Does it seem strange to anyone else that Steep turns five years old in less than a month? The game has maintained a pretty stable level of prominence in the games world, but despite still playing exceptionally well today, its age has made it ripe for sequel-picking, and Ubisoft has done just that, releasing Riders Republic just in time for Steep’s big birthday. The game bears many similarities to its spiritual predecessor, but it actually comes out of the team that made The Crew games, an important detail to note because Riders Republic is far easier to understand in comparison to The Crew than Steep (though I will be making plenty of comparisons to both in this review).
This is because Riders Republic is, perhaps counter to what you would expect, a social racing game above all else. Almost half of the game’s challenges are trick-based, and the game has a point system for tricks, but the game centers itself around speed and racing competitions. This created a good deal of friction for me, as I expected a more standard extreme sports game in the vein of Steep or Skate 3, so when I found myself playing more racing challenges than trick challenges, I struggled to get into it initially. Perhaps I should have known though because the game starts you out on the mountain bike, a new feature, not from Steep. Most of the bike events are races, and even the trick ones (which you don’t unlock until later) are very speed-based, and it works well. Let it be known that the gameplay in Riders Republic, especially the biking, is downright exceptional. The bike is designed for speed and you can tell that a well-versed racing game team designed the mechanic because the bike responds well to input, the steering and drifting feel great, and the tricks look fantastic (though I have some gripes with the tricks that we’ll get into soon).
Shortly after the bike, the game hands you the snowboard and skis, which also feel great, but not quite as great. Control-wise, they feel a little less tight, but the biggest issue comes in the tricks. The snow sports focus much more on tricks, and as I alluded to before, the trick controls aren’t bad, but they’re definitely not as good as Steep. Of course, the game does actually let you use Steep controls, but the controls are awful on the bike, which shares the control scheme, and constantly switching control schemes in the menus just doesn’t make sense. With the default controls though, when you spin in tricks, you can either do flips, normal spins, or angled spins like a corkscrew or a misty, but the controls just don’t exactly respond to what you input. Even if you very clearly input an angled spin on the right stick, the game might just decide to do something else. I couldn’t find any reliable way to input an exact trick, which essentially just reduced trick events to arbitrary button mashing.
While the gameplay is great, unfortunately, the game starts to lose itself with everything else. See, Ubisoft made the game, which means that the game has a giant open world with hundreds of random collectibles scattered throughout that give you absolutely nothing of value. I had no motivation to explore the world and could essentially fast travel anywhere immediately, so I had to ask the question of “why does the game even have an open world?” If the open world enhances the game in absolutely zero ways, then it only serves to get in the way of the actual fun part of the game: the gameplay.
This points to a much larger issue that the game has with simply having too much. I could go on for pages about every little thing in the game that doesn’t need, but the most succinct explanation is just that it is a Ubisoft open-world game, no more, no less. It makes essentially no effort to avoid the countless pitfalls people have pointed out in Ubisoft open worlds for years. Most discussions around this game praise the freedom the game gives you, but all of that “freedom” means that yes, while you can do whatever you want, all of the things you don’t want to do take up equal time and space in the game. It comes across as laziness on the developers’ part more than anything else, like them saying, “Yeah we don’t know where the fun is, you guys can figure that out” as if their job isn’t to create a tight, cohesive game with only fun elements.
The game also makes a very strange balancing decision. In order to complete an event, you only need to reach the finish line. You don’t need to meet any requirements, place in a certain position, or finish within a certain time. As long as you finish, the game will give you your star and move on. As a purely social game, this would make sense, but the game has an RPG-style progression system, with countless pieces of gear, money, XP, and stars that unlock more events and new sponsors, and having literally no requirement for finishing events makes this entire, extensive progression system completely arbitrary and pointless. It’s just another thing that the game uses to take up your time despite having absolutely no reason to be there.
That’s not even to speak of the glitches, though. Aside from the standard little bugs that come with a physics-focused online game, I ran into a couple of major glitches that made the game genuinely hard to commit time to. One of which would actually lock me on the score screen at the end of events, forcing me to force quit the game, reload it, and replay the event just to regain my progress. This wasn’t a one-time glitch either. This bug happened consistently, making me completely reload the game every five or ten events.
Riders Republic wears my patience in a way that few other games ever have. Despite having fantastic gameplay, I can’t talk about a single element of this game without some caveat. I can’t play a single part of the game without trying to crush my controller in my hands out of frustration. I even had to omit entire sections of the game from this review, like the wingsuits and rocket glider because any attempt at discussing them would devolve into an incoherent pile of personal nitpicks, so I thought it better to just leave it out.
This game almost feels like a lie. On the surface, it should be an SSX or Skate 3-style extreme sports game, but then you get in and suddenly it’s a social, games-as-service racing game. If you like games like The Crew or Forza Horizon then this game will definitely appeal to you, but extreme sports fans-beware: this game sacrifices precise tricks and non-stop gameplay in favor of lengthy progression systems and gear that reminded me more of GTA Online than anything extreme sports-related.
Score: 6 out of 10
Reviewed on PC