While I knew I liked Riders Republic, it took one very specific moment for me to realize I loved it -- when it gave me its own version of the "Tetris effect." Drifting off to sleep one night this week, after not having touched the game for at least 12 hours, I found myself unconsciously traversing down its winding forest bicycle trails and its snow-covered mountain courses. While my subconscious didn't perfectly recreate the experience of playing the game (although honestly, its inflatable animal suit cosmetics and its eclectic vehicles do feel absurd enough for dream logic) it proved to me that Riders Republic was more than just your run-of-the-mill sports adventure. Riders Republic is by no means perfect, but it establishes a foundation that could very well be with kinetic gameplay and a brilliantly realized atmosphere.
Riders Republic provides players with several extreme sports to master like mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and wingsuit flying amid the backdrop of real-life national parks such as Yosemite, Grand Teton, and Sequoia. The campaign mode guides players through mastering each sport as well as the different applications of their skills, including racing and tricks, allowing you to improve your game, get sponsors, and ultimately win championships. At the center of it all is the location hub of the titular Riders Republic campground, which gives you access to massive multiplayer races and tricks battles. The game also offers a "Zen Mode" which removes all of this structure and instead allows you to aimlessly explore the game's massive open world.
Any conversation about Riders Republic needs to acknowledge that open world first and foremost, as it is honestly worth the price of admission in and of itself. A lesser game would have turned the ever-growing number of competitions and courses into a list of options on a menu, each location disconnected and limited in its own. Instead, Riders Republic uses the anachronistic rendering of its locations to create a sprawling but not overwhelming environment, one that inherently invites you to explore. The locations are breathtaking to look at, whether you're racing through a part of the map at 60 miles per hour or using the almost comically slow walk feature. The aforementioned Zen Mode feels like the Microsoft Flight Simulator of Riders Republic's various sports, providing a tranquil and satisfying opportunity to spend hours getting lost in the map, but luckily, operating in the main campaign mode gives you countless opportunities to witness that majesty as well. Once you get a certain amount of familiarity with the mechanics, there's a thrill in traversing from one course on the map to another on the vehicle of your choice despite the fact that the fast travel option exists.
The beauty of Riders Republic is also balanced with inherent absurdity like competitions that place all of its challengers in inflatable mascot costumes (the floppy-necked giraffe costumes are a personal highlight of mine), the larger neon-hued, Hot Topic aesthetic of many of its cosmetics and signage, and the dialogue and music that feel stuck in the late 2000s. Even wiping out on your vehicle in Riders Republic can be unabashedly funny as your avatar pratfalls off of a cliff or smashes into a boulder in a truly impractical and otherwise deadly way. There is a comfortable sense of unpredictability with Riders Republic, something that is bolstered by the fact that the entirety of the game operates online, as other players can compete or practice or travel around in the periphery of your gaming experience. That social presence even extends to the game's map, which is often peppered with little icons of other players nearby. While you can't interact with them as robustly as other online games, Riders Republic still creates an unspoken sense of community out of what could otherwise be a rather solitary gameplay experience. The Republic hub, which allows you to access various live or limited time events, buy cosmetics, or interact with a handful of NPCs, adds to that quasi-socialist community vibe, which feels like a mix of Camp Rock and the X-Men's island nation of Krakoa.
When it comes to the gameplay itself, Riders Republic boasts the slightest amount of a learning curve, but it's one that is profoundly satisfying to overcome. Some sports are decidedly easier to master than others -- I've played for a week, and I still manage to absolutely bungle the Buzz Lightyear-like mechanics of the Rocket Wingsuit -- but the stakes only prove to be as high-risk as you imagine them to be. The "backtrack" button cleverly allows you to rewind your spot in the race if you wipe out or miss a checkpoint, and the penalty system is next to nonexistent. Even if you place last in an event, you still are rewarded with some sort of gear or incentive, and you're allowed to exit out of a competition at your own discretion. This creates a scenario where you can comfortably enjoy whatever part of Riders Republic you're taking part in, something that by and large is endlessly entertaining. Even if two competitions like say, a downhill skiing race and a snowboarding trick event take place on the same stretch of course, it never comes close to feeling repetitive or stale. The multi-sport events are easily the highlight of the current offerings, seamlessly transitioning you through biking, snow sports, and flying with thrilling results. There are some moments where the gameplay borders on frustrating as some of the courses are almost tailor-made to make you wipe out or miss a checkpoint, and the margin to clear some of those checkpoints feels razor-thin at points, but again, Riders Republic fosters an environment where you can master those elements in your own time.
I expected to like Riders Republic, but I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which I loved it, even as I feel like I've only scratched the surface of its open world and other offerings. The gameplay is a near-perfect approximation of several genuinely fun, but accessible extreme sports, all wrapped up in an immersive and oddly comforting open world. While its wackiness and some elements of its experience might not be for everyone, Riders Republic is a uniquely robust take on the very idea of a sports video game, and I have a feeling that it'll only improve from here.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Riders Republic is now available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Amazon Luna, Stadia, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. A code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on an Xbox One.