Friday, February 26, 2021
From the house that brought us the frenetic and relentlessly entertaining Bulletstorm and the perfectly fine Gears of War Judgment comes Outriders, a shooter-RPG with grand ambitions, a sci-fi setting, and co-op for up to three players. Polish studio People Can Fly has a fairly enviable history with brash shooters, and, on that front, Outsiders should be an exciting proposition. Presumably, the developer has confidence in its new game, too, releasing an early access demo that enables you to play a hefty chunk of the prologue and opening, and replay it as much as you like. Not that I'd be particularly compelled to – on the basis of the demo, Outriders is a bit disappointing.
After tinkering with the bare bones character creator, you're turned loose into Outriders' story, starting with a pod being dropped from a vessel named the Flores, carrying the last vestiges of mankind, fleeing a dead Earth and looking for a new place to settle. That place is the verdant planet of Enoch, a new hope for humanity that seemingly has the ideal conditions for the known universe's shittiest and most destructive race to go forth and continue its profligate ways. Of course, it's mere minutes before things go awry, and you and your fellow Outriders are on the back foot, as a mysterious energy-based 'Anomaly' pummels the planet surface.
Woeful direlogue ensues (“know my way around bullets, not kids” is one standout line) and it's quite difficult to care about any of the characters in your periphery, given the all-too-fast setup that lends no time whatsoever to deliver basic introductions or character development in any way, shape, or form. Clearly, People Can Fly is keen to get you into the good stuff, but even that isn't particularly unique or interesting – the core shooter mechanics are quite run-of-the-mill, while the cover system feels baggy. Currently, Outriders feels like a big bunch of ideas that perhaps require a bit more cohesion, although, once you're able to choose your character's class, the action does begin to grow slightly more compelling.
Opting for the Pyromancer class in the hope that my character can transform the battlefield into an inferno, the game drip feeds your character's powers one-by-one, starting with an ability that has you casting a wall of advancing flame that can penetrate cover. Later, one pyro power enables you to siphon health from an enemy, and another sends a thermal bomb burrowing through the ground like Bugs Bunny, causing a foe at the other end to explode in a burst of incendiary white-hot light. Become adept at juggling each of your abilities, and you can prove almost invincible in battle, the fast cooldowns ensuring you're able to continually hurl 'magic' about the place. Chuck in a fiery melee attack and the suite of powers at your disposal add a much-needed wrinkle to Outriders' otherwise rather pedestrian combat.
There are times when Outriders does feel satisfying, when you're hot-swapping between close and long-range weapons, conjuring powers, and flushing enemies out of cover as part of a 3-player squad, and then gathering any loot dispensed from fallen foes, the core loop (though somewhat derivative) can prove rewarding. Ultimately, the quality of that loot will be vital – like any game of this type – in providing long-term appeal, and with the demo offering a paltry selection, it's currently hard to tell whether there'll be enough cool stuff to keep you playing. And goodness knows, the cover-shooter mechanics aren’t adequate on their own to reel you in, then keep you glued.
In essence, Outriders feels something like a ‘90s mid-tier shooter, albeit one that's a bit Destiny, a bit The Division, and a bit Anthem – but without the flight. Its environments are basically a series of interconnected kill-boxes: small arenas dotted with cover – and as such, it's all just a bit... unremarkable. This is, of course, only a demo, but with the game six weeks or so out from full release, we can't imagine all that much will change between now and then. If, somehow, the finished version of Outriders can make me give a shit about the characters; take its narrative (such as it is) in an interesting direction; and flesh out its combat in a meaningful way, then there may yet be hope for People Can Fly's third-person stab at doing a Destiny.
Outriders launches for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC on 1st April, and you can download the free demo now.
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