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A woman on a mountain bike leaps over some desert brush in Riders Republic Image: Ubisoft Annecy/Ubisoft via Polygon

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Riders Republic is already something special

A brilliant follow-up to a game you probably missed

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

It will be weeks, if not months, before we see the full potential of Riders Republic, an extreme sports smorgasbord that debuts today following online private tests limited to specific chunks of the map. Players (and reviewers) are just now getting their first look at the entirety of its open-world, a humongous mishmash of seven US National Parks, populated with countless online players. The game, and its ambitions, are big.

So, yes, it will take a moment for us to see all the vistas and cobble together our feelings into a full review. But I would be remiss not to share, right now, the one thing you need to know: Riders Republic is something special — even during the Trial Week period I played ahead of the game’s launch.

You select from a variety of extreme sports (mountain biking, snowboarding, and jetpacking, to name a few) and then hurl yourself off the side of a mountain before racing your peers towards the finish line. From there, the overarching path branches in myriad directions, all of which have one crucial thing in common: putting fun above all else.

27 skiers zip down a crowded, snow-covered slope in Riders Republic. Image: Ubisoft Annecy/Ubisoft via Polygon

Want to warp to a mountain peak? Open the map, select a spot, and woosh, you’re there.

Want to switch sports? Hold a bumper button and swap on the fly. No pausing or loading necessary.

Want to ignore the game altogether and explore with friends? The game’s campaign is opt-in from one race to the next. Otherwise, you’re left in the middle of its world to find your adrenaline rushes wherever you so choose.

If you do choose to compete, the culmination of this “fun above all other things” philosophy is mass races, in which dozen of players perilously sprint through roads not built for that many fragile human flesh bags, filling the screen with a blur of colorful sportswear. Skill will get you to the front of the pack, but winning these races can often become a matter of chance, as you slam against your fellow racers, all of you trying to squeeze through a dense thicket of trees or an itty-bitty passageway at the bottom of a canyon.

Fair? Not so much. Fun? You’re darn right it is!

A woman on a mountain bike does a back flip off a snow-covered mountain in Riders Republic. Image: Ubisoft Annecy/Ubisoft via Polygon

During my six hours in its mountains and valleys, I’ve most enjoyed experimenting with how open-ended the game is. In one race, my rider transformed in mid-air from a mountain biker to a skier with rockets for skis. A nice person on Twitter recommended that I fiddle with transformation outside of competition, so I strapped on a jetpack and flew at full speed above a highway, then switched to a road bike. I presumably broke the land speed record in cycling before jettisoning my rider hundreds of feet off a cliff.

This style will be familiar to fans of Steep, Ubisoft Annecy’s predecessor to Riders Republic. I often say Steep is the best game nobody played, but that isn’t really true. Ubisoft’s open-world winter extreme-sports bonanza struggled at launch, but when Sony added the title to PlayStation Plus in 2018, nearly 10 million people hit the slopes. Ubisoft has been less vocal about how long those 10 million players stuck around.

For me, the pleasure of Steep was in the hours I spent quietly gliding down pristine slopes, alone with myself and my Spotify playlist of chillout songs. Riders Republic still allows for this, thanks to a comprehensive menu option that can remove other players and mute the overbearing soundtrack. But its creators have realized that while empty slopes appeal to me, most people playing video games in 2021 want to be around other people: friends, competitors — anybody.

A person in a jetpack narrowly flies under a small wooden bridge in Riders Republic. Image: Ubisoft Annecy/Ubisoft via Polygon

Riders Republic is like a full rewrite of Steep, its creative team taking all of the lessons learned from a rough draft and starting over from the beginning. It has more extreme sports, sure, but more importantly, it’s a profoundly more social experience. It oozes joy, without relying on the fundamentals of its contemporaries, like combat, winner-takes-all competition, and melodramatic linear storytelling.

Can it maintain that community? Will enough players stomach its cringey dialogue? And if the fan base grows to 10 million or more, how will the servers hold up? And what about the roadmap for updates that any game of this sort demands?

Those are the questions we’ll have in mind as we dig into the game once its servers are open to everybody. But there’s so much here to love as is. It’s tempting to put award this Polygon’s Recommends badge right away, but for now, we’re going to practice patience — and use this as an excuse to spend a few more hours doing “work.”

Riders Republic will be released on Oct. 28 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was tested on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Ubisoft. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.