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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine


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by Take 2

 

Outlive, the new release produced by Take 2 Studios in cooperation with Continuum Entertainment, a game design company from Brazil, claims to be a breakthrough in the RTS gaming market, combining revolutionary AI with stunning graphics. Unfortunately, Outlive truly deserves to its name; it becomes a real question of whether or not the player will be willing to outlive dated graphics, uninventive and tedious gaming scenarios, and blatant references to earlier, more successful RTS releases to finish even the single player missions.

Outlive focuses its plot development on environmental concerns in the near future of Earth. Having depleted all the available mineral and fuel resources on Earth, plans are being made to try and discover new supplies on other planets within the Solar System and develop methods to acquire those resources. The plot focuses on the development of two alternatives: genetic bio-engineering and robotic advancements. As both of these projects progress, terrorists strive to bring down the ruling powers to create anarchy on Earth. These terrorist plots are aided by deep schisms within the ruling hierarchy, resulting in a political and military mess that the player is expected to resolve through the use of brute force and strategy. Much of the game’s plot is developed through brief cutscenes and mission briefings that try to tie the actual gameplay into a much broader timeline of events.

Many of the ideas and theories presented in Outlive could be very topical, especially in the view of the current energy crisis taking place in the United States, which is also spreading to affect peoples in other parts of the globe, including Brazil. The plotline, however, is very simplistic and does little to examine many of the ethical or philosophical questions that should arise when dealing with either artificial intelligence or scientific exploration of genetic materials. Rather, the game focuses on the simple formula of political corruption, betrayal, and other shopworn themes that can be found in hundreds of other games. The progression of the plot is only demonstrated through slow scenario introductions which combine text outlines and voice-overs that add nothing to the overall presentation of the game.

The game format itself also misses the boat. The control interface mirrors those found in almost every other RTS games, with the added options of controling the amounts of resources allocated to unit maintainence and scientific research. While the idea is interesting, the actual application of these options merely adds to the tedious scenario layout, wherein achieving the scenario goals often turns out to be nothing more than a simple process of obtaining resources, producing a sufficient number of units, and wiping out all enemy resistance. There is no real need for any kind of real strategy within the game itself; the units act in such predictable ways that many of the same gaming styles that have worked for me in other games lend themselves to this game as well.

In addition to the predictability of the units themselves is the sheer number of units. More often than not, I found myself despairing when the new scenario map opened because I realized the amount of time that it would take in order to clear out the enemy. There was no sense of challenge or interest in the game; it became more and more often just a question of determination: How much time was I willing to spend in order to clear out the level? There was no such thing as a developing strategy; I had to resort to the same tatics on each level; I just tired of the time it took to implement these strategies. I mean, how many times can I take out a series of defense towers and enjoy it? There were no differences in the ways the enemy was deployed, how his/her forces reacted to my presence, or the requirements of the scenario. This being the case, what enjoyment could I possibly derive from the game?

In essence, from the moment I opened the box, I could tell this was a game influenced directly by Blizzard’s Starcraft which, in my humble opinion, has set the standard for subsequent RTS games. Having been released in 1998, Starcraft still remains as one of the greatest games of all time, especially in the RTS genre. Much of this comes as a result of Blizzard taking the time to examine tendencies and trends in the RTS field and trying to create a game that adapted and altered the expectations of many of its players. We saw an increased focus on plot, game play that no longer merely focused on the simple mantra of harvest, produce, and destroy, and the creation of characters that actually interested gamers. Unfortunately, Outlive did examine Strcraft, but did not seem to learn any of these ideas about innovation; replication seems to be the name of the game here. However, when this occurs, mediocrity seems to be the best possible result and Outlive seems to follow the formula to a tee.

However, I would not want to place all the blame for this failure on the shoulders of T2 and Continuum Entertainment. I think that Outlive stands as a great representation of a larger and more looming problem taking place in the gaming market in general. While new and innovative games are being released at this time, the majority of the games that are being presented to the market are perfect examples of the axiom: Competence, not excellence. Is Outlive a competent game? Yes, it does contain enough gaming principles and follows enough formulas to rate the title of a competent game. Yet, is there anything in its design that shows that the designers and programmers were reaching for excellence, for something truly revolutionary or different? Sadly, the answer is no. Everything within the game merely reaches for a standard that is easily achievable and readily obtainable. Thus, Outlive merely adds more thrust to the movement towards mediocrity. Does this mean that gamers will just play Outlive because it is thrust upon them? Of course not. With other, more interesting games on the market, Outlive will just become another title on a list of available games, another line on a resume, another box gathering dust in some video game store.

The problem lies in the sheer number of games that could truly aim for the excellent, could be so much more than just retail stock that a game store has to put on sale in order to move. Excellence merely reflects the sacrifice, thought, and effort that must take place during the inception and creation of a game. It is hard to believe that the writers, programmers, and other personnel taking part in game development do not want to create games that truly represent their abilities and skills. Yet too many games are being released that stand as testament to the fact that these companies are willing to take the short cuts to gain short term profits rather than taking the more painstaking and difficult path that leads to radical innovations in gaming technology. Unfortunately, until more developers are willing to live by the idea of Excellence, not just Competence, we will be forced to remain living in a world of Outlives and other should-have-beens and could-have-beens.

Clayn Lambert 

Snapshot

Ups: It's derivative of a very good game.

Downs: It's not nearly as good as that game.

System Reqs: P-166, 32 MB RAM

 

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