(OUTRIDERS is out now. Distributor provided review copy.)
This seems oddly familiar
OUTRIDERS, the new game from People Can Fly, is a serviceable action shooter that feels more like a best-of compilation than an original title. There’s almost nothing new or unique to its name, yet the finely polished combat and deceptively addictive grinding make it a decent enough game to play. That is if you even get to play it. Though completable as a single-player experience, OUTRIDERS clings to the toxic “games as service” mentality, forcing a constant online connection for everyone who wants a go.
Set on the planet Enoch, which may as well be Earth, OUTRIDERS picks up decades after humanity has abandoned its cradle for life in the stars. As the first scouts make planetfall, a dangerous storm (later called The Anomaly) wipes out everything in its path, sending our derivative hero into cryostasis for another three decades. When they wake, Enoch has transformed into a clichéd wasteland that feeds on genre tropes. As different factions fight for the last remaining resources, your hero must lead someone to victory to win something or other and save the day.
It really, really doesn’t matter.
A sense of Deja-vu
If you’ve played DESTINY, GEARS OF WAR, or even BULLETSTORM, the previous People Can Fly title, you’ve played OUTRIDERS. You might even actively recognize the same UI elements, story beats, and same vague laziness in the naming conventions. After years on the planet, with regular attacks from the deadly storm, the people still call it The Anomaly. Which, if it happens regularly, would indicate that it’s not one. The villains are the Altered and the good guys, the Insurgents. Personality is as rare a resource as water on this planet.
But the same vagueness that worked so well for Bungie with HALO and DESTINY now feels derivative and tired. Everyone is using it. There’s nothing unique to the names or characters because why bother risking people laughing at a wild shot at something new. And yet, playing things this safe just makes the whole thing predictable to the point of monotony.
That frustration extends to the gameplay as well. While technically People Can Fly make impressive work of the engine and gameplay loop, it becomes a monotonous slog in anything longer than one-hour bursts. Most of the campaign is the obligatory squatting behind walls, peppering bullets into spongey enemies, and occasionally hurtling special attacks at stronger ones. Granted, some of these powers are a lot of fun, especially as you level up. But everything around them feels like we’ve seen it before – because we have.
Better in the long run
On top of that, the first five hours or so don’t do the game any favors. The entire opening act, with multiple dreary tutorials and endless corridor mazes, is painfully bad. By the time Enoch starts to open up, though even then in a limited capacity, OUTRIDERS proves itself at least somewhat enjoyable. With friends, there’s even an occasional moment of excitement.
But I can’t help but feel that I can get everything OUTRIDERS has to offer for free with DESTINY 2, often with even more fine-tuning. Sure, OUTRIDERS’ skill trees are a bit deeper, and the environments are a tad more varied. But put the two side-by-side, and it’s hard to point out any actual differences. Especially the weapons grind, where indistinguishable guns come and go with minor stat boosts. You’ll spend way too long in inventory management anyway, but it’s not the kind of addictive dungeon looter like DIABLO. That’s something nobody else seems to be able to crack.
On a technical level, there’s very little to fault, though. I played OUTRIDERS on both the Xbox Series X and PC, and both platforms handled the game beautifully. Frame rates are constant, the animation is (mostly) smooth, and it’s just a generally good experience to handle. Though the voice acting is a tad iffy at times, the overall atmosphere and great soundtrack help.
Because OUTRIDERS is a games-as-a-service title (ugh), that means there’s a plethora of endgame content. These are called Expeditions, which sees the player and potential friends investigate familiar areas with new sub quests and loot. These are more for those who enjoy combat mechanics and want to escalate their builds further. Once the main story concludes, OUTRIDERS has little to offer for the narratively inclined. I played alone, so I didn’t spend too much time with any side-missions or bonus content. If you’ve got a group of dedicated players to hang out with, chances are you’ll enjoy most of what OUTRIDERS has to offer.
But there’s the thing; almost any game can offer that. SEA OF THIEVES took ages to get there due to its minimal story and obtuse design, but it remains a blast to this day with friends. DESTINY expands this further by letting you join the events of randos on any map. Everything is more fun as a group, so it’s not like this particular merit is a massive notch in the game’s favor.
There’s not a whole lot more to say about OUTRIDERS. It’s a perfectly serviceable title, one that, when it lets you play, is a decent way to pass the time. But it’s such a step down from the subversive and wild BULLETSTORM that I can’t help but feel disappointed. Like so many others seen in the past five years, it is an attempt to create a service without crafting the kind of content first that would leave audiences starved for one.
Pre-packaged, pre-cooked, pre-heated, and somewhat pre-chewed. There are certainly worse options out there. But, then again, so too are a lot better ones.