Written by  :  J. P. Gray (120)
Written on  :  Aug 08, 2004
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars

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This game is the holy grail of classy presentation and elegant gameplay

The Good

Out of this World is largely the work of just one man, Eric Chahi. He has managed to create a game that is more satisfying than nearly any modern game you will have played in the past five years, and perhaps more satisfying than any you have ever played. There were no games like Out of this World before it came out, and the later imitations can't quite capture the unique spirit of their inspirational source. It's simply that good. While the gameplay is nearly beyond reproach, the best traits of this classic are its imagination, its gorgeous design, and above all its trust in the player's ability to imagine, to commit to the alien world on its terms.

The beginning of the game shows you one major ingredient of the game's genius, when the primitive vector graphics are displayed in fully-animated glory during the opening cinematic. The crude shapes would seem cheap and disappointing if not for the precision and elegance with which they are employed--cinematic angles and an engaging trust in the player's imagination serve to make these primitive scenes interesting even today. Lester's fancy car squeals into view, and we are treated to some of the green hologram-like interfaces Flashback fans will be intimately familiar with as we watch a physics expert burning the midnight oil. Something goes wrong during particle acceleration, and suddenly Lester and most of his console disappear with a flash of blue sparks and light.

Immediately, you are thrown into the game. Lester must escape from the pool and the grasping tentacles or face what will likely be the first of many, many deaths. Once out of the pool, you can appreciate the appealing sparseness of the alien landscape. With pale, simple blocks of color, an evocative alien world is realized: misty pillars of rock trail off into the horizon below a crescent moon; a beast colored an impenetrable black lopes into view and looks at you with red eyes. And then a tentacle reaches for you from the heretofore calm pool surface and it's time to move again.

From this bleak, lonely landscape that emphasizes sheer scope and emptiness the player travels to a claustrophobic cage, to a deadly alien tank, and to a swingin' harem--all the while that cinematic touch to the scenery rarely fails to amaze. Enemies are more than dimwitted patterns that are learned and consequently no longer require thought--the cinematic design goes down to individual enemy behavior. The puzzles come down to how exactly to defeat the alien who is behind six energy shields and lobs energy bombs that can penetrate your own, or how to defeat two soldiers who come in at both sides simultaneously. All the while the story is being told by your actions, and those of your surprisingly expressive alien friend. After you attract the ire of the guard below your cage, when he fires his gun another guard appears to watch the action in the background. When you crush the guard below you with your falling cage, the prisoners in the background stop breaking rocks as you grab the gun and flee. At no point is there a rote procession of action that involves the same stale maneuvers used just a screen ago--nearly every enemy encounter presents a new and unique challenge, often a new wonder of art direction, and sometimes a diabolically difficult puzzle to be solved. When the game is finally over, its ending battle and cutscene are as cinematic, as boldly unique, and as cohesive with the game's tone as anyone could wish for.

What's the point of all this cinematic style? It makes you accept the world on its own terms. You don't think of Lester as an abstract object, running lifelessly around a gaming world distorted and simplified into a recognizable gaming archetype--you live and breathe the world along with him, because both of you are experiencing this exotic environment for the first time, and it is full of wonders and adventure rather than trite platforming cliches. This game asks the player's imagination to fill in the corners, to ignore the blockiness and palette limitations of vector graphics. All but the most closed of minds will happily go along with that request. Those that do will be richly rewarded by this game, because a lot of love has been put into it.

The Bad

Some of these puzzles are very difficult to figure out. It is quite easy to die, and even easier to wrongly dismiss some section of the game as unnecessary when it is integral to ultimate success. For example, unless you've climbed on some pillars and have plunged into the depths, you are not going to be able to finish the game. Some of the combats are notoriously difficult, although there are strategies to at least a few of the more dangerous battles that make them as quick as hitting the spacebar twice. The only other thing that can be mentioned, as I'm sure has been mentioned by others, is that the game is too short. It's a brilliant effort all around.

The Bottom Line

A revelatory platforming experience, that has faith in the player to commit his/her energy to both mastering the challenges of the game and to completing in the blocky colors of the game world with his/her own imagination. The gameplay is simple and direct, with only six or so keys to master. Run, jump, and kick for starters. With the versatile gun, the player can now fire normal blasts, create a shield, or fire a charged burst that shatters both thin walls and shields--all with the use of one button. What can be done with these simple controls is a testament to the ingenuity of the game's design--an artsy, imaginative platformer everyone should give a chance.