I first heard about Outcast some time ago, I was initially excited about the scope of the
project. From all descriptions, it was to have hundreds of developed characters, multiple
massive continents to explore, 50+ hours of gameplay, action and adventure all in one.
Everything pointed to an instant classic. I was just hoping that Id get
the chance to play the game. And now that I have, Im not entirely sure how I feel
about it. As far as adventure gaming goes, first-time developer Appeal has set a new
high-bar for complex, well-written game storylines, though as far as action, this game has
taken a couple steps backward. Its not horrible, its just kind of
As the story of Outcast begins, the US military has sent a probe into an alternate parallel universe. Upon landing on the beautifully voxel-rendered planet of Adelpha, it somehow triggers a black hole that now imperils our own world. "You are Cutter Slade, Commander of an elite team of scientists chosen to embark on a high stakes mission that will determine the fate of the earth." Hilarious names aside, as well as the obvious influences of Stargate, the plot centers around your character awaking and being perceived as a messiah, and French fashion victim, come to end all of the peaceful inhabitants of Adelphas problems. You must now wander the planet and find a way to bring about peacethrough sneaking, shooting, and sidequests.
Outcast does, in fact, boast six genuinely large continents. The first and smallest, Ranzarr, is a snow world set up primarily to introduce you to the game and provide you with a little training and background. Then you are on to Shamazaar, the temple world that really starts the game. You progress through Okasankaar, the marsh world, Talanzaar, the city world, Motazaar, the mountain world, and Okaar the forest world, with its carnivorous plantlife. Each of the continents have their own particular flavor, and each presents new challenges and more folks to talk to, as well as new heights in visual splendor. These environments, if you tweak your graphics, are really rich and incredible.
If your PC is like mine--in that limbo between required and recommended requirements, out of the box the game doesnt look all that impressive, in fact, I initially felt a little discouraged. With the factory defaults on it looks no better than something on the PlayStation. Fortunately theres an excellent array of performance options to optimize graphics and sound. First of all, youre going to want to crank up the bump mapping and character detail, unless you feel that you can be fooled into believing that those big black rectangles are in fact your characters feet. The cinemascope option renders the game in a 16/9 aspect ratio window, kind of like a letterboxed version of the game, and Im still not sure how I feel about this one. It does noticeably improve the performance of the game, but all that blank space on my screen seems sort of wasted. More than anything, you're going to want set the antialiasing to high. Post rendering enables those cool water and fog effects Im sure youve marveled at in the screen shots. You can also use the large crowd setting to increase the citizenry of the towns in the game. While you're there, enable the 3D sound and ambient sounds--they make a big difference in the feel of the game. Now that youve got the game looking and sounding like it should you can get on with the play. Oh, and force feedback is supported though I really have no idea why.
There is an incredible amount of dialogue in Outcast, and it's also incredible that the greater part of it is useful. The problem here is that the inhabitants of Adelpha sprinkle their languagei.e. what you hearwith a respectable amount local vernacular. From the standpoint of providing an engaging way for the player to enter the world of the game, the vocabulary is effective, although I worry that this may turn off some gamers uninterested in the anthropology of Adelpha. The lexicon may then just seem superfluous to gameplay.
Most of the game is best spent in third-person view, except when you're using a weapon, where first-person is ideal. There are also some views that are in-between third and first that may come in handy now and then. Instead of walking or running, riding the two-legged Twon-ha expedites travel exponentially. You can even fight on it, and I wonder if this animal is related to ESBs Taun-Taun. You also have a small inventory to keep in your backpack as well as a notepad to keep track of your quests and a lexicon display to figure out what everyone is saying.
The weapons of Outcast come in the form of six fairly typical gaming types: basic pistol, dart gun, mortar-style gun, flame thrower-thingy and the very cooly named Perforator gun, and each can be upgraded. While playing you need to remember that using your weapons on the good guys will kill you, so be careful. The review guide that I received with the game states that the best way to "beat the enemies . . . is to run towards them, strafing left and right and firing constantly." This appears to be true. Remember to strafe widely left and right, as there is little precision with any of the weapons, but also remember to be careful. Most "combat" is done by sneaking around since taking on enemies from the front will invariably lead to your death. Unfortunately, sneaking around in this game is not nearly as fun as in Thief: the Dark Project. You can achieve invisibility for short periods using the Proton Phase Shifter, which alleviates some of the frustration. And, your binoculars also have an X-ray mode to look inside buildings. The coolest, however, is the use of a hologram of yourself to draw away enemies. But all of these nifty gadgets dont make up for the inherent problems with the action of shooting things, which I think most all gamers expect.
Coming on the heels of reviewing System Shock 2, a game that I feel all gamers should at least take a crack at, Outcast presented me with the challenge of playing a game that could be shoehorned into the same genre of SS2 but consisted of an entirely different style of gameplay. Im not referring to the fact that Outcast is best played in third-person, but that it feels . . . well, for lack of better terms, foreign. Not that I think that is necessarily bad or anything, it just took me quite awhile to get into the game, what with the thick spread of local lingo and all of the chatting. The action also seemed to lack a little. Nonetheless, Outcast is a good game, and this kind of immersive gaming is just starting to build an audience. Give Outcast a try, it may be right up your alley, and then again, it may not.