I played my first triple-A game in years. I didn’t last five minutes

I recently signed up for PlayStation Plus so that I could play TrackMania for PS5 online. I plumped for the top-end triple-A Premium option because I was interested to explore the various game catalogues on offer for subscribers, despite not generally being a fan of subscription services in general.

The way I saw it, PlayStation Plus would be a good means for trying out games that I probably wouldn’t end up picking up for myself — unlike a lot of people who use this justification, however, I’m not talking about small-scale games that don’t get a lot of promotion. Quite the contrary, in fact; I’m talking about big-budget triple-A games from giant publishers like EA, Activision and Ubisoft, which I all but swore off a few years back and have barely engaged with since.

Triple-A extreme sports game Riders Republic

There were a couple of things I was curious about, though. As a sort of extension to my love of the comfy sim on PS5, I found myself drawn to a couple of triple-A titles from Ubisoft, with the main being Riders Republic. This promised an open-world game in which you could enjoy a variety of extreme sports disciplines, and it sounded like it might be a lot of fun. So I downloaded it.

I fucking hated everything about it. Everything. And I will freely admit that I didn’t give the game time to “get good”, because everything about the first few minutes with Riders Republic felt so actively offputting to me as a 42 year old video game enthusiast that I literally couldn’t take any more.

The first sign that I was in a different world was how the game came with text-to-speech enabled by default. This appears to be something of a trend with games from big publishers these days — even TrackMania (which, despite being what I’d describe as a “smaller game” is published by triple-A company Ubisoft) does it, and I’ve also seen it in the Forza Horizon games.

I get why it’s there — it is, of course, an accessibility feature, designed to ensure that everyone can access the game without having to fumble their way into turning accessibility features on before they can have a comfortable experience. But there’s something so oddly self-congratulatory about this, in the same way that Sony’s pride in the myriad customisable options for their triple-A releases feel more like a marketing bullet point than something actually designed to make life better for people.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying accessibility features shouldn’t be present in games, particularly triple-A titles expected to be popular with a diverse audience. But certain ways in which they’re implemented carry the same feeling as big corporate brands turning their logos rainbow colours when Pride month rolls around; it doesn’t feel genuine. It feels performative. It feels like companies going “LOOK HOW GOOD WE ARE” rather than welcoming people in. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. But that’s definitely the vibe I got.

Anyway, I digress. This wasn’t what put me off Riders Republic; it was simply a feeling that I was in a different world of games to that which I usually occupy. What actually put me off was the way Riders Republic opened.

Now, you, like me, might think the prospect of an open-world extreme sports game with triple-A production values sounds super-cool. And, conceptually, it is super cool. It has been a super-cool idea ever since Pilotwings. Unfortunately, Riders Republic puts so many barriers in your way before you’re actually able to enjoy that open-world extreme sports experience that it might as well not be there.

After telling the robot voice to shut up and starting the game properly, you’re immediately thrown into an interactive intro, where you’re forced into playing a bike race immediately followed by an airborne rocket-propelled glider race. The latter of these certainly makes a strong impression, particularly since you can see the bike race you just participated unfolding beneath you at several points in your flight.

Okay, I thought, cool. This should be fun.

Then things quickly went south. I was introduced to Suki who, not to put too fine a point on it, is an absolute cunt of a character who will not shut up bellowing zoomer slang right in your ear. She then introduces you to some bearded dude who, likewise, won’t shut up, and insists on talking like a 12 year old Fortnite kiddie.

The pair of them wank on about bollocks that would embarrass the Borderlands writers for entirely too long, before sending you off to try your first race. You get no choice in what this first race is: it’s bike or nothing. Hope you weren’t looking forward to trying out any of the other disciplines. You’re then forced to fast travel to the race in question — thereby immediately making the open world aspect completely irrelevant — and then the whole thing passes with minimal excitement.

This is then followed by Suki and the Beard spouting more patronising shit at you before forcing you into several more bike races. The last of these is some Red Bull sponsored affair whose main defining characteristic is the fact it has a big jump in it, but it still manages to completely lack the excitement of other off-road biking games such as the fantastic Descenders and Lonely Mountains Downhill.

Once I passed this Red Bull race, I figured that the game might open up and actually allow me to do something for myself, but no, it was onwards into yet more upsettingly awful dialogue and more mandatory tutorials, for snowboards this time.

And, dear reader, it was at this point I quit out of the game and deleted it from my PS5, glad that I hadn’t taken a chance on buying the cheap copy I’d seen on Amazon earlier in the day.

I haven’t even got started on how the game kicked me out of its servers during my play session, making the single-player career component of the game completely inaccessible. But I think we all know that always-online games are, for the most part, shit. This was simply a reminder of why.

Riders Republic is genuinely the first time that I, as a 42 year old video game enthusiast who has been playing games since the early days of Atari, felt like I wasn’t welcome in a game. This game insulted my intelligence, patronised me and, more than anything, was simply really, really fucking annoying.

And that’s a shame. Because I still think open-world extreme sports would make a great video game. Now if only someone could make a game like that without all the triple-A bullshit, eh?

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Pete Davison
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