There are few things that can recapture the pure joy of riding your bike at full speed as a kid and feeling totally fearless. I mean yes, I can still hurtle down the side of a mountain on a set of skis, but nowadays I'm also more aware of how much of yourself you can break. Riders Republic captures that childhood magic, that feeling that you're unbreakable and unstoppable, whether you're donning a wingsuit, clipping into a snowboard, hopping on a BMX, or careering off-course in a snowmobile. And that's only enhanced here by the option to switch to a breathtaking first person mode at the press of a button.
What Ubisoft has created in Riders Republic is a Forza Horizon for extreme sports. A lot of the DNA of Playground Games' series is here, from the strong festival feel to the use of a rewind function when you mess up on a race. Unlike Forza Horizon though, those rewinds aren't happening for everyone, so using them on a crash will set you back behind the pack if you're not careful, which adds a nice element of drama.
Riders Republic also takes similar advantage of player ghosts in races and the world at large. It's not quite the Drivatar tech, but helps make the map always feel bustling. Watching the white markers of the ghosts snaking across an area can highlight race routes or lines down a mountainside, while a cluster somewhere else might indicate there's something worth exploring. It's almost a game in itself, just watching them move about.
The other live players, though, are marked in yellow. You'll be experiencing the world with 50+ other players at any time on PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC (PS4 and Xbox One is lowered to 20+), but the map is absolutely huge so your real-life opponents can be flung far and wide. Although there will be versus options in the final release, the Rider Republic beta is a much more solo race experience unless you're pairing up with friends. Until the klaxon comes for the Mass Races that is.
Every now and then, Riders Republic will alert you to the start of one of these Mass Races. You'll have four minutes to make your way to the start point where you'll collect with 63 other players for a multiplayer race like no other. They're my absolute favorite, and clearly the undersung headliners of Riders Republic. Gathering at the peak of the mountain, all 64 players must then race down the mountain in races that see you switching from sport to sport for each leg. You might start out on a snowboard but mid-ramp you’ll find yourself on a BMX, or later have to navigate tight corners with rocket-powered skis before flipping to a rocket suit. There are obstacles to avoid, along with the bumping of other riders to consider, and these races play out across three rounds, offering you a trio of opportunities to get a better ranking. Plus, they're always just slightly different, so there's an additional benefit of a repeat run. It’s such a fantastic way to quickly get to grips with everything Rider Republic has to offer, but with such chaos involved it’s also such brilliant fun. Although hitting anything when you're in the top 10 that sends you hurtling back to the bottom 10 will never not hurt.
Away from the cacophony of Mass Races, there are career paths based on the individual sports to play through. Each event contained within will have you earning stars that will unlock more gear, more events, and more career opportunities. They're of a much more leisurely pace than the Mass Events, in that you can do them whenever and in what order you'd like to, even repeating events to pick up additional stars by ticking off additional objectives like performing a particular stunt or completing a race in under a set time. That's not to say that they lack the energy of the Mass Events. Some of the multiplayer chaos yes, but each race is unique and will sometimes surprise you with silly outfits or comedic commentary. The variety, both in the events and the sports on offer, is pretty staggering – even at this beta level, it's an impressive feat.
BMX'd to extinction
Everything I've played of Riders Republic so far has a wonderful balance of silly and serious. On the one hand you're trying to perfect your tricks so you look like a badass on a BMX, and yet in the next minute you're riding along dressed as an inflatable T-Rex. The mix of races and tricks is a nice balance too. Plus, it's worth remembering that this is from the developer of Steep, so away from the loud costumes and bananas events, there's space to take a minute to just explore – the map is littered with events but also viewpoints and stunt spots to discover. Taking the time to seek out these viewpoints will give you a lovely panoramic sweep and some info that'll let you learn more about these American mountains, and the areas surrounding them. It's something that I loved about Steep, so I'm pleased to see this calmer side making a return with Riders Republic.
At the heart of it all is that festival vibe. The game is themed around the idea of it all being broadcast on The Ridge TV, with all the cutscenes playing out like they're being filmed on a handheld camera. The characters that you'll meet are exactly the kind of beautiful clichés that you'd expect from an arcade sports game like this, all "bro" this and "legendary" that, but they poke fun at themselves and at those stereotypes in a way that you end up laughing along with them. The commentary is never intrusive either, allowing you to enjoy each of the adrenaline fuelled moments as they come.
So if that's even vaguely piqued your interest, give the Riders Republic beta a while. It's nowhere near a teaser and is more of a sizable bite of the full sandwich of extreme sports that you'll be able to enjoy later this year.
Riders Republic launches on PS5, Xbox Series X, PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on October 28. Until then, check out the other new games for 2021 and beyond.