Any self-respecting writer would agree that, without an intriguing or exciting opening to your story, you’re less likely to capture anyone’s attention no matter how good the content further in may be. You set the tone early on, be it a sentence or a few paragraphs, maybe leave a few breadcrumbs to pull a reader further in or throw out surprise twist that urges you to keep on reading to discover more. The same can be for any form of media, but when it comes to those first few moments beyond the title screen within a video game, it could make all the difference between garnering much needed praise on launch day or having a multitude of readers instantly uninstalling and clicking the dreaded ‘negative feedback’ button.
Such was the dilemma many may have faced when loading up People Can Fly’s recently released action shooter, Outriders. Backed by Square Enix and garnering plenty of interest following its pre-release demo phase, the Polish based studio no doubt had their hands full during the first few days of launch thanks to several server issues and bugs that played a part in many an average review from critics. Though much of those problems still exist weeks later, there is one glaring problem that’s yet to be addressed. Yes, you guessed it, the opening sequence.
Credit: Bandai Namco
Outriders begins with a few quick words that flash across the screen. ‘Earth was dead’, it reads, ‘We had destroyed it’. That is quickly followed up with a few short cut-scenes that fill the player in on said dying Earth and the colony ship holding hundreds of thousands of lives that settles above a potential new home. An intriguing enough start, you might think, until the first pods touch down on the unknown world below.
It’s here that things start to become a little muddled. You eventually take control of your chosen character, tasked with aiding the first humans to land on the surface with setting up camp and scouting the surrounding area. What could have been a moment of wonder, as your character takes in the scenery around them, instead becomes a slow slog of ‘talk to this NPC’ and ‘talk to that NPC’, before finally ‘go over there for a second.’ To be fair, and minor spoilers for those who haven’t played this yet, when you do eventually climb up a small hill to see the world beyond and see a massive storm off on the horizon, it’s a genuinely nice albeit brief moment.
This is the ultimate take away from the first hour of Outriders’ campaign, short blips of time that attempt to setup the world beyond with the eventual twist that leads your character to be frozen in time before being let out into a war-ravaged society many years later. What could have been an intriguing tale of ‘what if?’ amongst the unknown instead divulges into stock standard sci-fi tropes and selfish scientists making obvious mistakes, awkwardly rushing the player into the 3rd person combat in the process.
Let’s be honest for a moment. Outriders isn’t a polished title by any stretch of the imagination, with the above sequence hampered by screen tearing and low framerates, coupled with badly timed fade outs between real world interactions and cut scenes and just a general blandness to the NPC’s that seem a little like an afterthought. That isn’t to say the rest of the game is quite as bad, many reviews (including our very own link here) have praised its cooperative combat mechanics and unique special abilities as key strengths. Indeed, the story itself does find a footing over time, a competent tale of an anomaly that transforms your character into an other-worldly being and the people who now call Enoch home. It’s intriguing, but that doesn’t change the fact that those opening few moments are rough at best.
Let’s find a few other titles to compare to that didn’t struggle to get its point across in the early going, the first and obvious of which is the framework from which Outriders was largely based on: Gears of War. From the opening beats of the dark and violent opening sequence, we are quickly filled in on the once peaceful world of Sera and the moment known as Emergence Day, the day the alien horde invaded. We see the devastation firsthand, billions of lives lost as the remaining humans destroy their home to prevent the enemy from controlling it. In less than a minute, we the audience know the stakes, the brutal enemy we are about to face and the last desperate stand we are about to embark on before a dark and uncompromising jail cell greets us and we’re right into the action, with plenty of questions left to be answered.
Gears of War set a new level of depth and attitude with its uncompromising brutality and bleak atmosphere, but its opening sequence didn’t leave us waiting to get in our eventual heroes’ shoes, effectively divulging its backstory that left new players dying to know more. It’s the perfect example of a captivating introduction that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it isn’t the only one. Mass Effect 2 took the bold risk of killing off its lead character in its opening moments, a clear cover to allow players to rebirth Commander Shepard their own way for the sequel, but a powerful scene none the less that played further into the psyche of your hero over time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild quickly enforced the notion that it unlike any previous title in the famed series by establishing one of the most beautiful zoom-outs in modern video game history. Plus, if we’re talking about establishing a new and mysterious world, who could forget taking a trip down into the world of Rapture for the first time in Bioshock.
The list of excellent opening sequences is wide ranging, no doubt there are plenty you can think of too, because at their core they are one word: memorable. Even if you have never picked up and played many of them, say a Final Fantasy 7 or Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, no doubt you’ve at least heard or seen someone mention how epic they may have been to them.Maybe Outriders will garner more attention over time, maybe People Can Fly can solve some of its technical limitations with a few patches and upgrades, but it stands to reason that the games’ opening few moments don’t do the rest of it justice. A damn shame too, because with a little tinkering and polish Outriders could have pulled in a lot more fans and created a memorable video game moment all its own.