Like a lot of Ubisoft games, Riders Republic is a lot. The work of some seven studios led by Ubisoft Annecy, this is a vast open world compendium of extreme sports that can be as lumpy as the terrain you ride rough over, packed with so much stuff you can see and feel it straining at the seams. It is also, perhaps more crucially, an extreme sports game that will fall over itself in order to serve up some fun, and one that ensures that, for all its excess, you're never more than a few seconds away from the primal thrill of throwing yourself down the side of a mountain. Riders Republic is, more often than not, a brilliant thing.
Some of that brilliance might be familiar from Steep, 2016's equally open-ended extreme sports outing upon which so much of Riders Republic is built. This is neither as focussed - there's a broadening out of disciplines to include bikes as well as terrain types that go beyond mere snow here - nor quite so strange, with no spoken word interjections from the mountains themselves (at least none that I've come across in over a dozen hours or so of play - this is a vast, vast game after all). It is deeply, gloriously silly, though, a playground told with an exuberance that's infectious as you pedal down perilous courses in matching giraffe outfits.
It's annoying, too, especially at first when the overlong tutorial takes hold and refuses to let go for the best part of an hour. This is one of those extreme sports games that overlays its action with grating voice overs, the dialogue more likely to give you a nosebleed than any of the highest altitudes you're invited to scale. Given how pervasive that voiceover can be in the first hour, I wouldn't be surprised if it proved an endurance test too far for most players. Persevere, though, and it's then often remarkable how eager Riders Republic is to get out of the way.
Partly that's down to how you can fast travel to any event on the map and be taken there near instantaneously (on Series X, at least, where I spent most of my time playing Riders Republic), and part of it's down to how you can switch between disciplines on the fly. Soar down a mountainside in a wingsuit and you can maintain some of that momentum as you morph in a glitchy instant to two wheels - or perhaps send your mountain bike off a cliff edge and out into the blue yonder before firing up the rocket wingsuit and shooting out across the horizon. It's dumb and outrageously fun, the act of sportswitching via the radial menu as much a part of the process as performing tricks for the more adventurous player.
It's fiddly, too, as is the core of Riders Republic. There are three control configurations on offer - a trickster one that maps stunt moves to the right stick, a racer one that affords you camera control and a third one that softly mimics Steep's own scheme - and neither of them works flawlessly, with a lack of heft gently undermining all of the sports on offer here. It's far from disastrous, mind, and something you quickly adjust to, though it's worth knowing this is an extreme sports game with a certain lightness to its feel.
All that's more than compensated for by what Riders Republic does well, and by its sheer maximalist exuberance. There's fine detail here too that helps sell each discipline, such as the beautifully crunchy snow that tangibly deforms when on snowboard or skis, the whistle of the wind when in a wingsuit or that gorgeous soft whir of a well-oiled chainset that accompanies a bike ride. As one of those awful people that squeezes themselves into lycra and holds up country traffic most weekend mornings, the newly added bikes of Riders Republic hold a special appeal, and they don't disappoint; there's a surprising amount of road and mountain bikes on offer, many of them officially licensed from the likes of Specialized and Kona.
More pertinently, Riders Republic delivers on the tranquil thrill of a two-wheeled, self-powered jaunt. Step aside from the events and you can lose yourself pedalling up the peaks of Yosemite, haring through the vast thickets of Sequoia or plotting a course across the spiky heights of Bryce Canyon, soaking up all those impossible vistas along the way. Donlan put it best - he always does - when he called Riders Republic the Justice League of parks, superheroes of the outdoors all smashed together for one irresistible whole. It's a playground like no other.
Calm and chaos sit happily side by side, too, and there's a busyness to Riders Republic thanks to how it populates the map with other players. Stop to take in the scenery and you'll see ghostly apparitions of other players pirouetting through the sky in their wingsuits or face planting into the snow after a failed trick run - a facet that comes to a hilarious head in the regularly scheduled mass races that send 64 players careering down a mountainside in one thick and beautiful mess. More coordinated adventures are possible by grouping up with other players and moving from event to event together, making this a truly connected game (and one that's only possible to play online, sadly - without an internet connection you're restricted to the zen mode that lets you potter around the parks without being able to progress).
Its offering isn't dissimilar to Forza Horizon in that way, much like how events unlock and pepper the map as you pursue and progress in each individual career. There are one-off specials in 'Funkies' - ice cream bikes and rockets skis and other assorted oddities - and of course a Half Dome-sized mountain of collectibles ferreted away in the park's nooks and crannies. Like many of the best open world games it's frequently overwhelming, though it's not helped by a certain scruffiness that stops it ever feeling truly coherent, and it's certainly not helped by a certain amount of bullshit creeping its way in. There are outfits to be purchased for your character, but the way they're delivered is baffling while bordering on being plain offensive - you can only access a couple a day, with the prime gear being kept behind a real money currency that sits aside from your in-game earnings, and feels frankly icky.
Maybe that's just part of the territory when it comes to Ubisoft open world games, though that doesn't really make it any more acceptable. It's a sizable blemish on an otherwise remarkable game, an open world arcade extreme sports game that's engaging, accessible and enjoyably eccentric, all served up with an awe-inspiring breadth and scale that's befitting of the grand parks that serve as your playground. There are bumps and bruises along the way, but the exuberance and energy on offer here make Riders Republic a worthwhile adventure.