Playing cooperatively is one of my favourite aspects of video games. The ability to connect with the people while experiencing the same game has brought countless moments of joy into my life. From Star Wars Battlefront on the PlayStation 2 to Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Switch, many of the games that stick with me do so because I’m connecting with people while I’m playing them.
Now, as a primarily PC gamer, I don’t often get the chance to capture that joy, and while I do play games like Overwatch that require team coordination, the competitive nature often brings out the worst in people. That’s one of the reasons why I was so impressed with Outriders, the newest game by Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly and published by Square Enix. The game takes cues from established multiplayer experiences and combines them into a fast-paced, story-focused looter shooter that can be enjoyed by up to three people. I was able to play around three hours of Outriders together with my co-op partner Chris, and while it only represented a fraction of the total game, Outriders is very well positioned to be a co-op tour de force.
A significant reason why Outriders is such a satisfying co-op experience is that it’s just as much fun to watch your partner mow down enemies as it is to do so yourself. The game’s simple premise of fighting through hordes of enemies allows for each player’s abilities to shine and working together to pull off ability-based kills is extremely satisfying. It’s also important to have a teammate that you can rely on in Outriders as almost every enemy can deal serious damage to you if you’re not careful. Both Chris and I had to resurrect one another once during our playthrough, and the game does a stellar job of balancing moments of dealing significant damage and taking/avoiding it.
Being able to stay alive very much comes down to how you manage your classes abilities. During the playthrough, I unlocked three abilities per class, and each one brought something unique to Outriders’ core gameplay. Starting with the Trickster, they’re very much the hit and run class of the game. The first ability that you unlock is an energy sword that sweeps around your character and deals high damage to any enemies in the vicinity. For weaker enemies this completely vaporizes them and seeing their skeletons crumple to the ground is a very satisfying feeling. The second ability that you unlock teleports you behind an enemy and it gives you a split second window to deal some close-up damage before they can react. The last one that I was able to try out is an energy dome that slows down any enemy that is captured inside. It works well against mini-bosses and higher health enemies as it gives you time to deal damage and stay safe, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to use against grunts and makes for some great chain kills.
The other class that I got to play was the Devastator, which operates as Outriders tank class. The first ability that you unlock is a ground pound which sends out an avalanche of rocks that deals damage to those nearby. It’s punchy and works well to set the tone in enemy encounters. The second ability is a buff that covers your character in rocks, giving you added health and survivability. It’s not the most exciting ability but it’s useful, especially when being overrun by enemies. The Devastator’s last ability is my personal favourite as it allows your Outrider to levitate while choosing an area nearby to jump to. It serves as both an escape and an engagement tool, with the landing dealing significant damage while also making you feel like an action hero.
These abilities give Outriders a personality and the game feels like a faster, brighter Gears of War, something that makes sense given People Can Fly’s history with the franchise. There is an addicting sense of motion to Outriders as you’re constantly rolling, dodging and trying to reposition yourself against the hordes of enemies that you encounter. While there are many of them, they don’t feel trivial, as they can all damage you and have large enough health bars to demand the commitment of your attention. This speed also factors into the looting, as certain enemies drop guns, ammo and equipment that you can use right away.
Unfortunately, while Outriders is a story-based game, the actual narrative isn’t close to as exciting as the gameplay, at least early on. The story starts out on the way to the alien planet Enoch, after the earth has become inhospitable. It’s a fairly generic post-apocalyptic opening and as a member of the Outriders, it’s your job to get down to the new planet and make sure that it’s a good fit for the refugees of the human race. As expected things go sideways rather fast and after a brief introduction to some characters and general controls, you encounter an anomaly that explodes, injuring you and many of those around you, which ultimately leads to you being locked away in cryo-sleep. Flash forward 30 years and you awaken, un-aged and superpowered by the anomaly. While you were sleeping Enoch has transformed into a post-apocalyptic hellscape, full of war and danger. At this point, the optional co-op part of the game begins and things get far more enjoyable.
Even though the early story doesn’t stand out, the visual style does. The planet Enoch has varying locales, some lush and full of animal life and fauna, and others that are Mad Max-style areas, devoid of much of any life. There are muddy plains and trenches that harken back to World War I combat, but with the inclusion of energy weapons, flamethrowers and dynamic abilities. Because of the 30 year jump, you’re able to see older versions of characters and they mould nicely to the darker and more hardened world that has developed while you were cryo-sleeping. Polish driver Jakub stands out among the lot thanks to his dry sense of humour and lively dialogue.
Lastly, I was able to fight through one mini-boss and one full boss and they were both tense situations in which mine and my co-op partner’s health dipped to dangerous levels. We actually had more difficulty with the mini-boss than the final one as the min-boss drew power from a flame tornado that roamed around the area. In addition to dealing with him and the tornado, several grunts joined in to help take us down. The actual boss featured no extra enemies and being able to focus directly on it made for a tense but less chaotic experience.
Overall, Outriders is a game that captures the couch co-op spirit by introducing a fast, fun and ability-laden gameplay loop that rewards quick thinking and feels good to boot. The various powers are dynamic and each is easily differentiable, offering their own unique characteristics. This is a game that demands to be played together with someone else and a fantastic shoot ‘em up experience that looks, plays and feels sleek. If the final product is anything like the first three hours then Outriders is a game well worth playing.