“Hey, that sniper kinda hurts,” I say as I duck back into cover, my health drained. Bullets whiz over my and my brother’s heads, and he takes potshots at the enemies shooting at us from the top of the hill. It’s only a matter of time before a grenade lands and flushes us out of cover. These people are frag happy.
I glance at my skills. My “temporal blade” is almost off cooldown.
“Your skills up?” I ask my brother over the mic.
“A second away. Usual opener?”
With a breath in real life and the game, I highlight an enemy and hit R1. Suddenly, I warp behind him, stunning his friends. I tap L1 and slash through the air in front of me. There’s a sound like flickering electricity before the crowd in range—a few on the other side of a barrier—turn to ash. The rest spin to me.
“Uh . . . dude, where are you?” I ask moments before my brother slams into the ground behind them, staggering the crowd and distracting them long enough for me to get my bearings.
The rest is a matter of staying alive longer than them.
Outriders is a cooperative third-person sci-fi shooter published by Bulletstorm and Gears of War co-developer People Can Fly. Apart from being able to attach entirely too many adjectives to the game, it’s a promising AAA title from a studio with a solid track record. Recently, they did something risky: opened a demo of the first chapter of the game to the wider public a month ahead of its release.
My brother and I, as huge fans of the Gears of War series and longtime co-op partners in need of a new adventure since we blasted our way through Borderlands 3, thought it sounded like a great bet.
We weren’t disappointed. From story to gameplay, Outriders assembles a bunch of old ideas, sprinkles fresh seasoning over top and serves up a dish of fast-paced co-op shooter fun that keeps you interested, engaged and entertained without overwhelming you with noise and needless information.
Among the first things to impress me about Outriders was the story. While the premise isn’t unique—Earth is uninhabitable, and we’ve moved to a surprisingly hostile new planet to preserve the species—the strength of the narrative is in the details and the nuance. It takes a war-story approach to this classic sci-fi idea, as though asking what would happen if the generation of new settlers was comprised entirely of violent soldiers. Sure enough, the ravages and trauma of war are present from the moment they leave Earth.
The game also adds great plot touches, like the presence of a mysterious signal that provides enough curiosity to drive the tale forward.
For a demo so packed with different characters, Outriders manages to keep each one distinct and recognizable without reducing them to archetypes. I found myself invested enough in the characters who were offed in the first ten minutes of gameplay to be angry about their deaths. Other characters, like the enigmatic Seth, left me curious about their motives and story.
The character design, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. While the characters are easily distinguishable from one another, their designs aren’t special compared to the broader world of sci-fi characters.
The monsters, on the other hand, stand out.
While the game is often hilarious, one glaring gap in the humor is the main character’s dialogue. They frequently drop “witty” one-liners that sound more like a douche bag trying to be funny than a comedian. Still, the situational humor and the jabs from other characters net enough laughs to make up for the occasionally cringey protagonist.
This is the most impressive part of Outriders. A core element of the game is that, despite being a third-person, cover-based shooter, you also have an array of special powers determined by your class. This system, at least in the demo, is incredibly flexible. It injects the benefits of fast-paced God of War-style close-range action into the world of a shooter that, instead of breaking both styles, introduces a new realm of tactics. The end result is a game that combines the aggressive energy of 2016’s Doom with tricksy, strategic gameplay.
This really shines when you watch the game’s classes in action. Attention was clearly paid to how skills across classes could synergize, giving every party its own distinct strategies, opened up by how they mix and match skills.
As if that isn’t enough, the same effort was pumped into throwing great bosses at the players. Their powers make you feel the threat of dealing with other super-powered soldiers, bending the environment and forcing your tactical abilities to their limits.
Unfortunately, several technical issues marred the game design. From glitches that separated the party and overloaded servers to desynchronized dialogue and a noticeable lag in using abilities, those technical issues dragged down the quality of play. I’m willing to excuse these issues in a demo, but I would be far less lenient if these issues are still prevalent in the full release.
Outriders has a ton of potential. The technical issues are worrying, given the trend of developers shipping half-finished games, so I might hold off on buying it until I know they’ve been resolved. However, given the quality of the design, the gripping story and the presence of cross-play, the game has the potential to be a stunning entry to the annals of co-op shooters.
Think Destiny, but . . . good.