This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Outriders.
Blimey, I thought video games were supposed to be violent! I've been doing so little killing lately, I'm becoming dangerously well-adjusted. Just look at my last few reviews: idle games, management games, farming sims; last night, a stray cat came into my front garden, and I didn't stomp it to death! High time for some good old-fashioned mindless violence, and who better to provide it than People Can Fly, the developers behind Painkiller, old-school boomer shooter from before old-school boomer shooters were wallpapering the fucking rumpus room, and, more recently, of Bulletstorm, quirky tongue-in-cheek spectacle shooter that's like Gears of War trying desperately to loosen up at an office Christmas party? I can certainly trust them to provide a murder simulator that's at least interesting to talk about, and not another bloody multiplayer-focused looter-shooter with endless copy-pasted bullet-sponge baddies and a cover art depicting some smug people walking slowly towards the camera. Isn't that right, People Can Fly? Yeah, I know Outriders is all the things I just said! I was doing a little funny; wipe that puppy-dog look off your face!
I love when review codes of games come with a little review guide telling you how proud the creators are of their product, and what specific parts they'd most like you to gush about in your effusively praiseful review. It's amusing to me that they think I'm capable of guilt. It's like playing football, you know; if you let something inflate itself first, you'll have a lot more fun kicking it in the face. Outriders' blurb file says a couple of interesting things: firstly, that it can be completely enjoyed in single-player, which is always a wonderful excuse to test that claim. Does this mean you have an offline mode, Outriders? "Ohohohohohoho, it's good that we can still have fun, Yahtzee!"
Yes, might as well admit now that this will only be a review of the first four or five hours of Outriders, 'cos most of the limited time I had to play it in, the servers stayed on about as reliably as an oversized sweater on a mischievous dog. I know we're all fucking jaded to games being always online these days, but maybe, as a favor to me, you could all go back to not being jaded just for a little bit? Burn down a few shrines to capitalism? How about one shrine to capitalism? And you don't even have to burn it; we can just piss in the letterbox.
Another interesting thing admitted in the Outriders review guide is that, quote, "it may look like a looter-shooter on the surface, and many players may compare Outriders to a looter-shooter." Many players, People Can Fly, implying that some of them don't? Have those people gotten their eyes checked lately? 'Cos that's a cause for concern! I haven't seen pussy-footing like this since the last time I refereed a women’s kickboxing tournament. It IS a fucking looter-shooter; just accept it! You basically play an ultra-violent homeless person who has to push their shopping cart around at the end of every battle, seeing if this +3 Filthy Overcoat provides better protection than their currently-equipped +2 Burlap Sack Held On With String. "Alright, fine; it's got looter-shooter elements, but we've also focusing on our epic dark sci-fi story!" Well, let's look at that and see if it lives up to that avalanche of adjectives.
The plot is, the planet Earth goes back once again to its abusive spouse, the human race, and once again pays the price, forcing the human race to move out and find another planet to mooch off. After decades traveling through space, we find one that seems gullible enough, and we're part of the scouting party that tentatively reports that it's not a horror planet of monsters and everyone can come down and start burning down the forests and building a load of TGI Fridays. Moments later, PSYCHE! Turns out it was a horror planet of monsters; you get wounded and cryo-frozen, and wake up thirty years later to find a hell-world where humanity are locked into the usual "fascists vs. nutters" forever-war. Great job, guys! Smashed that previous planet-fucking speed record; let's find another one and see if we can get it sub-two decades.
The "forever-war on hell-world" setting is rather disappointingly standard, but I do kind of like how the story's told, focusing on our main dude's perspective as he wakes up in an unfamiliar future and careens from crisis to crisis, bewilderedly asking where all the toilets got moved to. Also, the whole story has this air of dispassionate nihilism that I found rather entertaining; it keeps introducing new characters with distinct appearances and fleshed-out backstories and then killing them off minutes later. Ho yes, this ain't Gears of War; keeping your helmet off won't save you now! I don't like the way the camera constantly jiggles during cutscenes, like it's being directed by Paul Greengrass while he's trying to balance a book on his head. It doesn't add gritty realism; it gives me a headache, and makes me think every character's busting for a piss.
Anyway, our hero is randomly given superpowers for some inadequately-explored reason, and that brings us to the combat, which is a seemingly endless parade of chest-high wall cover-shooting arenas full of enemies that all look alike, 'cos most of them strapped an entire dinnerware set to their bodies. The stated intention is that you have to get stuck in and be aggressive, because enemies are constantly driving you back and killing dudes with your superpowers is the only way to heal, in which case, I wonder why they made it a cover-based shooter, a gameplay style more suited to caution and sitting on your pimply space-marine bum, 'cos you can only move in short bursts when you've got saucepan lids strapped to all your limbs; maybe it, too, was cryogenically frozen at some point around the early 2010's.
Honestly, any catharsis that came from using my superpowers to blowtorch nearby enemies like they're a litter of unwanted kittens who didn't show me enough respect is offset by the frustrating level of difficulty, as I'm peppered with gunfire from all sides in battles clearly designed on the assumption I'd have other players with me to split the damage, especially the bullet-spongy boss fights with health bars like we're chewing on broom handles. Thus is exposed the craven lie of equal single-and-multiplayer experiences, but then, I expected as much.
I'm going to stream some inconvenient truth-piss into your letterbox now, AAA games industry: it is not possible for any game to be equally enjoyable in both single- and-multiplayer; you can optimize the experience for one or the other, but never both, and the sooner you stop trying to cover all possible audiences at once with the same great big money-making hat, the better. The sooner the multiplayer-likers can go back to having games like Team Fortress where different classes have different skillsets and the gameplay is built around having to rely on each other to compensate for individual shortfalls, rather than making every class mealy-mouthed, basically-okay-at-everything straight-B students bound for the inevitable rude awakening once they get to college, and the single-player-likers can get back to being able to enjoy the story and challenge at their own pace, and sing dirty limericks to themselves without upsetting everyone in the voice chat, AND FUCKING PAUSE THE GAME!!
Sorry, bit of a tangent there. Normally, I'd summarize my feelings about Outriders at this point, but, unfortunately, my opinion is currently down due to server issues.
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