With the slew of half-baked online and multiplayer-focused concepts that many companies tend to deliver these days, you cannot blame me for my hesitation when it comes to the impending release of Outriders. This game that seems to build upon the post-apocalyptic style of Borderlands, and the cover system of The Division, seemed generic to me as well as many others. Luckily for us, we have been graced with the glory that is a demo. This ancient tradition of getting players to try out your game before it launches without being forced to pre-order might be the very thing that sucks folks in, especially as the demo will carry over your progress into the final release. I will state, by playing this for as little as three hours, you really don’t have much to lose besides time. I found that even though this game is riddled with technical issues, it is still fun.
My first impression of the game is quite interesting. Developed by People Can Fly, responsible for titles such as Painkiller, Bulletstorm, and Fortnite : Save the World (bet you didn’t know that one), brings forth their unique style reminiscent of B-tier horror movies. Complete with campy writing and over-the-top grotesque kills, People Can Fly presents an experience that can be considered either awesome or low brow depending on your tastes. Either way, I found it better than what Borderlands 3 attempted to give us when it comes to humor and basic story writing. Within the first three hours of playtime, I have found myself really enjoying specific elements. On a technical scale though, the game is leaving a lot to be desired, especially with glaring differences between console and PC.
To jump directly into the technical aspects and rip the proverbial band-aid off, I will start with my console experience. On the PlayStation 5, I was blown away by the smooth visuals on mt 65” LG non-OLED 4K TV where I witnessed solid framerates and little to no in-game hiccups besides the occasional visual clipping. Audio was the second biggest problem, with de-synced dialog and sound effects in practically every cut-scene I watched. Gunshots would be heard several seconds after muzzle flashes, some lines of dialog would be repeated, and other times I would see a black screen with folks talking. All of this really put a bad taste in my mouth. Otherwise, the actual voice-over performances weren’t bad and almost lent themselves to the B-movie style.
On PC, I witnessed a good amount screen tearing until I turned on V-sync which seemed to fix that issue, but not entirely. I also noticed pixilation amongst various structures during cut-scenes, especially on some edges. Despite the game automatically enabling ultra-settings and having the components to run this game with ease, it did not feel close to my PS5 experience. I will note that I am running on a 1080p monitor, so I cannot quite pin the visual fidelity squarely on the game. The audio issues I had on console are strangely absent here, which is good for PC focused players. Gameplay runs smooth, with a consistent 60 frames per second that drops down to about 40 when I go into highly populated areas, specifically the main HQ. Otherwise, framerates perform quite well even during the heat of battle. Cut-scenes are rendered in 30 frames, which might also account for some the jittery visuals.
There are consistent issues between both platforms. Some colors seem washed out and the shading is awfully bad at times, leaving my characters in the darkest rooms possible with little details able to cut through. In other scenes, the lighting shows the grime, making some scenes really stand out and look fantastic. Another constant between the two platforms is the ridiculous shaky cam that moves around so much, I feel like I am on the worst roller coaster ever conceived by man. There were times I had to turn my head away from the screens because it got to Cloverfield levels of annoying. Granted, this is an issue that People Can Fly will be fixing and this is not intentional.
On a technical side, I have found myself wanting more when it comes to settings. On PC, the FoV slider is imperative to a great experience. The camera seems to sit too close to the player on console but feels just right on the PC with it turned all the way up. There are no motion blur settings, no HDR toggle, and a strange lack of display features that could really make the game look and perform better. I don’t see anything regarding anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering, but I hope we see more of these options in the full release.
The most divisive element to this is the control style. Outriders takes various aspects of great games and attempts to mush them into a complete package. Fans of Gears of War (another title People Can Fly have worked on) and The Division will feel right at home. Although, the cover system doesn’t feel as smooth as either of those games, it still works fairly well. I can’t easily slink around corners and instead I get this janky feeling as I move around the environment.
Using a controller feels okay when it comes to basic maneuvers but feels incredibly off when aiming and shooting. I had to turn down the sensitivity so my controls felt just right, and yes, I am the Goldilocks of control sensitivity here. On PC, I barely had to change anything since my peripherals are already tuned to meet my own specific control taste. Shooting and moving around actually felt leagues better on PC, which is to be expected as the rules of modern gaming dictate. I don’t want to harp endlessly on the controls, but it is the very thing that is making me consider which platform to play this on, amongst other factors which I will dive into later.
Outriders doesn’t have you just walking around and blasting enemies to chunky bits. You have a slew of abilities which can be used with cooldown timers that respect the player more than any other game I have ever played before. In some games, you would be given an ability with a cooldown timer that takes a while to recharge, and over time you would be investing in abilities that would reduce that cooldown. Outriders gives you useful abilities with low cooldowns from the outset, and that is because the health regeneration system sometimes relies on those abilities. Classes like the Pyromancer give you health when using your abilities against enemies, which not only delivers a combat style that is more aggressive, but keeps you going without having to stop to regain health.
This keeps combat flowing in a great way since you are going to be moving around a lot in Outriders. One moment, you will be shooting far down range at distant enemies, other times they will be right in your face. Some classes will be able to control the crowd better than others, as I had an easier time taking over an enemy base with the Pyromancer as opposed to the Technomancer. Still, the differences in playstyle felt unique between the two, and I can see myself playing through the game with each of the four classes.
Finally, I want to discuss the “everything else” about this game. Between the buggy cut-scenes, addictive gameplay, and itemization that is the same as every other looter-shooter I have ever played, there is a huge emphasis on world-building within Outriders. To be quite honest, I have had my expectations subverted several times, as most games ride a very linear concept that has these prolonged story beats. But this is called “Outriders” (heh), so nothing plays into the stereotypes of the past, as foreshadowing just doesn’t exist here. You are introduced to characters that are swiftly dispatched, having deep conversations with allies, and I was surprised to see classic tropes play out in a way that felt unique. Of course, there is a fair share of over-the top action sequences that were so eye-rolling that it felt borderline like a parody of itself, which I believe is the point to all of this.
The more I think about Outriders, the more I become engrossed in what it is. It doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously and I have found some plot elements to be really interesting as it goes against the grain. It’s the anti-story made by the same guys that coined the phrase, “You’re gonna kill my dick? I’ll kill your dick!” Coined might be the wrong term to use, but that moment in Bulletstorm still lives in my mind rent free, and I am having a hard time trying to evict it.
Outriders launches April 1st, 2021 on PC, Xbox One and Series X|S console families, and PlayStation 4 & 5. For reference, my current PC setup is: 4.0 GHz Intel Core i6 6th Gen CPU, 16GB RAM, Samsung 2.5” SSD, and a GeForce RTX 2060 GPU while using a BenQ GL2760H Monitor (for which I am always looking for a replacement).