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Riders Republic Review – National Lark

Variety is Riders Republic’s strength, not just in terms of the multitude of extreme sports on offer, but also in the sheer breadth and diversity of its environments. One minute you might be shredding down the treacherous slopes near Grand Teton national park’s highest peak, while in the next you’re paragliding above a 1,000ft tall rock formation as Les Ukuleles Girls’ horrid cover of “Gangsta’s Paradise” provides the soundtrack. There’s so much to see and do, and no one would blame you for recoiling at the sight of another massive open-world Ubisoft game featuring a sprawling map littered with dozens and dozens of icons. Yet Riders Republic never feels as overwhelming as other open-world games. It’s not quite as chill as Steep–developer Ubisoft Annecy’s previous game–but it has a similarly hands-off style that rewards you for playing how you want to.

Whether that means challenging yourself, only partaking in certain events, or anything else in between–the choice is entirely up to you. Riders Republic consists of five careers: bike races, bike tricks, snow races, snow tricks, and air races. If you don’t like any of these activities, you don’t have to do them, and the game doesn’t punish you for skipping them. You might not fancy strapping a rocket-powered wingsuit to your back and using it to skim cliff faces in the name of winning a race, and it doesn’t matter; if you’re only interested in hurtling through a verdant forest on a mountain bike, narrowly avoiding trees as you go, Riders Republic will still keep rewarding you with new events and unlocks in that specific corner of the game. This freedom permeates throughout every inch of the rest of the game, too, from each snow-covered slope to every oily gear chain.

In order to progress, you need to earn stars, with each event rewarding a single star just for completion, whether you finish in first or last place. This feels like a strange decision at first since it seemingly robs the game of any stakes or sense of competition. This casual approach might suit you, and that’s fine, but for anyone who’s after a challenge or an incentive to outperform the rest of the field, each event’s optional objectives provide one, giving you another way to earn additional stars in the process. These objectives might ask you to win a race on the highest difficulty level, rack up a specific score during a trick event, or collect balloons scattered along the course. Some of these are relatively easy to achieve, while others are significantly harder and challenge your skill level. Whether you engage with them or not is, once again, up to you. There are enough events and stars to go around that you’re going to progress and unlock more either way, so it all comes down to how you want to approach the moment-to-moment gameplay.

There’s a subtle skill ceiling at play as well, although Riders Republic is more concerned with serving up unabashed fun than anything else. You can turn off assisted landings to earn more XP when performing tricks, but this is primarily about adding another degree of difficulty than anything else. Leaving it on lets you perform outrageous tricks without having to worry about manually aligning your character before they crash back down to earth, thus affording you another degree of freedom in how you approach this extreme sports adventure. Finding the best lines through corners, or limiting your air time during races, are other techniques you can deploy to try and outmaneuver the competition, but this kind of attention to detail isn’t entirely necessary. Each of the sports is relatively easy to pick up and play, and it regularly taps into the primal thrill of heaving yourself down the side of a mountain to get your heart pumping. Riders Republic’s exhilarating sense of speed is a crucial component of this, too, ensuring that you’re perpetually glued to the edge of your seat as you teeter on the edge of disaster with every passing millisecond.

Of course, the game world also plays a pivotal role in how enjoyable it is to slalom between trees and over vast stretches of desert. The map is composed of seven U.S. national parks, all crammed into one beautiful and impossible space. You can instantaneously jump from Yosemite Valley into Sequoia and then Bryce Canyon, with each region offering different surfaces, obstacles, and breathtaking vistas for you to soak in. There’s a tranquil pleasure in foregoing the brash corporate-sponsored events and embarking on your own excursion, pedaling through the arid wilderness of Canyonlands, crunching the untouched powder in Mammoth Mountain’s snow-capped village, or swirling above the clouds in a wingsuit.

This calmness is offset somewhat by Riders Republic’s chaotic multiplayer. The map is always populated by hundreds of other players; sometimes they’re real, other times they’re ghosts, but it’s impossible to tell so it doesn’t really matter. Stop to take in the scenery and you’ll see a cluster of bikers wearing giraffe costumes saunter by, or watch as a snowboarder plows into a mound of snow after a failed trick attempt. It’s disappointing that you can’t do more with these random players, since multiplayer races are confined to their own separate mode, but it does create a constant social presence that makes it feel like you’re part of something bigger.

This all comes to a head in the hourly Mass Races, which cram up to 64 players into one pulsating mob of downhill racers. There’s just enough collision detection to make these races clumsy and erratic, but that’s part of their charm. Mass Races are hectic, completely ridiculous, and represent Riders Republic at its multiplayer peak. You can also take part in regularly sized races and trick events with other people, but these matches are unbalanced to the point where they’re not particularly fun. Each player takes their own gear into an event that has its own gear score, similarly to The Division 2, except with skis and wingsuits instead of assault rifles and shotguns. A higher gear score generally means whatever you’re riding is going to be faster. There’s no restriction on gear in multiplayer races, so being left behind by players with snowboards 200 points higher than yours is a common occurrence that saps away the thrill of competition.

While Riders Republic’s presentation is pleasantly bright and colorful, it’s also accompanied by incessant and horribly cliched dialogue. This is all in service of a paper-thin “story” that doesn’t need to exist. Just imagine if SSX tried to give you a reason for why you’re hurtling down a mountainside with a piece of wood strapped to your feet. There’s value in saying nothing, but Riders Republic would rather plague your ears with annoyingly crass dialogue until you’re tempted to mute the audio altogether. This also isn’t helped by the main hub area where all of these NPCs hang out being a gross focal point for microtransactions. For all of the freedom in Riders Republic, player customization isn’t included on the list. You earn money throughout the game which can be used to purchase new clothing items, but you’re restricted to only a few per day since they’re on a rotation, while the rest of the store is populated by more elaborate gear that’s locked behind a real-money currency. It takes around four or five hours of gameplay to earn the in-game currency to buy many of these. This might be par for the course but it doesn’t stop it from feeling off.

These are unfortunate blemishes on what is an otherwise fantastic game. Riders Republic is a thrilling, approachable, and incredibly varied extreme sports game, featuring an awe-inspiring open world that impresses with both its scale and diversity. There’s nothing else quite like it, and while it’s too talkative for its own good, there’s a sprightly energy to the whole thing that makes it easy to recommend for anyone seeking an exciting adventure.

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