Aadi NairApr 19, 2021 06:50:18 IST
In the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, there’s a scene in which Alex, the closest thing that movie has to a protagonist, is strapped to a chair, pumped full of nausea-inducing drugs and forced to watch hours of ‘ultraviolent’ programming on a massive screen. His eyelids are clamped open, preventing him from looking away, his movement is almost completely restricted by a straitjacket and his ears subjected to a steady stream of classical music, played at deafening volume. If you can picture this assault on the senses, you’ll have some idea what playing People Can Fly’s Outriders feels like, but unlike Alex, who is repulsed by violence after being subjected to this ‘therapy’, you might actually find yourself revelling in it.
A frenzied and fast-paced third-person shooter set on the alien world of Enoch, Outriders will see you play one of the eponymous Outriders, a gun-slinging militia that accompanies the last of the human race as they voyage across space, leaving behind the barren wastelands of Earth. Upon arriving on Enoch after an 83-year journey and exiting cryogenic sleep, you are greeted with lush, untouched wilderness that stretches as far as the eye can see. The beleaguered human race appears to be on the cusp of a new start, but a massive storm named ‘the Anomaly’ tears through town, killing several people and granting magical powers to a select few. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the planet is in turmoil, thrust into a Mad Maxian dystopia, and only you can bring an end to the chaos, mostly just by putting bullets in the right people.
Someone at People Can Fly heard the old adage about offence being the best form of defence, and really took it to heart. Outriders is a game in which defence is rarely an option, and even when it is, it’s not an option for long. Instead, constant movement and frenetically paced gunfights are the priority, much like Destiny or Gears of War or any of the other classics of the genre that seem to have heavily influenced the making of this game. Hanging back behind cover is something the game actively tries to prevent its players from doing, with opponents frequently chucking all manner of explosives at you to force you into the open.
But, to be honest, even if you could do it, hiding really wouldn’t help you all that much anyway. There are no health kits that you can stockpile to heal yourself from life-threatening wounds. In fact, the quickest way to regenerate health is to shoot at things, with each bullet restoring a tiny, yet vital amount of your life force. Using your powers also helps regenerate health to an extent.
The game doesn’t really challenge you in any intellectual capacity, you can play through the entire thing without ever having to use your noggin. Just keep shooting and running and you’re good. This is helped hugely by the fact that this isn’t an open-world game, not by any stretch of the imagination. The areas accessible to you are bounded on either side by conveniently placed obstacles, corralling you towards the next battleground.
Once you reach a certain point, enemies will begin to engage you, and there’s not much you can do to avoid conflict. If you try to run away, the game throws up a ten-second counter, at the end of which the battle will reset. If you try to just sprint your way past your enemies, you will find yourself facing a dead-end, seeing as most battles require you to clear out every single NPC before you can progress to the next stage.
The story really takes a backseat in the game, and perhaps that’s for the best. It’s mostly a mishmash of typical extra-terrestrial/dystopian tropes that you’ve seen countless times before. At its best, it feels derivative, and at its worst, it’s incoherent and tedious. The cut-scenes don’t hold much of value, and if I’m being honest, half the time I wasn’t even sure I knew why I was shooting at the people in front of me.
Enoch’s internet issues
Now, before we go any further, I have to admit, my experience with Outriders really did begin on the worst possible note. Shortly after receiving a review copy for the game, I had it downloaded and ready to play, but upon starting it up, I was greeted with the image that would go on to ruin my entire week: the title card. A simple screen that had Outriders written on it in big, bold all-caps text, with a dramatic music score playing in the background, and a little yellow throbber spinning around just above the words ‘Signing In.’ For the first three days of Outriders’ release, I would not be able to progress beyond this card.
Four days after I’d downloaded the game, I was finally allowed to sign in, and actually play the thing. In the first week, I could only really test out single-player mode, because I just could not find anyone else to play with in coop, even after searching for half an hour straight at times. To make things worse, the game is to be played as an always-online experience, meaning that even when you are in single-player, your game time is decided by the whims of the game’s temperamental servers. In the early days, I was kicked out time after time from the game for having a poor internet connection, despite the fact that my trusty old broadband was chugging along just fine.
Even more worryingly, at times, the whole game would crash, giving me an error message on my PS5. This happened around four or five times in the week, and had I not been reviewing this game, I probably would’ve called it quits about then. Seeing as I had to finish this review, I persevered in the face of frustration, and was rewarded with marginally better connectivity in the second week of playing. Around six to eight days after the game’s release, single-player finally started working without any hiccups, and I was even able to enjoy some co-op play, though that still has more than its fair share of issues.
The one thing working for Outriders and People Can Fly is that this wasn’t exactly a highly-anticipated release. We’ve all seen the ruckus that Cyberpunk 2077 created upon its release, and had Outriders been a more high-profile game, its flaws would have been dissected in great detail by scores of people on the internet. As of right now, however, things seem to be chugging along just fine, and once they fix the problems plaguing the game, this will all likely be forgotten, relegated to a bad memory in the minds of the few that paid full price for the game.
Anyway, now that I’ve got my rant about the internet issues wrapped up, back to the gameplay. Once your character has become ‘Altered,’ ie once you’ve been bestowed magical powers by a seemingly sentient weather phenomenon, you have a choice to make. Do you want to be a Pyromancer, conjuring up flames from a distance and turning enemies into rotisserie chickens, or do you feel like becoming a Technomancer and smiting your foes with floating AK-47s and cannons? Maybe you could be a Devastator, running through a hail of bullets with nary a care, blowing off people’s faces at close range with shotguns, or perhaps a Trickster, flitting across battlegrounds in an instant, popping up behind opponents and emptying a clip in their backs.
As with most other games like Outriders, your choice is permanent, so no take-backsies. I chose to be a Devastator for my main playthrough, because I’m not particularly good at shooters, and I figured being tanky would mean I would die less often, but after testing out the other paths, I found myself wishing I’d chosen to be a Trickster instead. The skill titled Hunt the Prey was particularly fun, as it allowed you to teleport behind an opponent, and I had a great time mixing that in with a couple of other skills to create quick little combos of attacks.
Skills, equipment and progression
Whenever you get around to choosing a character class, you will be given a basic skill relating to the class you’ve picked, and as you level up, you’ll gain access to more powerful abilities. There are three slots for skills, and each skill has a cooldown period, with the more advanced powers taking slightly longer to reload. For my playthrough as a Devastator, most of the skills involved manipulating terra firma in close range attacks. Think earth-bending from Avatar, but with shotguns.
The Earthquake skill, which is the first you can learn as a Devastator, allows you to send a shockwave rippling forward from your position. Another similar one is the Impale ability, which lets you send a massive spike of rock straight through an opponent’s chest.
For Pyromancers, most of the skills involve flames of some sort or the other, while Technomancers can create weapons out of thin air. The most varied class in terms of skills is probably Trickster, with each different skill having very little to do with others. For example, the afore-mentioned Hunt The Prey skill allowed you to teleport behind people, but you can also slow down time and turn people into skeletons, so there really is no consistent theme to the skills there.
Of course, these skills aren’t the only weapons in your arsenal. You also have literal weapons, i.e. guns. Lots and lots and lots of guns. Big guns. Small guns. Short guns. Tall guns. Outriders hands them out freely, like candy on Halloween, and every five minutes, you can expect to find loot boxes containing gear that’s just a tiny bit better than what you already have. Similar to skills, there are three slots for your guns, with two being main weapons and one for sidearms.
The guns are pretty standard fare, more or less mirroring the usual assortment of shotguns, machine guns and sniper rifles you’d find in another similar title. I’ve sunk several hours of my life into this game at this point, but I have yet to come across a weapon that truly stood out or had something unique about it. The armor that you wear is much the same, just an assortment of brownish-grey gear that you can keep upgrading. If you’re someone that puts stock in the aesthetic appeal of your character’s outfit, you’ll be better served buying clothes from NPCs in cities. If you don’t particularly care, just pick up whatever you find in loot boxes and throw it on. This is dystopian Enoch we’re talking about, the fashion police are long dead and gone.
As you level up, you’ll also receive Class Points, which you can spend to earn perks and upgrades. These perks are part of a three-branched system of progression, which allows you to strengthen your character and fine tune their capabilities. Most of these upgrades are really minimal, allowing you to heal four percent faster or deal five percent more damage, and you’re unlikely to notice their effect in isolation, but they do add up. The fact that these upgrades are reversible is a pleasant surprise, as it allows you to test out each different variation without having to grind for Class Points.
The difficulty level is decided by a tier system called World Tiers. The more you play, the more tiers you can unlock, and each one is just a little bit harder than the one before it. If you play in the harder tiers, you’re rewarded with better, rarer loot, but the enemies are seemingly endless and each battle is an absolute slog. On the other hand, the lower tiers are a walk in the park, but you also get diddly-squat when you finish missions.
There are very few things I’ve come across that are simultaneously entertaining and an absolute buzzkill. Coop play in Outriders is one of those things. When it works seamlessly, it’s incredible fun, something you can sink hours of your life into without ever getting bored. Unfortunately, most times, it has serious connectivity issues, and at others, it just flat out refuses to work at all.
My first coop session lasted all of seven minutes before I was ejected from the game. The second one lasted a good 20 minutes or so, but for some reason, the person I was playing with spawned on the other end of the map and it took me about five minutes just to find the guy. Most of my other attempts ended in similar fashion, but just as I was about to throw in the towel, something wonderful happened.
I connected with two other players (the most you can have in one team is three players), and almost miraculously, the game didn’t kick us out in minutes. Coop finally worked like it was meant to, and I spent the next three hours of my life decimating all kinds of otherworldly creatures with my team of gunslingers. The pair of strangers I was with were both long-range attackers, and the three of us quickly fell into our natural strategies, most of which involved me soaking up gunfire while they worked their magic from afar. We failed often, dying in the face of giant spiders and belligerent mobs, but it was a lot of fun, and the combat mechanics made sense.
That one marathon spell was more than enough to change my opinion on the coop mode. While I do still have serious gripes about the servers and connectivity issues, I also now know that there’s something truly fun and exciting waiting for you, beyond the technological frustrations.
TL;DR: Despite having serious connectivity issues, Outriders is quite fun when it works, but it’s not particularly inspired. If you’ve played other games in the genre, feel free to give this one a pass.
Game reviewed on PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher.