It’s not easy being a sports game fan. You have to put up with the irritation of everyone telling you the games are the same every year and the indignity of knowing they’re right. Sure, there’s roster updates, tweaks to modes, and a graphical polish, but underneath it all, they’re pretty similar year on year. In some ways, that’s unavoidable. Take FIFA for example – it’s a football sim, and there’s only so many things you can change about a football sim. The rumoured online Career Mode could be a start, along with embracing the movements of football and some real-world developments, but it has peaked. However, Riders Republic seems to hint at a fresh direction that certain sports games will be able to go in thanks to the new, more powerful consoles.
Riders Republic is a BMX game, that’s also a mountain bike game, that’s also a snowboarding game, a skiing game, a wingsuit game, and a jetsuit game. It’s a racing game and a trick game. It’s a competitive co-op MMO with several different solo campaigns that can all be completed in co-op too. It’s an open-world sports game.
I’m not asking for an open-world football game (note to self, write second article asking for an open-world football game), but the sheer scale of Riders Republic is mighty impressive to behold. Those vehicles – is a snowboard a vehicle? – I listed aren’t just different ways to get around the map, they clearly require completely different in-game engines and a whole new thought process. It remains to be seen how good Riders Republic is in execution, but in theory, it could be a game changer.
The current crop of sports games will just keep on trying to find new ways to make old content seem fresh, while adding in smaller tweaks that either rebrand existing functions or haven’t been needed for 20 years and so are immediately forgotten as soon as they’re implemented. What Riders Republic is doing isn’t really for them – it’s for a bunch of new games that can now emerge, finding gaps in the current market because the current technology allows games to bring something new to the table.
Riders Republic is several games in one, and usually when we say that, we mean it takes inspiration from a wide range of genres or titles and mixes them into something new – but still, it’s just one game. Riders Republic is different; sports games typically either specialise in a single sport or are a weird Olympics hodgepodge where there’s lots of basic gamification of a host of events, but Riders blends those ideas together, focussing on extreme sports and outdoor adventure while letting you explore in a variety of ways. Certain events are locked to certain vehicles – good luck trying to BMX through an airborne wingsuit course – but for the most part, you can change vehicles on the fly. You’re snowboarding one second, and with the tap of a button, you whip out your skis.
Sports games often get called ‘lazy’, and while that’s hardly fair to the developers who sink hundreds of hours into making them, at a boardroom level, it’s accurate. I mean, if FIFA Ultimate Team is responsible for a quarter of EA’s total earnings despite not substantially changing in a decade, why wouldn’t you just rely on the same formula year in, year out? Riders Republic though is not lazy. Again, maybe it will be too ambitious, or these features will feel like gimmicks, or the not-quite-always-online-but-definitely-always-online nature of the game will hobble it a little. But on paper, it could be exactly what the sporting genre needs.
When you view the map in Riders Republic, you aren’t viewing the map – you’re viewing the actual world, live, from above. That means you’ll see all the other players on your server moving around, and when you choose where you want to go, you can drop down next to them instantly. It is coming to last-gen consoles too, and there will be loading times on that – plus a regular map instead of the live one – so this isn’t even a fully unbridled sports game, made for the next consoles from the ground up. Hopefully, they’re being made right now, still a little too early to be shown publicly, and are taking advantage of the new tech to create experimental and memorable experiences beyond just making Trent Alexander-Arnold’s forehead sweat more lifelike than ever.
Sports games badly need a shot in the arm, and Riders Republic seems to be the first one stepping up to the plate. Extreme sports games have mixed tricks and racing before, but none have done it on this scale, with this many options, and with so many opportunities to keep things fresh by trying out a completely different style of play. All that’s left to do is play it and hope it works as well in practise as it does in my head.
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