If you’ve seen anything by developer People Can Fly, you’ve basically seen Outriders before. This team excels at making shooters, many of which you may have already played: they created Painkiller and Bulletstorm, worked with Epic Games to create multiple entries in the Gears of War series, and also worked on the story campaign for a little game called Fortnite. Now, however, People Can Fly is nearing completion on its own original intellectual property, Outriders.
Outriders is a third-person shooter in which players work with artificial intelligence or up to two teammates to take down hordes of enemies on an alien planet. Emphasis is placed on the four available classes: Trickster, Pyromancer, Devastator and, last but not least, Technomancer. Each class prioritizes different stats and playstyles, letting players act with however much strategy or aggression they prefer. However, having one of each on any team is impossible, and even if it were, it doesn’t seem necessary. People Can Fly seems intent on letting players choose the class they want to, and although certain setups may make matches easier or more challenging, they all seem viable. I and one other teammate chose the Technomancer class, and after getting a handle on the controls, we seldom ran into any problems.
It’s no wonder that the Technomancer was so popular, as People Can Fly held this final class’s existence a secret until now. As might be derived from the name, Technomancers specialize in technology, with the majority of my special abilities using heavy, fantasy-like tech which pummels opponents with a strange, explosive energy. What that energy looks like varies: Explosive rounds are a vibrant orange while my handy “freezer” (unofficial name) covers the perimeter in ice, and both my teammates agreed the energy shot out of the turret looked like green puke. It’s an explosion of colors in the most literal of senses.
Each class’s special abilities, which recharge fast enough to encourage liberal usage, help give it a more free, empowering flavor, but Outriders is not trying to reinvent the wheel here. It’s a cover shooter with lots of big guns and buff guys and gals, where you constantly find bigger guns that do more damage against bigger and badder beasts. It’s an indulgent looter shooter that never asked too much of us during our four hours with the game, but switched up the pace frequently enough to keep me interested at least half the time.
Outriders is the videogame equivalent of junk food. It’s not going to enrich your life or make you see gaming in a new light, but if you know you love shooting and looting with your buddies, you can be pretty sure Outriders is going to fit the bill.
If, like me, that type of gameplay loop hasn’t ever really appealed to you, Outriders isn’t likely to change that either. I was energized by both my teammates’ apparent enthusiasm in what we were playing, and even I would occasionally remark at the ridiculousness of whatever new horde of enemies the game threw at us which we were sure would overtake us. Still, I often found myself checking the clock to see how much time was left, or wondering when the next cutscene would trigger so we could move onto the next objective.
When I say that Outriders kept things interesting enough to keep me interested half the time I was playing it, that means that each segment went on about twice as long as it should have. Even with all these additions, the core of the entire four-hour demo was finding a new enemy to point my gun and fancy toys at, and then blowing them all to smithereens. For some, that’s enough to be worth the price of admission alone. For others, there’s little more Outriders could do to make it seem appealing. I happen to fall into the latter camp.
When the cutscenes did trigger, I was seldom impressed. It looks fine, even gorgeous at times, with the alien planet Enoch offering some striking vistas and its characters’ facial animations working smoothly. The writing and acting, from its main cast to throwaway lines in combat, however, are almost universally abysmal. I’ve been in junior acting classes where students with no theater experience have delivered lines with more conviction than some voices in here, with the same ear-grating lines triggering every few minutes. Outriders’ story obviously isn’t its priority, but even for what little I saw of it, it actively worsened my experience with the game. “We won’t stop ‘till we DIE!” one enemy repeats ad nauseum throughout the entire demo. Its cheesiness can be part of its charm to a certain degree, but I feel you’d need to have an unhealthy amount of drinks to find its story anything but a nuisance.
Outriders is a greasy, unhealthy snack converted into videogame form. It’s full of beefy dudes with rad ‘tudes, giving you and up to two friends just enough challenge to keep it interesting, but not enough to make downing a few cold ones with the gang hinder you in any meaningful way. In fact, that might actually make it more enjoyable.
Outriders releases holiday 2020 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC, and 2021 on Stadia. We played the PC version in an in-progress build of the game. It’s being developed by People Can Fly and published by Square Enix.
Joseph Stanichar is a former Paste intern who specializes in videogames. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and The Post. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.