Originality is completely overrated. That’s the 180 I’ve done this week, and will probably do yet again when an original game does cross my path again, but for now I’m content to say that even if a video game happens to be about as derivative as a TV channel pumping out trashy reality shows about the most uninteresting people on earth bidding for storage units, so long as the end product is good I’ll be there.
That’s Outriders for you, a game which very much looks, feels, and plays like the bastard love-child of Gears of War, Destiny 2, and Apocalypse Now. It’s an apt comparison that every outlet is going to make, but it’s true! On the surface you have a chunky third-person shooter from the studio that brought you Gears of War, combined with the menu system of Destiny 2.
Also the weapons and powers of Bungie’s beloved space sandbox, but more on that in a hot minute. Just like Gears of War, Outriders kicks off on an alien planet that looks alright, and then things quickly go to hell. Within the span of minutes you’ve been gifted super-duper rad powers, left for dead, betrayed by a massive dick with a god complex, shoved into a fridge to heal from your injuries and reawakened three decades later to a massive civil war that the remnants of humanity has been waging for what few natural resources are still available. That’s a lot!
The bad news is that everything around you kind of sucks. The good news is that you’re pretty much a walking meat-tank gifted with powers that turn you into an unstoppable juggernaut who can warm the back of his hand up by slapping enemies into age, turn into a Beyblade that uses time-warping spinning attacks to tear through anyone unlucky enough to be caught in your human blender path or you can just go full Neo as the Devastator and absorb all the bullets thrown right at you.
And that’s terrific stuff, because the frame that Outriders is built around is one that unmistakably borrows a lot from developer People Can Fly’s previous efforts on the planet of Pandora, Gears of War Judgement. On its own, that would make Outriders a fine game, one wherein mobs of enemies rush you, you hunker on down, and you trade potshots at one another to see who can soak up the biggest number of bullets before they end up dead.
But it is 2021. It’s not good enough to just be a clone of a successful game, you need to add something extra to the pot. Pour one out then for Quantum Theory which tried and failed miserably to do just this back in the day. Anyway, Outriders rocks up to the cover-based shooter party with an entire keg of attitude and exotic powers.
It is liberating to be able to run out from cover and turn into a human blender, as the entire idea of Outriders is that it wants you to gamble with your health. Kills earn back chunks of your oh-so-precious health bar, and even add more to it via shields with some of the other classes on offer. Outriders wants you to get out of your comfort zone, it wants you to rush into the battlefield without a care in the world.
And it does that with its unique quartet of classes, two of which I genuinely do not care about because I tackled this game as a solo player. Let’s get this out of the way: If you’re a team player, who loves supporting his pals and plans to co-op Outriders as much as possible, then go for the Technomancer or the Pyromancer classes.
If you want to be cool though? The Trickster and Devastator classes are where it’s at. These are the main eventers of Outriders, unstoppable and immovable in their coolness. They tear through enemies like a hot fart ripping through cheap underwear, smashing apart defensive positions and titans with relative ease.
Honestly, can you say you’ve truly lived if you haven’t turned into a human meteor, slammed into an enemy who thought he was safe, and then turned the unlucky bugger into a greasy red smear? What Outriders genuinely gets right is how it motivates you to use these powers, giving them incredibly short cooldown periods with generous levels of damage-dealing potential.
I could go on about how you have a tasty bag of powers across all four classes, and you can further customise them with a ton of options within the menu. I could wax lyrical about how Outriders has a gear system that is terrifically broken in all the right ways, adding more fuel to the power fire, but that’s not the key takeaway I want to make here.
Put aside its weirdly rubbish attempts to tell a story on par with that of Apocalypse Now, and look at the entire project to see that it offers a level of empowerment that comes at the right time. I know everyone is tired of hearing about the pandemic, and the last year has been a reminder of our own mortality while also making sacrifices for the greater good.
Video games have been an escape from a terrible reality, and at the peak of this paradigm shift in the world, at the edge of our very hope, games like Outriders give people back a sense of power and agency that they feel has been missing from their lives for far too many months. Outriders is a joy to play, because it feels good to feel like you’re in control.
It feels amazing to be an invincible god who bends time and bullets, smacking down horrific alien monsters and growing in power. Of course you can fine-tune the game to actually give you a run for your money, with the World Tiers system being a neat method for accruing a gross level of grime and finger sweat on your console controllers.
There is admittedly less endgame than golden path content, and the game only finds its footing once you start tinkering around with more exotic gear to complement your various abilities, but there’s no denying that Outriders is a slick and action-packed experience that nails the idea of being a gun-toting god facing off against alien abominations and humanity’s worst specimens.
At the time of writing though, Outriders seems to have stability issues for its co-op experience. While the idea of drop-in and drop-out multiplayer with friends is solid, in practise it has been an exercise in frustration with numerous disconnects and lag issues. When it does work, seldomly, it’s an absolute blast to see how the four disciplines mesh with each other. Tricksters and Devastators soak up enemy aggro, Technomancers offer aid with their various gadgets, and Pyromancers are actually useful in-betweeners who weaken enemies with flash-fire attacks that leave them ripe for the kill.
Those current teething problems are set to be fixed in an upcoming patch, but for now Outriders shines best as a solo video game. It may sound odd for a retro-inspired game to only harken back to an experience from a mere decade ago, but People Can Fly’s latest effort is the right amount of power, fun, and attitude at the right time.
Last Updated: April 9, 2021