Imagine the cover-shooting mechanics of Gears of War combined with four unique superhero classes and an open world layout with up to three player squads - and basically, that's Outriders. Developed by People Can Fly, the demo is enjoying plenty of attention at the moment - allowing players to test out the first chapter, then roll that progress into the full game due early next month. Within this advance sampler, users get a slice of the story, some side-missions, along with a chance to check out some fiery superpowers. All are hugely satisfying in their own right and combat is fast and dynamic, but it's fair to say that the experience varies significantly by the platform. We checked out the game on Xbox One X for a taster of the last-gen experience, then moved on to the new wave of consoles to see what's what - and the results are intriguing.
The key difference between the generations is very simple - frame-rate. It's worth pointing out here that Outriders isn't a straight 'back compat plus' upgrade as far as we can tell, it is definitely a native PlayStation 5 application, but the overall effect looks pretty similar in that a 30fps experience on the last-gen machines has the frame-rate limiter removed, allowing what is effectively the same game to run at up to 60 frames per second. Xbox One X is the most powerful machine of the prior era, and Outriders is certainly an impressive looking experience: Unreal Engine 4's temporal upscaler delivers a 4K output, but native resolution rendering is dynamic - 1728p at the minimum, 1944p on the maximum.
30fps is indeed the target for the last-gen machines, but the action is not as smooth as it should be: improper frame-pacing sees new frames delivered at 16ms, 33ms and 50ms intervals for the most part, so there is a consistency problem there. On top of that are genuine performance drops, one to two second stutters at points and obvious texture pop-in. However, the scope and quality of the visuals looks very close to what the new wave of consoles are delivering.
Doubling frame-rate is the way forward for the new hardware then and for a shooter like this, it's definitely the right call with tighter and crisper response and a smoother appearance overall - but the extent to which 60fps is delivered varies by the platform, and there are some curious choices here. Kicking off with Xbox Series S, the new entry-level Microsoft machine operates with dynamic resolution scaling with a 900p to 1440p range, but still seems to use TAA upscaling to 4K. Performance is the lowest of the bunch here, bottoming out at 45fps and generally losing a fair amount of consistency in the process. We also noted that some aspects of draw distance and foliage density were pared back, but while noticeable, it's not a deal breaker.
The head-to-head between PS5 and Xbox Series X is interesting in that two machines that have thus far shown similar capabilities are utilised in different ways in this title. Again, both use dynamic resolution scaling and temporal upsampling, with a 1440p to 2088p window on the premium Microsoft machine, dropping to a 1260p to 1800p range on PlayStation 5. The results of this are pretty much as you would expect based on what we've seen from these machines - the Xbox is not as stable, running in a 50-60fps range, while PlayStation 5 only has minor drops from its target 60 frames per second.
Ultimately, as Outriders leans heavily into the post-process heavy aesthetic often delivered by Unreal Engine 4 titles, resolution isn't as important to the gameplay experience as frame-rate, so there is the sense that the DRS range chosen for the PlayStation 5 version of the game is possibly the better fit - and we do wonder whether tweaking the lower bounds on Series X and indeed Series S could bring those versions closer into line in terms of a smoother overall experience. It looks like improper frame-pacing at 30fps is an issue on all systems - on the new machines, cutscenes still run at this frame-rate and uneven frame delivery is still an issue, something we'd hope to see resolved.
There's still time to tweak the game and the action is certainly compelling. There's a great game at the core here, and there's the sense that on the latest consoles at least, it's just a case of smoothing out some of the technical issues - and we're certainly looking forward to checking out the full game in due course.
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