Ever since its reveal at E3 2019, Outriders has struggled to leave a mark, but more recent gameplay videos have at least shown promise. As such, the announcement of a playable demo had us excited to finally go hands-on with this new looter shooter, to see whether it could offer something a bit different. But as it happens, our hope for Outriders is now at an all-time low. Going by what we've played on PlayStation 5, the game's in for a rough launch.
Now, before we get stuck in, we need to make it clear that these impressions are based on the demo alone. We'd love to see Outriders release in a much better state come April, but we're not about to get our hopes up. Playable alpha and beta tests are one thing, but demos released just over a month from launch are usually a clear indicator of what to expect from the finished product.
Simply put, Outriders is really rough around the edges. The visuals, the animation, the technical performance — it all leaves a lot to be desired. Following on from some basic character creation, you're thrust onto the surface of an alien world as you and other survivors from a now doomed Earth take the first steps towards colonising a new home. The story moves quickly and does a surprisingly good job of subverting initial expectations, but it's undone by some extremely cliche character dialogue and shocking directorial decisions.
Indeed, the shaky cutscene camera in Outriders is horrific. The very first scene to feature two characters standing around talking to one another is shot like it's a gritty TV drama on speed. It's immediately jarring, and to make matters worse, cutscenes are capped at 30 frames-per-second on PS5, whereas general gameplay hits 60. This was honestly enough to give us noticeable, headache-inducing eye strain by the time we had finished with the demo.
So the storytelling is a mess, but the actual gameplay should be where Outriders shines — and it does... Kind of. There's definitely potential in how combat is handled. There's a cover system, but you're pretty much forced to be aggressive at all times. The twist here is that, depending on your class, dealing damage or killing enemies is how you regenerate lost health. Your foes are relentless — they'll hammer your position with bullets and grenades should you sit in cover for more than a couple of seconds — and so taking the fight to them is key.
There's an emphasis on using skills and abilities, much like you would in a full-on action RPG like Diablo. The Pyromancer class sets opponents ablaze with long-range powers, while the Devastator crushes enemies up close with earthen might. Destroying your foes is good fun, and together with some solid shooting, Outriders has a moment-to moment gameplay loop that's relatively unique and quite refreshing. We can see combat getting better over the course of the game, too, thanks to reasonably sized skill trees that are mostly left unused in the demo.
But even Outriders' promising combat finds itself hamstrung by the poor design that surrounds it. For an experience that emphasises action, the encounters that are found in the demo are over far too quickly. Environments are small and linear — and they're separated by baffling cutscenes. These things border on parody, as the screen fades to black, only to then show a three-second cinematic where your character jumps over a small gap, or opens a door. Particularly during the demo's side quests — where you're backtracking from one area to the next — these scenes are a disaster. What should be a quick excursion from quest-giver to objective and back again devolves into a near comedic parade of black screens. It's like something out of an early PS3 game.
There's a chance that beyond the opening chapter that's showcased by the demo, Outriders blossoms into a much better game — but we won't be convinced until we've actually played it. The looter shooter genre is already littered with titles that squandered early opportunities to impress and never recovered (ANTHEM immediately springs to mind), and Outriders has to try and avoid that same fate. The demo, however, does not inspire confidence.