhere along the line that changed to tons of bright colors, over-the-top flare, fun-loving, and social media-obsessed individuals. In fairness, I prefer this style over the former since, you know, the whole point is to enjoy yourself. It's just that, now the attitude has a verbatim, cardboard cutout style that feels identical to everything that came before. This would almost be forgivable if, and this is the big thing, Ubisoft didn't have several games that if you played the dialog from any, with a blindfold on, you would not be able to tell the difference. I would have loved to see the game add something to the formula, something unique, something that gave Riders Republic an identity it could claim as its own. Sadly it does not, which is a shame.
Once the game does move into its blanket, in favor of the freedom of exploration, the magic starts to kick in. There is something to be said about anything and everything happening at any given time. Biking a complex dirt course only to see a bunch of people go sailing overhead in a wingsuit race gives a fun and fresh feel to every event you join in. Same when you intersect with another group while carving the slopes or while dominating on the dirt. This comes with one big caveat however as most of the players are not 'real' with the game using big golden icons to indicate which are players in your session, and which are shadows that are simply existing in it. In honesty, I was shocked by how few people seemed to be in the worlds I played at any given time. The starting area is always packed with them but outside you only see scatterings of players. With the world as gigantic as it is, it makes the numbers seem low, but that's just me splitting hairs.
Has anybody gone back recently and tried to play Crazy Taxi, the SEGA title where you crazily drove around in a taxi? Well if you have, while you might have fun, you would probably think the soundtrack which, consisted solely of All I Want by The Offspring, stands as one of those things nostalgia can't compensate for. It is a repetitive song that contains maybe like 20 seconds of verses with almost the rest of the song consisting of a mind-numbingly repetitive chorus. Well, you may very well ask, why am I talking about this here, in a review for Riders republic? The answer is: this game seemed to pull straight from the Crazy Taxi playbook, complete by lifting All I Want as one of the many songs in it. I feel like I should have liked the album, considering I grew up with all of the songs, but somehow, given the context, they never worked for me. Now some may argue that this is a minor issue, but since music is a major part of the experience I would beg to differ.
On the world map, the player is given the freedom to jump through the game's many songs, switching radio stations and songs at will. This made the experience more palatable, letting me pick the songs I enjoyed fully. I could even see a few slipping into my usual playlist, however, to the best of my understanding, certain races and events are based around certain songs. Now, I am not even going to pretend I am great at these types of games, but I manage to have fun despite some gameplay issues we will discuss later. That being said, I honestly never had issues running the same races again and again, trying to finally work out the course and how to traverse it. What I did have an issue with is starting the race to the same song again and again as I restart. Better yet, listening to the same repetitive hook that comes on over every loop reached the point that eventually I turned the music off. Honestly, that made the experience more immersive which was great, but I have never wanted to turn off music more than I have in this game.
Voice acting also falls into the largely forgettable category but it, at least, does a more serviceable job. Core characters show up from time to time to offer praise for hitting some major milestone or unlocking licensed events like the Red Bull challenges. I never felt they were bad, but, as stated above, they felt more like generic representations of those they represent. Not that I really need to go over this again but this would have been fine if it wasn't ripped from 'creating an arcade racer' starter pack. At several points listening to the in-game radios, the DJ will come on for a brief moment. It gave me flashbacks of Stryker from Burnout 3. I'm sure that wasn't even the first but that is how far back my mind goes. The experience can't even qualify as nostalgic as it never really left, it just transformed into every single game that was released into the space. Characters that detail events basically serve the same end, you could interchange them between most games and end up relatively no worse for wear.
The game world of Riders Republic, on its grandest scale, actually looks very beautiful but it could definitely use some polish when you get close to the ground. The first cutscene in the game offered a relatively good look at what I was expecting as a large sign of directions was left unrendered. Throughout my experience, I had several issues both on the mountain, dirt roads, and more. Unlike the soundtrack, I was able to overlook these issues since exploration was done very well. One of the first items you will get in the game is the Rocketwing, a jetpack-like device that lets you zip from side to side of the map at a very quick pace. From up on high you are able to catch the beautiful vistas and mountains you will be racing along, and just enjoy the sheer scope of the game. Similarly, some animations are wonky, and others are just... kinda bizarre. Since the game has microtransaction, emotes make an appearance, and some of them are more laughable than enjoyable to watch.
Possibly, by this point, you probably think that I hate the game; however, that could not be further from the truth. That is perhaps a testament to the core gameplay that I can't enjoy so much of what the game tries to be while still having fun racing around the map. Like everything else, the gameplay is not perfect but it is where the game gets more right than wrong, and ultimately the gameplay is going to be the driving force of your experience. Once you finish the entry tasks, you will not have everything unlocked, needing to complete multiple events before the others open up. The first that will open is Dirt Biking, with snowboarding and skiing soon to follow. As the player continues competing in the specific events their level will raise, earning rewards, more gear, as well as more races to compete in. The best races in the game, from my point of view, we're the ones that blended multiple events into a singular long test of endurance.
Each event uses a gear system, similar to The Crew 2, that acts as a major progression system to actually advance the player through each event. The annoying part is that literally, every event has a different gear system that involves playing that event to unlock them. For instance, two of the events featured in the game are bike races and bike tricks. These are two completely different categories that require you to unlock bikes that are specific for each event. About midway through the game, these gear drops also started to feel light, hitting a cap of maybe 430 gear rating for my best bike. While I was winning and unlocking bikes, most were only at about 220, rendering them effectively useless for where I was at and it took about twenty races before I earned something of a higher rating.
Most races in Riders Republic can be performed solo, or with a group of friends. In solo the game uses shadows, assumably of other players, to populate the matchmaking so you are 'kinda' racing against real players, but also not. This has a very odd effect on the game overall. The AI can occasionally be extremely stupid, getting stuck against walls for no reason or even missing pathways and riding off course. On the one hand, this was refreshing compared to other games where everybody you race against has a perfect and innate understanding of the course you are on, but it is weird to get used to. This also makes it hard to predict what some races will be like. Since every race is populated with new 'players,' stupid mistakes might be made on one run by players, while the next might have players that run the course pretty well, regardless of what difficulty you are on. Similarly, a time trial might have first place medals that vary from half a second to ten or fifteen seconds. It doesn't hurt the game and in fact, some players might enjoy this more but it is definitely odd.
On this note, the difficulty in Riders Republic really doesn't apply in the traditional sense. Each race has four levels of difficulty you can pick between and each sets you up with better versions of players. However, this mostly comes down to the level of gear you currently have. Alongside these difficulties, each race will have challenges that earn the player more stars. Stars are the primary level for your rider, representing how much you have earned in your game. While each race earns the player a singular star, additional challenges, like performing tricks in a race or completing on the higher difficulties, will give you even more. Even though much of what the player gets out of stars is bragging rights, there will also be several milestones that will offer you, even more, loot to help you along the way. While the higher levels will require more skill, having a higher gear set will make them far more manageable, which has become a common practice in live service games.
The events themselves can be a mixed bag of concepts that both work and don't. Bike races, for instance, often occur on twisting paths, along cliffs and rivers. Since each race has checkpoints that need to be passed through and not near, remaining on the path is extremely important. This can be easier said than done as any misstep can send the player flying straight of the edge. Once this happens, the game really offers no great solutions. The player will have to pass the checkpoint in a relative location to where they are in order to trigger a 3 second respawn, returning them to the path. Believe it or not, there will be a lot of moments where going off the cliff will send you straight down and make it hard to actually pass the next point. The game also gives you a reward feature similar to that of the Forza series. Even in Solo mode, the player cannot freeze the race so rewinding only rewinds the player while all the other racers move forward. This will probably put you behind. It can also be a finicky feature that might take the player a few rewinds to find the sweet spot right before they went flying off the track.
In the case of some trick events, you will get a wide-open field to perform them. Some of the most fun you can have is racing down a mountain with tons of little or big jumps to go flying off of; however, it is easy to lose any semblance of the area in which these events take place. With no form of a map, you can often find yourself colliding into the event, which rewinds you backward. While going down a steep path in a snowboarding event, I was blocked by a large rock wall. Since this cattycorner was impossible to pass, I found myself rewinding back up the mountain a significant way so I could begin doing my tricks in the opposite direction. When flipping around, it is easy to lose all sense of direction, and while it does not happen often, it can really catch you off guard in the worst way possible.
Riders Republic features multiplayer, as was constantly advertised, but definitely not as much as I thought it would (I was happy to find that I could limit my experience to myself and my friends). As stated above, most, if not all, of the events can be played solo, with a verses option if you are in a social group. There are several other types of events the player can take part in such as free-for-all's, trick battles, and mass races. The game never forced me to take part in any of these, which was a big win. Most of the multiplayer games obviously play largely like their solo counterparts, just using real players with less wiggle room to rage quit. The event that really stands out (mostly due to how over the top it was) was the Mass Race. The mode sees a large number of players converge at some point on the map where the race will begin. Once it does, way too many players will race down pathways far too small for all of them to fit. In this race, one event would transfer into another. It was crazy, stupid, and honestly, I was never really good at it, but I kept jumping into them because they were so insane.
Last but not least, if you want to do literally none of what is above, you could just wander around the map. There are plenty of things to do and many vistas to take in. You can also find relics that are hidden around the map. If you are feeling like a real challenge there are also stunts that will require very different skills than normal events. Some of them can feel a little too challenging, and most found a way to annoy me, but they are there if you want them. If none of those catch your fancy, then you can practice your skills, or even create new courses that you and your friends can try out. There are a lot of different ways to get the most out of your experience in the republic.
Riders Republic manages to learn from its predecessor Steep where it counts - expanding the experience across multiple sports and regions. This manages to create a diverse experience that allows players to switch it up when one of the modes starts to drain them. With each sport having its own level tree, a large number of events to participate in, and gear to earn and upgrade, there is always a reason to jump in. If you want to play with friends the game can offer even more. These manage to make the game fun despite the generic personality it exudes, and the annoying soundtrack. The game has its many issues but with a plan to continually update it, one can hope that, like many Ubisoft games, it will grow better with age. I will definitely say it offers a fun time as it is, but it might not be for everybody.