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SummaryA very fun game with a great theme and unique approach
The GoodFirst of all, I loved the whole "Spaghetti Western" theme used in the game. I'd really like to see another first person shooter game using this theme. I also liked the way Lucasarts designed the game to be as faithful to the genre as possible, it seems they went out of their way to avoid being over-the-top or campy. You won't get your hands on a rocket launcher, you'll never run into a steam-powered giant spider, and the last boss won't be a guy in bullet-proof 19th century power armor complete with arm cannon.
The way Lucasarts tries to keep the gameplay "realistic" can be seen throughout the game. All the weapons look completely authentic, you won't find a single one that looks like it doesn't belong in a Spaghetti Western movie (again, no rocket launchers). The most powerful weapon you'll find is a gatling gun you pick up in the last level, and even that is limited by the fact that you can't move around when it's selected. On top of that your weapons run out of ammunition and have to be reloaded manually, bullet by bullet (they don't have weapon clips in the old west, sorry). This adds a strategic element to gameplay since you can't rely on the computer to reload your gun for you when you run out of ammo. One particularly fun item is a telescope you can add to your rifle to create a rudimentary sniper rifle, allowing you to pick off your foes at a distance.
The types of enemies is a bit limited. There are only three or four different types of cowboys, however the game tries to create a bit of variety by giving each type three or four different sprites with different cloths on. There are also a few tarantulas, a couple of chickens, and some civilians who run around certain levels. The enemies seem to be moderately more skilled than most FPS enemies, since they run fairly quickly, can shoot while moving (strange how rarely this happens in FPS), and occasionally are smart enough to run away from your fire or duck behind obstacles. They also yell a variety of taunts at you (with enough variety to avoid too much repetition) which helps make them seem more lifelike.
The game makes up for the lack of enemies with its wide variety of boss characters. Most FPS games only have three or four different bosses overall (the newer, polygon-based FPS games have even less). Outlaws has at least 12 different bosses, ten at the end of each level and two in the middle of levels. Each boss has their own unique taunts which they yell at you as you fight them, which serve to give them each a unique personality. Your character, on the other hand, is the strong silent type who (unlike Duke Nukem and his ilk) doesn't make ill-placed wisecracks while killing, which also fits in to the genre.
The enemies are also realistically designed. Your foes are all flesh-and-blood cowboys, even the strongest of them takes only a few bullets to kill. Even the bosses are relatively mortal and most of them can be taken down with a single shotgun blast.
The game balances this out by making your character very much mortal as well. Bullets do quite a bit of damage, and a single shotgun blast will take off more than half your health (and kill you on higher difficulty). The bosses in particular do a great deal of damage, and the toughest of them can kill you with three or four shots.
All this makes the gameplay in Outlaws a bit different from other first person shooters, as instead of charging in guns blazing you'll often have to duck, take cover being obstacles, and sneak up on your enemies or snipe them from afar. Of course if you really prefer the "Doom" style of play the easiest difficulty setting allows it (In this game difficulty doesn't cause more enemies or respawning, but instead decides how human or superhuman your character is and how much damage they can take).
Level design is also top-notch, and most of the levels look like they'd fit perfectly into a wild west movie. The majority of levels take place in large, wide-open outdoor spaces, showing how good the "Dark Forces" engine is at this. Level locations include frontier towns, Spanish forts, desert canyons, gold mines, and even a speeding train. The last level in particular is a huge ranch-style mansion that's really fun to run around in.
The main "story" part of the game is a bit short, with only ten levels overall. However there's also a "historical missions" game which has six extra levels as well as three bonus levels which are unlocked with points gained by completing the extra levels successfully. The bonus levels contain some cool surprises, such as a shooting gallery, an Indiana Jones style cave adventure complete with booby-traps, and a showdown with the game's only superhuman enemy, Max the psychotic rabbit from Lucasart's own Sam & Max Hit the Road.
The music in this game is amazing. The music in the intro credits actually sounds like it belongs in a real wild west movie, and the in-game CD music is very much the same.
The animated cutscenes are simply breath-taking. There's a cutscene at the end of each level which helps to move the plot along and link the different levels together. The animation is very smooth and the coloring seems to be in a sort of "watercolor" style which makes for very beautiful backgrounds. The style of animation is fairly mature and not "cartoony" which fits the serious subject matter. And it is quite serious. Your wife is killed by outlaws in the intro movie, and by the end of the game almost every character except you and your daughter will end up dead (you kill most of them). The game's violence is high but not graphic. There's very little blood in any of the cutscenes even though a few characters are killed rather violently off-screen (one guy gets cut in half by a sawblade), and only a little in the game itself. The hand-drawn animation is also not limited to the cutscenes. During the game, all of your weapons are hand-drawn as well. This is certainly interesting to look at.
Finally, there's the game's surprisingly strong story. This is perhaps one of the strongest stories I've seen in a first person shooter. It's also rather derivative with many of its elements being taken from old wild west movies, but that's all part of its charm. There's the vengence seeking ex-lawman, the greedy land baron, the cold-blooded murderous henchman who quotes Shakespeare and the bible. In fact the game's plot is more inter-woven and complex than you might first realise, and the ending manages to elevate the over-arching story to an entirely new level.
First Person Shooters always seem to have short, pointless endings (even today this seems to be true). I'm glad to say Outlaws is at least one game that doesn't suffer from this problem. Marshall Anderson's last gunfight with Bob Graham and the subsequent ending cutscene actually manages to tie-up the game's plot, and there's even a strong surprise at the very end. Finally there's a touching scene of you and your daughter leaving Graham's Big Rock Ranch behind and riding off into the sunset while the credits roll.
The BadI can honestly say that there's nothing about this game I don't like. The only real complaint I think anyone might have is that LucasArts is still using the Dark Forces bitmapped engine when true-3D polygon games have already been out for more than a year, and Quake 2 about to be released. However the gameplay is so good I really don't mind that the technology seems a bit dated.
The controls can also be a bit awkward since there are so many buttons you'll need to press in the middle of combat (fire, secondary fire, reload, duck, jump, etc). The default configuration isn't very good and it took me about an hour or so to get a custom configuration which I was comfortable with.
I would have preferred having a bit more variety in the enemies, but I can understand how the game may have limited the enemy types in order to stay faithful to the genre (the poison spitting tarantulas were probably streching credulity already).