You stand at the top of a glacial summit, surveying the land below as the snow falls around you. Then, you take off down the steep mountain incline on your snowboard, carving a path through the snow before you leap into the air and unfurl your wingsuit. You soar through the air, narrowly missing the treetops, and then land on an icy track where you race on downhill skis.
Taking to the air again in your powered paraglider, you coast over frozen rivers before changing to a downhill bike and grinding across a treacherous dirt switchback. Along the way, you see other riders above and around you, effortlessly doing tricks or comically faceplanting into concrete. All of that takes place in one world, one experience.
Riders Republic is a whole vibe.
It’s also the near-culmination of something Ubisoft has been chasing for years. In 2014, The Crew asked players to race across a shrunken version of the United States in the fastest vehicles they could buy. Two years later, Steep leaned harder into extreme sports, allowing you to ski, snowboard, and wingsuit in the Alps. In another two years, The Crew 2 would add the ability to switch between cars, planes, and powerboats on the fly. Each two years apart, each another step forward in the chain.
Riders Republic drops players in a compact mix of Wyoming, California, and Utah, stretching from snowy mountains to redwood forests, shining rivers, and rocky outcroppings in desert landscapes. The environment tries to bring together all of the best places for the game’s many outdoor extreme sports. It’s a big map, but oddly restrained for Ubisoft. Games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Far Cry 6 trade on endless expanses, while Riders Republic feels like it’s just the right size; it’ll take you like 10 minutes to cross from one end to the other.
Like The Crew 2, there are multiple disciplines you can switch between on the fly: bikes, snow (snowboards and skis), and air (rocketsuits and wingsuits). Within those categories, you’ll find different event types like bike races and bike tricks; even within those events, there are branches like the downhill or road bike races. Each discipline also has a Funkies category, where you’ll get to play with the weirder vehicles like the rocketwing made from an old jet engine or a surfboard you can use as a snowboard.
It’s a lot, but once you coast through the opening hours, it’s all open to you — and it’s a goddamn blast. You can just cruise around the world or commit yourself to one style of event for a few hours; the number of bespoke events in each category feels almost endless. And after taking off the training wheels, Ubisoft starts to get really creative with the events themselves.
There’s a sense of freedom in Riders Republic that Ubisoft’s various studios hadn’t really nailed in Steep or The Crew 2. This is the right combination of vehicles and events; of a blistering sense of speed and wild courses; of ragdoll shenanigans and quiet contemplation of the world around you. And that world feels alive because it’s populated with the ghosts of other players, like in Playground Games’ Forza Horizon games. It’s just damned fun to play moment-to-moment. That’s the vibe I’m talking about.
But you might’ve noticed I called it a “near-culmination” earlier. That’s because Riders Republic pulls off a fantastic trick in the air but doesn’t quite land it. While the core of this is remarkably fun and solid, the decisions made around that core cause the game to stumble. And those choices stretch from, “fine, but could be better” to “why?”
In the least offensive category are the controls. You can control the vehicles in each discipline well enough, but it never feels like it’s entirely fluid. Certain vehicles — like the bike, for example — just don’t have the snappy input you need for some events, such as the stunt courses. You don’t have full control of your vehicle, the camera, and your tricks all at the same time. Ubisoft seems to have realized its shortcomings, offering Trickster and Rider control styles you can switch between — but you have to go into a menu to select them, which feels cumbersome. Riders Republic is the jack of all trades that falls short of the mastery of games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater, SSX, or Descenders.
Its physics also have a tenuous connection with real-world gravity. This is great for the most part, for it allows you to do things like launch yourself off a cliff and survive a fall that would normally kill you. Occasionally, though, you’ll run into an errant rock, tree, or even another player, and find yourself coming to a dead stop or being flung off in another direction. The problem is even more apparent in Riders Republic’s Mass Races, which are events where 32 or 64 players all tear ass through a course at the same time. Rather than being about skill, the early moments of a Mass Race are mostly about hoping that collision and physics don’t drop you to the bottom of the pack.
At the “why” end of Riders Republic’s problems is its tone. The Forza Horizon series has always gone hard into its festival aspect, setting scenes full of DJs and hosts extolling the virtues of your racer or the festival itself. There’s a lack of authenticity about it, but it quickly fades into the background as you play through a Horizon game.
In Riders Republic, Ubisoft turns the dial up on that cringe. It tries entirely too hard to be cool and extreme in the same way you see the simulated online conversation of an E3 stage presentation. The characters you interact with simply don’t feel like real people in any way, shape, or form. Take Brett, the faux father figure based on the Riders’ Ridge hub area, whose speech is peppered with odd euphemisms like “smarticles” or “get stuck in and put some mustard on that thing”. Like Forza Horizon, this feeling does fade into the background a bit as you play, but when those moments pop up again, it’s like a cymbal crash in front of your face. It’s utterly terrible. (I’ll also call out the weird folk rock cover of “Gangster’s Paradise”. Whose choice was this?)
And yet. Despite the stumbles and mistakes I’m acknowledging here, when I’m in Riders Republic, there’s nothing like it. This ability to cruise across forests and mountains on bikes, skis, and wingsuits doing whatever I want? It’s fantastic. It’s a world that feels so alive because there are so many other “players” out there, doing awesome stunts or simply eating dirt. Riders Republic is the next step in what Ubisoft has been hunting for because it feels more personal and human than The Crew 2, while having far more variety compared to Steep.
Does it have problems? Sure, but those problems don’t entirely diminish the fun. And I can see a future step beyond this that wipes away its issues and creates another extreme sports franchise that can stand alongside Forza Horizon and fill the hole left behind by SSX. Even before that bright future comes to fruition, though, Riders Republic is still a great vibe and one I think you should enjoy.