Smooth and fast gameplay
Good variety and longevity
Strong, addictive action
Very dated sexist script
Weak online mode
Lack of environment variety
Long, boring cutscenes
There’s been plenty of hype around Outriders, with some great promotion and excitement around the launch, it’s enough to make entering the world of Enoch almost intimidating, but let’s get past that and take a proper look at this third-person cover shooter that’s at the forefront of a new generation of games.
Shiny, shiny graphics
Let’s face it, one of the things we’re now looking for when spending money on a game for a new generation console (the version played for review was on PS5) is some awe-inspiring graphics. And, for the most part, Outriders doesn’t disappoint.
It has all the now-standard stuff for character generation, allowing you to play with a face. While it probably looks nothing like your own, it can be tweaked and customised to reflect everything from a haggard male warrior with scars and grizzly beard, to a haggard female warrior with scars and beard-envy. Sure, you can probably try to do a smooth, fresh-faced, novice look, but when you have a range of realistic scars to choose from, who’s going to do that?
The pretty textures and graphics don’t end there. Everything in the game is extremely visually detailed, with leather jackets that fold in all the right places and grass that flutters in the wind. If you are after pure visual eye candy, then this isn’t a bad place to be. There are some issues; I never quite felt the fire effects were quite right, and the water that pumped from a nearby pipe made me wish the developers had taken more time to learn from Pixar, but overall it’s a very impressive look for a console game.
That’s a tick for ‘graphics’ then.
More importantly, the game plays smoothly once you are in the fray (and you spend quite a lot of your time ‘in the fray’). Even with twenty suicidal bad guys ploughing at you, and bullets flying all over the place, it hops along at a happy rate, never skipping or glitching in any way. One of the things all game developers should be looking for is for the player not to notice the engine chugging away in the background, and this works well for Outriders.
So, we’ve started the game, we’ve made our detailed character, and now we want to play, right?
Leave your wokeness at the door
Outriders starts off with a cutscene, quite a long one. Once done, you move a little, and then there’s a cutscene, quite a long one. It’s followed by a cutscene—quite a long one.
It’s not an exaggeration that without judicious application of the ‘skip’ button, it’s going to be a while between your first boot-up of Outriders and actually getting to play. I didn’t time it, but it felt like it stretched between half an hour and an hour before I was doing anything that could be considered ‘gaming’. Fair enough, we’ve seen games with long story-driven content before, so that’s not a problem, right?
Only, the story for Outriders is an awful mess of misogynistic crap that honestly should never have made it past the first draft stage. Seriously, could we be more macho? Perhaps it was my fault for developing a physical profile of a gruff, battle-hardened warrior with impressive hair and a chiselled chin; I didn’t expect him to act quite so boorishly, though. It teeters on the fence of offensive-to-women, enough to make me uncomfortable, and then it falls firmly flat on its face on the far side.
You, referred to constantly as ‘Outrider’, are the kind of man who likes to flirt and chat up the young women and yet will treat those who are past their thirties with a grim disdain; after all, if they’re not stirring the trousers, they’re nothing more than nagging hags with an attitude problem, right? It’s cringeworthy at the best of times and staggeringly offensive at the worst.
*Mild spoilers ahead*
For example, let’s take Shira Gutmann. We meet Shira as a young, pretty, tech-head in the opening scenes. She wants to take a selfie with us because it’s a new planet and aren’t we all excited. The scene is flirtatious and a little cringy, and it’s obvious that we (the outrider) wouldn’t mind a quick tussle in the sack if the opportunity presented itself.
Stuff happens, and we get cryogenically frozen while Shira lives on. Cut to some years later, and she’s grown into a grey-haired war-veteran, leading the troops in a devastated landscape.
Immediately, the tone of the conversation between Shira and us changes drastically. Gone are the flirtatious overtones, the idea that she might be attractive, all replaced with some stand-offish script that makes it clear that Outrider and his friends see Shira now as an overbearing nagging woman who doesn’t really understand what it is to be a man.
Sure, she’s a little older now, but does that make her any less of a potential friend or, dare I say it, simply a person?
It’s shudder-worthy, made worse with an early side quest that sees us rescuing a young shopkeeper woman. ‘You brighten the day,’ drawls the Outrider as he discusses returning to the shop. It’s creepy, sleazy and slimy all at once; it does nothing to promote any sort of equality, making the script for the game feel like it dropped straight out of the 1980s.
Perhaps the sexist nature of the script could be forgiven if the story was compelling, but again, it flops here. Tired sci-fi clichés, dire dialogue and poor voice acting, combine to make the cutscenes and crackling radio chatter nothing more than an annoyance. You don’t want to skip the cutscenes, just in case there’s some important info there, but they’re not high-quality entertainment in any way.
But the game, the game, do we shoot things?
Get past all the cutscene pain, throw the script into the nearest bin, and let’s look at the game itself. Happily, there, Outriders gets some things right. When it comes to being a bullet-ridden combat-driven hellscape, it’s right up there with the best.
There are four main character types, giving you a different perspective on the game. These are chosen relatively early on, and cannot be switched out, so make sure to make a choice you are going to happy with. I plumped for the ‘Trickster’, a close-range assassin-type whose main bonus is that I healed every time I killed an enemy within a short distance.
I admit, my traditional role is that of the long-range sniper. I like to stand a million miles from the target, line up my scope with precision, and get in the olf-faithful headshot for a clean kill. Playing as a close-range, down-and-dirty character type was a little out of my comfort zone, so I backed it up with a sniper rifle anyway.
I soon found that the sniping was a bit crap and that once I got into the midst of melée, I was a powerhouse. Killing things that were right in my face rewarded me with an almost constantly full health bar, and once my special abilities were added on, made sure I was a force to be reckoned with.
In fact, if anything, I was a little too hard. I felt immortal… until I died. Oops.
The combat is frenetic. It is a cover shooter, but often the cover isn’t really needed. Even shooting can take second place to a good R3-click for a melée attack. There’s a decent range of guns to suit, with variables such as reload speed, damage bonuses, and range all combining to mean you can play in exactly the way you want. In terms of offering an action-filled shoot-em-up fest, Outriders scores very well indeed.
Plus, it’s got plenty of longevity. There’s a massive skill tree to complete, plenty of trophies to shoot for, and a ton of replay value—all good things in a game of this nature.
Back to the flavour
All too often, however, Outriders tries to lean on its setting and script, and every time it does, it fails. The scenery doesn’t change enough to be engaging, and while there are long expanses of grassland with a bright sun, it still feels dingy and dark. There’s a lot of running through shanty-town-like shacks and rusty disused facilities, and even the occasional bright blue alien crystal landscape does little to break the scenery-monotony.
Side quests are very basic, offering a little in terms of world-building (if you care), but otherwise offering a variant on ‘here’s a small new area, go there and shoot everything’. It’s a third-person cover-shooter, so I don’t know what I’m expecting in terms of side-quest variety, but whatever it is, it isn’t there.
Completing the sidequests unlocks shops, gets access to a few little bits of journal entries (far too boring to really bother reading) and offers weapon upgrades that aren’t on the main path, but the playing of them doesn’t deviate enough from the main thread to really be a draw.
Three of you, or just one?
There is an online mode, allowing you to make a team of up to three and plough your way through that way. Honestly, though, it’s pretty crap. If you join a random party, there’s absolutely no way to communicate with your teammates beyond a casual wave, so planning tactics is impossible. This leaves ‘team’ mode as little more than three random gunslingers, all just firing as much as they can to destroy the enemy without any coordination whatsoever, yet tied to each other in other ways that just seem to hold back.
If you have two friends who are also keen to play with you and you use a third-party system for communication between you while you play, then I do not doubt there’re a lot of laughs to come from co-operative Outriders play, but without that, it’s somewhat farcical, especially given its competitors in this arena.
In fairness, this was a choice by the developers, who have openly stated that they’d rather spend the development time making the overall game better than pouring thousands of hours into an in-game chat system, complete with required filters to ensure people stay nice. I agree with them and applaud them for the sense of this. Far better than the main campaign mode had those extra development hours than spending months trying to stop potential predators from using the game as a grooming ground.
Hard, harder, very much hardest
Another thing Outriders gets very, very right is its difficulty level. There are many of these, and you can move between difficulties on the fly, so you can really customise your game to suit your skill. More serious difficulties are rewarded with better loot, meaning the incentive is there for keen players to ramp it up. Still, if you are new to the genre (or just a bit rubbish), you can keep the game low and enjoy a relaxing time while gunning down the enemy. Higher difficulty levels must be unlocked, so you can’t just try your luck, which again helps service the game as a whole. It’s yet another strong tick for Outriders.
Outriders is a great third-person shooter. It plays smoothly, looks great, and is a shed-load of fun, with enough variability and options to ensure that you get your money’s worth.
It is staggeringly bad in the two areas where it doesn’t really need to be good. The story is utter rubbish, but then it’s not an RPG, and the online mode is seriously lacking, but it’s basically a first-person campaign game anyway.
Personally, I’d have liked a lot less misogyny. It is very cringe-worthy and makes the game embarrassing to play in front of anyone. A shame.
Outriders doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but what it does do is refine a lot of what’s been building over the past couple of decades in this field. Ultimately, it’s not one for the history books, but well worth a blast for a few hours.