The bar set by its developer People Can Fly is pretty damn high given its past releases, and as a taster for the first game this studio is releasing through Square Enix on this generation of consoles, the Outriders demo staggers into view with a veritable tonne of expectations on its back.
And for the first twenty minutes, its demo is distinctly underwhelming. Before we delve into the overall experience, it’s worth laying out the tidbits that have been revealed about the game’s story.
Outriders is set in Eden and then Hell
Outriders sees the last remnants of humanity landing on a planet called Enoch, which for all intents and purposes, looks like a picture postcard from Colorado on steroids; greenery stretches into sheer mountains of gargantuan proportions, while waterfalls pour into bubbling brooks shored up by lush fields surrounded by forests.
Characters make nebulous comments about what happened to humankind’s home planet, but the upshot of the situation is that Earth is no more — hence the trek to Enoch.
While the Enoch’s sun-dappled veneer looks promising, things go pear-shaped pretty quickly (and by quickly see: the first twenty-odd minutes of the game). Leaving aside gun battles, local fauna that look like they could eat a garbage truck and an overall landing mission led by authorities who would rather kill than be inconvenienced (and that’s really a lot to be getting on with), players are introduced to something called The Anomaly; think an electrical storm that cuts most poor sods in half and transforms others into super-humans.
The player’s character survives The Anomaly’s first storm and then is shoved into cryo-storage. They’re awakened around thirty years later to find that, thanks to humanity doing what it does best (read: kill each other over dwindling resources) Enoch has been transformed from the garden of Eden into something resembling Dante’s Inferno. Moments after awakening from cryo, the player is driven through frontline war trenches lining a designated ‘No Man’s Land” complete with hanging cadavers that have become the order of the day.
Lore meets mechanics
This is where the re-telling of the plot will stop, because while a rich lore — and Outriders certainly has that — is always great to appreciate in a game, if it’s not married to mechanics that make the whole experience engrossing to play, who cares? (We’re looking at you Too Human).
What People Can Fly’s latest game offers players outside of the plot, if the demo is anything to go by, is the same sort of combat experience they’d expect from Gears Of War; players enter into an area filled with chest-high coverage, enemies spill in and then the pop-and-cover gunfight ensues.
There are some differences; unlike the Xbox’s flagship Third-Person-Shooter (TPS) franchise, Outriders feels a little more nimble; players don’t feel as though they’re marching when walking or moving through the mud when sprinting. On top of that, players have four classes to choose from, which impact the firefights significantly.
After the prologue, players get to ‘choose a path’ between Pyromancer, Trickster, Devastator and Technomancer paths. They’re essentially an opportunity for the player to pick out a set of powers that’ll make them more comfortable in close or long quarters; Pyromancer is mid-range, Technomancer is for sniper fans and Devastator and Trickster are different riffs on tank-class – the former goes in the front (via brute force), the latter goes in the back (via teleportation).
The main path through the demo, though, is all about shooting, looting and activating checkpoints – in this case activating fast-travel points and boss battles. If this is starting to sound familiar, it’s probably because it’s not a million miles away from the core experiences in Destiny or The Division; plough into a series of enemies, follow the narrative thread on story quests, play through side quests, gain XP, unlock abilities and beef your character up to gargantuan proportions.
This is no Destiny killer
This may be the biggest hurdle Outriders faces; it’s a co-op RPG shooter that offers a plethora of quests, side-quests and its class system allows up to four players to mix things up pretty impressively.
It’s a fun experience, but it’s going up against established IP’s that already have pretty committed audiences and it’s uncertain at this stage whether it can draw players away from them. On the evidence of the demo, Outriders has its work cut out for it.