A very pretty, but very bad European imitation of Hollywood's "worst-of"
"Outcast" is an interesting game which tried to emulate an alien world complete with creatures and inhabitants when other 3D games were mostly still limited to in-door levels or only short outdoor sequences in need of constant reloading ("Half-Life") and, to some degree, it succeeded.
"Outcast" is an action-adventure. The story is hardly worth mentioning, it's about some growing portal to another world threatening to devour earth entirely, thus requiring the player to enter said alien world to close said portal. Naturally, something goes wrong and one ends up trapped on the "other side" with some alien race which takes the player for their god-like saviour figure "Uluk-Hai" - resulting in the fact that one has to safe two worlds instead of one (just what video gaming needed) within a limited amount of time (although there is no time limit), but more of that in the "bad" section.
Visually, this game is a true masterpiece. I played it very recently and it doesn't look bad at all, in fact, the animations, water reflections and colouring are extremely well done and will most certainly look good forever. The game's resolution is quite low but after one has gotten used to the resulting blur (easy for us DOS-gamers) it's not a problem anymore since important items or creatures are still easily recognizable. The blurry images in combination with the non-polygonal, "smooth" feeling of its employed voxel-engine give "Outcast"s graphics a sort of watery notion, though, as if one would move through an impressionist painting. However, I didn't object to that in the slightest, for me, it even enhanced the unreality and overall alien feel of the world and rather heightened than lowered its artistic qualities. Moreover, apart from being very good, "Outcast"s graphics are quite unique, too: the few other voxel-based games (i. e. "Blade Runner") share only a limited set of technical features while the more common polygonal games appear to be altogether different in style. Since every 3D game uses polygons nowadays, the development of other voxel games gets more and more unlikely. Thus, "Outcast" will most probably keep its unique status as a very differently looking, beautiful game with a masterful use of colours, a great feel for the right effect at the right time (this game definitely got that lens-flare thing right!) and a variety of cool design ideas, like some interesting vertical structures.
Another great point about "Outcast" is controls. Game controls are easy and quick to learn, yet allow an adequate amount of different movements, standard stuff like jumping and crouching goes together with riding on (sort-of) horseback and climbing ledges. Control reactions are great and really give the impression of being able to intuitively move around with one's character.
This leads to the game's best gameplay side: the combat. Due to its precise controls, some great sound-effects, a rather intelligent (or at least sufficient) A. I. and a very limited but clever arsenal of weapons, fighting in "Outcast" is exciting. There aren't too many types of enemies, but the way one can use the (beautiful) environment, the ease with which one can control one's character's every move, and the well balanced amounts of damage one can deal and take make for some fine challenges nonetheless. Adding to that, battles in "Outcast" aren't graphic at all, an enemy gets hit and dies without a single drop of blood being spilled - another proof of the fact that simulated combat doesn't need to be overly violent to be engaging. The only problem with "Outcast"s combat is: there's simply too little of it, and too much of everything else.
As a world simulation, and that was certainly one of it's aspired main goals, "Outcast" falls flat on its face. Of course, every aspect of realism is instantly vaporized when one finds the first ammunition and health packs on a rooftop and starts jumping from house to house in search of gadgets someone (?) deliberately placed there for one's convenience. But the problems start earlier on. The game world is just not believable. There are creature, yes, but of too little variety. People walk around and do interesting things like push-ups or harvesting rice, but there is no day/night cycle and most of the aliens are just there to molest the player with uninteresting, generic tasks they could easily do themselves if they would possess any real "life". Moreover, there are neither women nor children. This is explained in the game, but in a thoroughly unbelievable way ("They live on some distant island...") - one immediately realizes that it was a game design choice to omit them and that it had nothing to do with a better way to depict the aliens' culture: this would have been far easier and a lot more convincing if the game would have been able to depict their "normal" family life, especially because they appear so very human in most other matters. Adding to that, the male NPCs are far from being interesting themselves. With a few exceptions, most of them are dull, generic and stupid to an unbearable degree, even worse, some of them appear to be merely present to give the main character enough opportunity to wise-crack juvenile jokes at their expense. This does not only render the game's world extremely lifeless, since all on-going conflict appears to directly involve the player in some way and since there's is no sense of any "progress" or any "action" when the player's not around, it even omits a minor, but still unpleasant feeling of racism.
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
Without over-interpreting anything: here you have an alien race which wears Arab clothing and lives in Arab-style buildings, situated mostly in desert regions, harvesting rice. They are not able to do anything without the help of their "saviour" Uluk-Hai, a white American marine (in a French game!) whose main and final act of "saving" is actually getting rid of an omnipotent Asian midget impostor. I am certainly not the most "politically correct" person on this planet myself, but the stubbornness with which just everything in "Outcast" is centered around the one white "action" guy is really something to behold. Quite simply, this game, while employing an extremely poor, predictable and most of all short plot, does a wonderful job at being perfectly chauvinistic. Just imagine: a world without women and children, led by a small, Asian tyrant, inhabited by helpless Arabs - what more could the average video gamer want as a playfield to live out his/her (and I doubt the "her" in this case) own omnipotence fantasies? For this is clearly one reason for the existence of so many games where the player takes the role of a god-like saviour figure: the human urge for an easy, understandable world which one can conquer and dominate as an all-knowing, all-seeing, benevolent god who's able to save and load. However, the slight fascist tendencies of this common cliché were hardly ever more present in any other game than in "Outcast". Just because the player does nothing but help everyone out and act as Messiah, the questionable ethics of depicting a white guy as the only "active" person in an otherwise completely inactive and helpless "alien" world whose own visible purpose is to serve as said white man's playground gets apparent.
Still, this is not where this game's trail of tears ends. "Outcast" does not only employ a weak plot, puffed up with unbearable loads of "epic" music, "cool" one-liners and, worst of all, some noticeable chauvinist omnipotence tendencies, moreover, the adventure parts of this game are to laugh at. Either they are no puzzles at all or they involve unbearable degrees of running to and fro across miles of terrain carrying around despicable amounts of "MacGuffins" (objects which get a story going without having any real purpose or meaning by themselves) from person A to identically looking person B. While some side-quests are not that bad, these are completely overrun by the sheer mass of generic errand quests. This is quite a serious problem in a game which does not have an interesting main quest to begin with (although I think that saving Earth could be interesting, it isn't in "Outcast"). To top it all, the game's main character Cutter Slade (what a name!) and his "supporting cast" from Earth are almost as numb and uninteresting as the indigenous people to be found - there is not only no character development, these are no real characters to begin with. Everything about them appears to have been copied/pasted from a random oh-so epic Hollywood flick - which leads to this game's last major weakness: it tries to emulate the "movie"-feeling far too hard, it doesn't want to be a game, it wants to be "more", it wants to be an "interactive experience", whatever that is.
The Bottom Line
Zovni's review mentions that this game is filled with European "art-house" pretentiousness. I disagree. Of course, European "art-house" pretentiousness does exist, but that's more like filming a cup of coffee for fifteen minutes and ending on a girls lips uttering a soft: "This is your life getting cold". The pretentiousness of "Outcast", on the other hand, is the pretentiousness of Europeans trying to emulate Hollywood's "worst-of" (note: of course, there are a lot of good Hollywood movies, too). It's filled to the teeth with everything that screams "epic", but doesn't contain any intimacy - in fact, compared to "Outcast", "Independence Day", also done by a European guy, is a psychologically intriguing melodrama. It's extremely conservative with chauvinist tendencies and doesn't assign any really meaningful piece of the action to any other character but to the main jack. It's puzzles and plot are not only dumb, but completely unoriginal and it's whole content is little to none across the board.
However, its graphics are wonderful, its controls are crisp and the fighting is well executed. In the end, "Outcast" is a sad game. It could have been at least a piece of good entertainment if only the designers had concentrated on the combat aspects. Maybe the stereotype story and characters wouldn't have been so terrible in such a context, and with less text and less meaningless tasks depicting the sheer inactivity of the indigenous population, with an added female touch and perhaps a different main villain (he would actually have been great if this game would have had but a slight ironic undertone), "Outcast"s chauvinist tendencies could have been drastically lowered. However, it wasn't meant to be: as it is, this is far from being a good game. It's worth seeing for its graphical splendour, but it's not worth playing through and the opposite of a "rewarding" game, since it doesn't leave a stone unturned to remind the player that we Western people sometimes have indeed peculiar views of what's "entertainment" (of course, this probably goes for any other culture, too).