I booted up Outriders for the first time yesterday, and once I finally got logged onto the servers, my first thought was that Outriders is a very dark game. I don’t mean in terms of its content – I mean literally, the game is too damn dark.
It’s not just my settings either. Naturally, when I realized that the game was too dark, I checked the brightness and found that it was on a lowly 15. I bumped it right up, and it made everything look washed out, so I settled on a middle ground, but the problem still isn’t fixed. Even the happy medium still looks a bit washed out, and none of the three settings I tried fixed the darkness anyway. That’s because it’s not really an issue with dimness, it’s an issue with lighting. Turns out 15 was actually the right setting all along.
Outriders has incredibly harsh lighting a lot of the time, and that means that when the light catches something, it looks brilliantly illuminated and every little detail pops. I know we’re just in the demo right now, but there are already some gorgeous vistas to behold. The problem is that this harsh lighting casts very black shadows, and if you look at something from the wrong angle, everything looks hideous. The images I’ve added in below show the same region from two slightly different angles.
This is a wide open space with lots of natural light. The pitch black shadows are simply out of place here.
This is also a problem in the cutscenes, although in fairness, the cutscenes often take place in ships or bunkers, where the lack of light is more realistic. Even then though, this doesn’t feel like the right call. Many games and movies and TV shows happen in dark places, but the shots are still lit well enough that the shadows are not invasive, and that the audience – or player, in this case – can still tell what’s going on. Game of Thrones contained an epic battle in its final season, a battle that featured hardly any lighting at all and was heavily criticised for being entirely too dark throughout. Realistic? Maybe, if you don’t count the ice zombies. Practical? Not at all.
It makes me think of Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer for the Lord of the Rings movies. Like in Game of Thrones, there was a night-time battle for Lesnie to oversee, but he chose to light the scene so that we could all actually see it, and most people would agree that worked out much better than Game of Thrones’ siege of Winterfell. When asked about where this light actually came from, Lesnie simply replied, “Same place as the music.” Superb.
Sometimes, darkness is a choice. The X-Files, a series about shady conspiracies within shady conspiracies, was often deliberately underlit to offer a sense of suspicion and claustrophobia to every sequence. Done well, it can elevate a scene in uncomfortable, unfamiliar ways, but in Outriders, it isn’t done well. In fact, I’m fairly sure it isn’t even being done deliberately.
I’m enjoying the Outriders demo enough so far. I don’t usually go in for online shooters and Outriders seems like it’s trying to cobble together elements of all the big ones, so I’m never going to love it, but I’d probably like it more if I could see where I was going. Oh, and don’t worry about where the light is coming from; it’s the same place as the music.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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