Shiny outside. Boring, tedious, and hollow, if you look closer
"Outcast" is the kind of game that literally stuns you the first time you see it. The alien world is gorgeous. Its five parts all have a distinct personality and totally immerse the player into a variety of landscapes, from snowy mountains to desert. All worlds are interestingly designed, with marvelous effects spread all over. In particular the water effects are among the best I have ever seen in a game. The locations are densely populated with aliens, who look a lot like Alf from the popular TV series. Those aliens always move around, doing their own business. Adelpha is indeed a living and breathing world, just like the creators of "Outcast" promised it to be.
"Outcast" is truly a cinematic experience. The intro is a good example for this. After Cutter Slade arrives at Adelpha and the actual game begins, you still have a feeling you are in a movie. The world looks realistic, and the animations of characters (especially of Slade himself) are brilliant.
I belong to those who found the graphics of "Outcast" fabulous. With their voxel engine, they achieved something that no polygonal game of that time was able to offer. Background graphics are spectacular. It was a pleasure just to stand there and to gaze at the breathtaking landscapes. And all this visual beauty is accompanied by an impressive orchestral soundtrack.
The game incorporates shooting sequences into otherwise adventure-based gameplay. Your character can jump, climb, swim, duck, and interact with the environment in various ways. Generally, the idea
of this game was quite good...
There is a saying that goes: "Shiny things aren't all made of gold".
This saying could be applied to "Outcast".
This game is bound to mislead an innocent gamer. As I already mentioned it, the first impression "Outcast" makes can hardly be negative. A fantastic intro, that presents a bunch of interesting and promising characters; something happens, and you find yourself in a strange alien world. You step out of Zokrym's house and one of the most wonderful views ever to be seen in a game spreads in front of you. Soon you discover (following Jan's tests), that you will swim, shoot, jump, and sneak in this game. You rub your hands, saying: "What a game, what a game! I can't believe it can really happen..." And with moist eyes, you enter the portal and prepare to engage yourself for the first Mon quest...
And here it starts. To find the Mon, you have to speak to a certain guy. But this guy won't talk to you unless you bring him something. This something can be obtained from a certain someone, who will talk to you only if you bring him something that you can obtain from someone who will talk to you only if you bring him something that you can obtain from...
Let me out of this nightmare!! But the point is, no, you can't go out of this nightmare. The brave Cutter Slade, who proudly bears the title of Ulukai (which strongly reminds me of a Turkish vegetable storekeeper across the street), is lost forever in a universe of creatures who are unable to perform the simplest tasks. You won't explore, interact with interesting characters, or receive exciting missions. The promised savior of Adelpha will be too busy retrieving various household items for priests and village chiefs, running from one Talan to another with the tongue outside. The cool special agent won't find a better occupation other than grilling every boring NPC for obscure and uninteresting information about some corny ancient prophecies and other dubious stuff, which they won't share with him immediately, but only after he finds for them their favorite salami sandwich they have lost many years ago.
The Talans must be the most idiotic race ever to populate both universes, ours and theirs. The moment they open their mouthes, they start talking trash. "I am glad to see you, Ulukai! I would like to help you in your quest of finding the 153 Essence Stones that you must place in the correct order on the Magwa of the great Gizmo, in order to receive the blessing of Zrok, the Twon-Ha Elder from Kreuzbergbazaar, but unfortunately, you must first bring me my nail file I forgot yesterday by Shamaz Kebab, and since I am too lazy to go three steps to the north-east, it seems to me only logical that the savior of the universe will bother to do that instead of me... " To this, Cutter "My-Jaw-Is-So-Square-That-Nintendo-Game-Cube-Seems-Round-Compared-To-It" Slade retorts with a Bruce Willis-like ironic remark: "Yeah, sure my ass! Anything more, shorty? Oakie-dokey chief, just keep it cool there", and off we go.
You'll say this is common for many games, even for the best of them. Ultima
series indeed comes to mind. Yes, they had plenty of "filler" quests and meaningless errands. But the point is, you were in a world that you cared to explore, with characters you cared to talk to. So what if a mayor wanted you to play for him a tune on a self-made instrument before handing you a rune that would help you to save the world, including his own butt. It was fun
to find a log and to let a miller saw it. It was fun
to ask a musician for a proper notation of the melody. It was fun
to talk with the mayor, looking at his arrogant, stupid face. Everything in Ultima games attracted your attention and captured your interest.
But this is not the case with "Outcast". If you want a definition for generic characters
, here it is. The Talans talk like retarded robots who were instructed to read passages from poorly translated books. The glamorous locations are there just to demonstrate the graphics. No actual life
is there. There is nothing that would support your interest other than the desire to get it over with.
While playing the game, I was continuously hoping this will change, but it didn't. Apart from some interesting rescue-missions, the whole game contained nothing but this meaningless wandering and the even more meaningless interacting.
What about "Outcast" as a shooter? The controls are terrible, which alone makes the shooting sequences harder than necessary. The shooting parts of Nomad Soul
seem a blessing compared to those escapades. Your first gun is so weak that a simple soldier requires you to fire ten bullets into his head to finally bring him down. Much have been said about the revolutionary AI of this game, but for me, it was a curse rather than a blessing. The damn soldiers outsmarted me in virtually everything I did. There was no way to snipe those suckers, since my bullets were way too slow, and they moved quickly out of the way. By the time I have got a better gun I already lost interest towards the game. Not that the other gun made such a difference. I actually sunk so low that I changed some parameters in outcast.ini file, to make my weapons more powerful and the enemies weaker. Guess what, even then they kicked my rear end in no time. This can't be only due to my limited talents as a FPS player. After all, I have completed several shooters in my life, and never before did I resort to cheating.
However, I imagine those shooting sequences could be fun for somebody who is good at this stuff. At least they were more interesting than the adventuring part. Still, the core of the game is undeniably adventure, and as such, "Outcast" fails miserably.
My anger towards "Outcast" owes quite a lot to the fact it was so overhyped. I can't believe almost nobody noticed how disproportional is the overwhelming design of "Outcast" to its actual gameplay. The pretentious, over-ambitious approach of "Outcast" is more disturbing than ever, since there is so little content under the shiny appearance. It is nice that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is playing the background music, but that alone doesn't make a game great.
The Bottom Line
There is a story about Rossini, the famous Italian opera composer, who once invited Richard Wagner to dinner, only to serve him a meal that contained nothing but sauce. When the astonished Wagner asked Rossini why there was no actual food coming with this sauce, Rossini replied: "This meal lacks its most important component and contains only sauce; it is just like your music: with all its splendid harmonies, it lacks the melody"...
"Outcast" is an enormous disappointment. Behind its visual splendor and its brilliant design hides a hollow, unexciting adventure gaming experience.