There’s an offhand line in Outriders that sure sounds like a reference to the failed January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. According to the game’s publisher, any connections one could make there are “purely coincidental.”
Developed by People Can Fly and published by Square Enix, the class-based looter-shooter Outriders officially released last week for everything but the Switch. In the future—you’ll never believe this—“Earth [is] dead,” ruined by war and famine and all that other apocalyptic turmoil that tends to serve as set dressing in airport kiosk sci-fi novels. To preserve humanity, the governments of Earth band together and fund a colony ship that will carry thousands of survivors to a habitable planet, Enoch, roughly a dozen light years away.
You’re cast as a titular outrider, a gun-slinging badass tasked with exploring Enoch before the rest of the settlers leave the safe confines of the ship. Within the first 30 minutes, you’re betrayed, grievously wounded, trapped in an energy storm, bequeathed supernatural powers, and stuffed into a cryogenic chamber. You wake up three decades later, and you’re all like, “What the fuuuuu…” In short order, you find an old friend, Jakub, who takes a moment to recognize you but is also, like, “What the fuuuu…” And then you go on adventures.
One early mission—“Reunion,” also playable in the game’s meaty free demo—features some banter between your character and Jakub, with the two reminiscing about the good ol’ days of killing people on Earth.
You: “I’m getting major déjà vu in this place. Reminds me of that mission is Damascus, where we rescued those diplomats.”
Jakub: “I had to save your ass from that machete-wielding mob.”
You: “Ha! More like that time I had to save your sorry ass from that redneck mob storming D.C.”
You’d not be wrong to think this line is a reference to the failed coup attempt that was agitated by Republican political leadership. On January 6, thousands of supporters of twice-impeached president Donald Trump rushed the U.S. Capitol with the ostensible intention of overturning legitimate election results. Five people died. In the weeks after, two officers died by suicide. (Though authorities are currently looking for and arresting civilians who stormed the Capitol, no Republican party heads have faced serious legal repercussions to date.)
When reached for comment by Kotaku, representatives for Square Enix and People Can Fly had this to say: “We wrote and recorded the script for Outriders a couple of years ago and all aspects of it are entirely fictional and related to the backstory of the game. Any similarities to real-world events are purely coincidental.”
So there you have it.
In hindsight, assumptions that Outriders would reference events of early 2021 were misplaced. The riot, to reiterate, happened on January 6. The Outriders demo was made available on February 25. Any facet of game production, let alone in a pandemic, is a painstaking process. The team at People Can Fly is no doubt stacked with talent, but given the complicated certifications games must pass before release, one imagines making a change at the 11th hour is no cakewalk.
But you can also glean the obvious from the game’s lore. Outriders might not have the best dialogue (selected one-liner: “I thought this was the bathroom.” [kills dudes]), but that doesn’t mean it’s absent decent writing. It’s just that most of the good stuff—the worldbuilding, chiefly—exists in the margins.
Dive into the Journal menu and you’ll learn that Outriders starts in 2159, the first year on Enoch. You’ll also learn that the journey to Enoch didn’t start until the mid-2070s. Though your character is imbued with longevity and superpowers and all that jazz, such boons are a result of events that went down on Enoch. They are, at most, 40, and that’s a very generous estimation on my part. (Square, drop the Outriders skincare routine, please!) Going by the timeline, it’s practically impossible that your outrider would’ve been alive in 2021, let alone cognizant and strapped enough to survive a “redneck mob.”
It’s fun to imagine the fictional Outriders features a one-off line referencing an unhinged insurrection that resulted in tragedy, but the notion is apparently just a fantasy. That’s a contrast to the actual reality we inhabit, in which such things can happen with seemingly no repercussions for those who set them in motion.