Ubisoft Annecy finds direction for its extreme sports game by following a path set by Playground Games’ franchise
How do you make an extreme sports game even more extreme? Two decades ago, developers would have added more X’s to the title or just removed the first E in the word “extreme” and used an aggressive-looking font.
With extreme sports more mainstream and accepted nowadays, the answer is found in gameplay instead of gimmicks, and no studio appears to answer this question better than Ubisoft Annecy. After its success with “Steep,” the studio broadens the scope of its vision with “Riders Republic.”
Moving beyond the cold and powder, Ubisoft Annecy’s latest project is focused on extreme sports on dirt trails, desert ridges, canyons, forests and snowy mountains. It’s a wide diversity of terrain and players will ride through it aboard bikes, skis, snowboards, wingsuits and rocket wingsuits. Additionally, vehicles such as snowmobiles are available but they aren’t necessarily used in competition; instead, they are quicker ways to reach far-off destinations.
“We really define ‘Riders Republic’ as a genre breaking game,” said Manfred Neber, lead game designer. “We built it to encompass extreme sports and a party like atmosphere that you can experience in Riders Ridge. It has lots of styles of gameplay. It’s a giant world filled with some of the most distinctive places in the U.S.”
HANDS-ON WITH THE GAME
I had a chance to play a few hours of the game via a remote preview event. I started by creating my avatar from preset faces, hair and other features. From there, “Riders Republic” gives players a taste of the type of competitions available in the campaign. Players encounter a downhill bike race, rocket wingsuit competition around buttes and snowboarding contest down mountainous slopes.
The whole introduction and vibe is reminiscent of a “Forza Horizon” game. Players enter the festival atmosphere of “Riders Republic,” and they’re welcomed by Suki, one of the veterans of the gathering. She introduces the player as a promising up-and-comer to Brett who was once an extreme sports legend. He now slings meals to participants out of a food truck.
The way the campaign unfolds is notable because Ubisoft Annecy uses a documentary-style approach taken straight from “The Office” and “Modern Family.” The characters are given these asides where they explain their history or opinion on the subject and that fits nicely with the humor and tone of the game. For all its intense vibes, the game approaches its sports from the angle of fun.
Brett takes players under his wing, and they’ll compete in a series of events. Each contest earns them stars, which advance their career, expand the number of activities and open up sponsorship opportunities. “Riders Republic” campaign events can be played online or solo. If players choose solo, Ubisoft Annecy makes players feel like they’re competing against live competition by letting them battle avatars pulled from real-life players. They’re essentially competing against their ghosts and depending on the difficulty they can be harder to beat.
APPROACH TO ACCESSIBILITY
One of the goals of “Riders Republic” is the team wanted to make it accessible to everyone. With that in mind, they offer different control schemes that map flips and rotations to either the right analog stick or face buttons. Grabs can be done using the right and left triggers. They even have different color schemes for colorblind players.
The variety of events means that if players don’t like one part of the gameplay, they can check out another and eventually find their niche. I didn’t do well on the tricks needing the autoland assist to help out, but I did better against competition when racing downhill.
After each contest, I earned experience points to level up my character and I earned a prize, which was usually a new bike or board with better stats. That’s important because each type of event caters to different equipment. For example, players can receive bikes dedicated for the downhill or one used for road races. Keep in mind, players also earn stars for finishing an event and doing secondary objectives.
My problems with tricks is that the timing jumps and nailing those landings was tough to learn. It’s not exactly like “Skate” controls, but it will take some time to adjust and figure out how much one can spin or flip before hitting the ground at the right angle.
AN ENORMOUS WORLD TO EXPLORE
The demo showed off just two careers: bike race and snow tricks. That took players to different terrains. The bike portion was mainly in the Yosemite Valley, which features famous landmarks such as Half Dome and El Capitan. The snow tricks took place in the resort location of Mammoth and had all the elements that let players show off their mastery of flips, grabs and rotations including a half pipe, grind rails and large pachydermish sculptures.
Other zones include Zion, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia and Canyonlands. Each area captures elements of the U.S. national parks that share their names. Zion features deep canyons and Angels Landing. It’s a spot that’s great for mountain biking. Grand Teton lies on the northern part of the map and is covered in snow. It’s the perfect playground for snow sports. Bryce Canyon with its pillars of stone and rocky terrain is for mountain bikers and wingsuit users. The Canyonlands is described as limitless with its flat open spaces. It’s another spot for mountain bikers and aerial specialists. Lastly, the Sequoia area is forested with paths for mountain bikers and wingsuit players. Interestingly enough, there’s a burned portion that creates an interesting contrast with the snow around it.
“The world itself was a huge challenge” to craft, said Neber, the lead game designer. “We wanted a unique biomes and terrain and different verticalities. When you’re going to Teton to Bryce Canyon down to the subway canyon, you’re changing verticality a lot. As we developed our gameplay, we knew verticality was important.”
Ubisoft Annecy mixes these American treasures into one enormous map. At the beginning, the area is shrouded in fog, and as players explore, they’ll uncover more events and even collectibles scattered throughout “Riders Republic.” Players can find 45 discovery landmarks. The dedicated explorers can find 11 relics, which reward players with funky equipment made by the Shackdaddy Bandits. The group is a famous faction in the “Riders Republic.” If those aren’t enough collectibles, player can find 500 balloons scattered throughout the world. Finding them gives players rewards.
THE HUB AND PVP
When they’re not out in the field, players can hang out in Riders Ridge, which acts as a social hub for the game. This is where players can purchase new cosmetic gear to make their rider standout from the crowd. Neber said players will earn in-game credits and use that to customize their avatar, which is a big part of the social experience. Adding to this concept, players can also take snapshots of the scenery they created and share it on the user-generated content social site. That and the custom events that players can create is another social element that invites players to express their creativity.
Beyond that, Riders Ridge is also where players can sign up for some of the bigger multiplayer events such as Mass Races, which is a contest that features more than 50 players. It’s chaotic as players go through several types of terrain and switch out to different rides throughout the event.
The Tricks Battle is a team competition, where two groups battle over different parts of a snowboarding park. They capture districts by performing tricks. The team at the most points at the end of the match wins the contest. The Free For All is a curated playlist that takes players through a variety of events. It’s a way for a player to test her skills against human competition.
“Riders Republic” seems as though it has more direction and personality compared to “Steep.” It’s a project that captures the vibe and format of “Forza Horizon” and fuses that into extreme sports. That creates a compelling formula that will perhaps attract a new audience to a genre that’s growing in popularity. One of the features that Neber wanted to emphasize is the cross play and cross progression of the game. Players can play it with their friends no matter the platform. They can even switch from different platforms if need be. With that said, “Riders Republic” is scheduled for release Oct. 28 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia and PC.
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