Ubisoft's Rider's Republic, we think it's fair to say, does not get off to the best of starts in terms of initial impressions. This massively multiplayer open world sports extravaganza - think Forza Horizon with bikes, snowboards and wingsuits and you've 100% got the idea - lays it on thick with painfully tryhard banter and ferociously annoying characters in its opening hour. These...well...idiots, will be your chaperones through a tutorial that explains the basics but, hold out, stay strong and suffer the terrible dialogue for that first sixty minutes, and we promise you'll be handsomely rewarded.
Yes, get through the top-heavy tutorial and you're in for a treat as Riders Republic serves up some absolutely fantastic arcade eSports action that we've found ourselves thoroughly addicted to over the past week. The setup here is a heady mishmash of Ubisoft Annecy's Steep and Playground Games' Forza Horizon series, giving you a huge map - here composed of several US National Parks smooshed together to form an absolutely enormous playground - which it then proceeds to tag and label with all manner of races, time trials, stunts, trick attempts and so on.
As you progress in each of the sports on offer, from mountain biking to skiing, snowboarding, wingsuit racing and more, you'll unlock tons of new activities, simple races, stunt and trick trials, multi-discipline extravaganzas and big boss events. There's a constant stream of new gear too; better bikes, faster rocket suits, flashier snowboards and skis, all of which run the gamut from common to epic in value. You'll also earn stars that level up your career status and give you access to even more activities and cash that you can go spend on great big rabbit heads or giraffe outfits from the in-game store, a store which thankfully only offers cosmetics for your real-world cash - an aspect of proceedings that the game mercifully refrains from shoving in your face.
Basically, all the usual bells and whistles, cosmetics, unlockables, emotes and so on that you'd expect to find in a modern open world game are present and correct here and they're backed up by a wide range of solo and multiplayer modes. Riders Republic feels thoroughly, joyfully, alive too. As you teleport around the enormous map here, or use your jetpack, snowmobile or rocket-propelled skis to investigate and explore at your leisure, you'll see tons of other players racing, crashing, flinging themselves headlong into rocks or just hanging out at the game's hub area. Open up your map and you'll see them all, like so many tiny ants, crawling over every in-game area, it feels like you're part of a proper busy eSports festival that's packed full of eager competitors.
Of course, all of this would be for naught if the core gameplay wasn't up to snuff, and in this regard it feels like Ubisoft Annecy has absolutely nailed it. This is pure arcade silliness first and foremost, a game where you can switch to any discipline at any point anywhere on the world map with the push of a button. Ski down a tarmac road on wooden skis with branches for sticks, ride an ice-cream cart through deep snow then fling it off the top of a mountain, snowboard down a waterfall, jetpack down dirt bike trails...it's all up to you.
Each of the sports disciplines here share a pretty much homogenised control system with braking, accelerating and a boost function available through your shoulder buttons and trigger, and then a bunch of skills, spins and tricks executed via a combination of face buttons and thumbsticks. So, once you know how to pull off tricks and land them properly on a bike, you'll have a pretty good idea of what's what on your snowboard.
Sound overly simplistic? Well, at first we thought the same, but in practice it's a formula that does away with so much potential downtime and irritation as you fumble to get to grips with the mechanics of multiple disciplines, instead allowing players of all abilities to just jump in and start pulling off tricks. However, there's an underlying level of skill and finesse here too, just enough to give you something to sink your teeth into, just enough to ensure that players who take the time to learn and improve will excel during most events and be rewarded with the real big scores for their efforts.
We're also properly surprised that every sport on the roster is fun in its own unique way. We fully expect to have at least one element that we don't quite gel with in this type of game but nothing here stands out as particularly annoying or dull. In fact, everything from cycling to skiing to parachuting through canyons feels fantastic. Ok, so wingsuits do take some getting used to, as you'll need to fly perilously close to the ground to score big in this activity, but it doesn't take long to get this stuff nailed down and it leads to an overall experience that's always fun, always exhilarating and always chock full of new stuff to see and do that you'll actually want to go take part in.
Riders Republic's arcade action then starts to hit a real high when various disciplines begin to get mixed together in multi-part events. These races can see you, as an example, take off from a starting point on a bike, rip down a steep rocky trail then hit a transition point that automatically flips you onto skis to tear down a slope, hit a huge ramp, quick-change into a rocket suit and blaze through mid-air checkpoints before transferring back to your bike for a final frantic push over the finish line. It's exhilarating, spectacular stuff, pure arcade bliss that never takes itself too seriously and ensures that fun is always front and centre.
You'll also take part in mass events, currently our favourite part of Riders Republic, where up to 64 online players squeeze onto a track and take off down the course, smashing and bashing into one another as they vie for a coveted podium spot. It's carnage, tearing through a packed field of other players - most of whom are dressed in ridiculous animal costumes - bumping folk into barriers or off the track entirely then switching disciplines and taking off into the air to escape the scene of the crime. There's definitely a huge element of scrappy luck involved in succeeding in these mass races, but it's just so much stupid, chaotic fun that we immediately make a beeline for the start point every time one of these events gets announced by the in-game tannoy system.
Riders Republic is a beautiful looking thing too. The seven National Parks that make up the world here have been carefully crafted and curated, offering endless spectacular vistas, forests, snow-capped peaks, famous landmarks and more to race up, down and over. There's a humongous map to explore and it's packed full of tourist viewpoints to tick off, collectible relics that gift you special gear and total freedom to cut a trail down any road, mountain or sheer rock face you lay your eyes on. It's also a breeze to traverse, you can quick travel anywhere you want at any time, making for an experience where there's as much or as little downtime between events as you want there to be. Throw in a Zen mode that removes all other players and leaves you to explore all of this alone at your own pace, and you've got an experience that covers all bases.
Unfortunately, as much as we've been thoroughly enjoying our time with Riders Republic so far, there are a few issues to report here too, most notably some full system crashes that saw us need to reboot our Series X console, something we've had happen a few times during our time with the game. We also encountered a few graphical glitches, with our avatar occasionally floating through solid objects or disappearing through some scenery, silly stuff mostly that we hope will get patched out fairly sharpish. Also, if we're being really picky, the camera can be a little unwieldy at times during some events, mostly when you're absolutely flying down a tight track on a bike and make a sharp turn, it sometimes feels like you need to struggle just a bit too much to keep it focused on where it needs to be.
Away from these niggles, however, we're hugely impressed with what Ubisoft Annecy has delivered with this one. The heart and soul of the wonderful Steep, their previous open world sports effort, is fully alive and kicking here, but its been incorporated into a game that discards the serenity of that title for the most part, instead fully embracing full-on knockabout arcade carnage in a huge world that's been explicitly designed to encourage social interactions, multiplayer fun and lots of meaty solo player action to boot. If you've ever wanted an extreme sports version of Forza Horizon that looks and plays every bit as good as Playground Games' efforts, this really is it. Riders Republic is an absolute blast and the most pure, unadulterated fun we've had with a sports game in quite some time.
Riders Republic is a fantastic open world sports game that delivers big on massively multiplayer arcade mayhem whilst also giving solo players a ton of content to dig into. There's an enormous, breathtakingly beautiful world to explore here that delivers carefully curated tracks and events for each every one of its sports disciplines, whilst also giving you free reign to head on out and cut your own path through its seven national parks' worth of wonderful wilderness. Yes there's some painful dialogue here and there, as well some issues with bugs and crashes during this launch period, but none of that is enough to put us off getting stuck in and just enjoying the smorgasbord of arcade sports action that Ubisoft Annecy has served up.