There are plenty of interesting aspects about Outcast to give the game an overall positive feel while none of the negatives are significant enough to warrant much more than a mere mention. There are no game-killing major glitches and nothing so distracting as to render the game unplayable in any form. I found Outcast to be a refreshing entry into the ever more crowded genre of action adventuring.
Unlike a fair number of similar games on the market, the plots (notice the plural) in Outcast are interesting and have enough of a different spin to justify the gamers' time investment. Indeed, there are two very distinctive storylines that occur concurrently, which isn't overly surprising considering the game world is set in a parallel universe to our own. What may be surprising is the in-depth development of the two.
On one hand, you have the desperate journey of Cutter Slade who, charged with protecting three diverse scientists, has been sent to the parallel universe. All four travel to (Adelpha) by way of the futuristic discovery of "string tunneling" to save our world from being devoured by a black hole. This anomaly was accidentally triggered by the destruction of the initial probe that was sent to the alternate world. The second plot centers on the plight of the Talans who populate the parallel universe who are in their own life and death struggle for existence against the tyrannical and evil ruler, Fae Rhan.
The two plots mesh wonderfully and each contains a significant level of depth to immerse the player in the struggles of both groups. Although the Talans of Ranzaar, the snow-covered region in which Cutter finds himself at the beginning, are an extremely polite (albeit committed) race fighting for survival, I found myself commiserating with the sometimes caustic and sarcastic Slade as he tries to hurry his dogmatic hosts into more rapid action.
It is that sort of design and development of detail that gives Outcast a refreshing look. Speaking of details, the game doesn't cut corners on any significant aspect of the storylines. The six regions of Adelpha, while necessarily limited by the types of terrain available to any given world, are very distinctive and so effectively designed I had no problem believing I was waist deep in a field of high grass or slogging through a watery world of levees and bogs.
The diverse and believable regions include Shamazaar, a farming locale populated by very religious types, Okaar, a forested area and Okasankaar with its main city of Cyana perched in the midst of its watery surroundings. The city of Okriana lies within its region, the dry, desert wastes of Talanzaar, while the mountainous territory of Motazaar provides its own brand of challenges. Travel between the regions is effected via activated Daokas, or portals, and while the egress from Ranzaar is limited, other locations have multiple portals to the various lands.
The development of the Talan culture is superb in all aspects -- speech, surroundings, philosophy, internal bickering, appearance, actions and more bring the race to life. And it's a race you begin to empathize with and care about as the adventure unfolds. This is one game where it's not difficult to become involved in the struggles of both groups as the world of each, literally, is on the verge of collapse.
The background plight of the Talan populace is fleshed out through a great deal of conversation with the thousands of NPC's encountered and Slade's build up of his arsenal and materials evolves at a well designed rate as he traverses the land, encountering both friendly inhabitants and enemy forces. In each region, you'll need to visit, at a minimum, the Shamaz, or religious leader and healer who usually has important information.
In fact, Cutter can get certain types of ammunition and devices replenished at the cost of various items he discovers and saves in his inventory as he wanders. For example, to have the smithy in Shamazaar replicate pistol ammunition, Slade must give him two ingredients, Green Helidium and Metal, and can get up to six units made at a time assuming he has enough material. This interaction with the environment and the people of Adelpha goes a long way in reinforcing the idea that the parallel universe isn't necessarily an impossibility.
The design of the Talan language in Outcast is both realistic and thoughtfully developed yet isn't difficult to understand. In fact, the game supports the player with a built in lexicon that grows as the adventure progresses. The effect of hearing a disembodied "computer" voice very softly intone "lexicon accessed" after each new term or place of importance is discovered lends believability to the situation in which Cutter finds himself.
Other well-designed interfaces of the game include a notepad that is automatically updated with specific goals and mini-quests for each region of Adelpha. While progressing through the story, you can access the notepad for a reminder of what needs to be done (these topics are garnered through talking with the populace) with completed tasks dimmed while active tasks are shown in bright letters. The notepad, along with the lexicon, becomes second nature after awhile and provides an excellent, yet unobtrusive, means of staying on top of the story.
Movement couldn't be simpler. Although the marriage of mouse and keyboard is essential, within five minutes of play I had my character jumping, swimming, climbing, sneaking and shooting easily. At Ranzaar, one of the first items of business is a training session that covers these areas of movement and, at the same time, allows Slade to get a head start on collecting important items, ranging from ammunition to environmental ingredients for future use. Although menu movement is simple, some may feel there is an occasional extra keystroke involved but that's a very minor complaint and easily overcome through practice.
The combination of keyboard arrow directional keys and mouse (camera) movement becomes second nature very quickly. Another extremely significant aspect of gameplay is the ability to save anywhere but not necessarily at anytime. Far from being a bad design, saving in this game becomes part of the mystique of the alien culture, namely, you're saving Cutter's essence, not the game. The device, a Gaamsavv he acquires early on in the quest, can only be used when there is a lack of external energy near him and it takes about five seconds or so to accomplish -- if interrupted or interfered with, the "save" won't occur. In other games, this might be an annoyance but given our hero's situation, this becomes an integral part of gameplay, especially when surrounded by enemy forces.
The music, as well as the voiceovers, in Outcast deserve special mention. I found the background music and vocals supplied by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, directed by Lennie Moore, to be so enjoyable that I never turned it off, something I can't say about the majority of games I've played in this genre. The music rose and diminished at appropriate times throughout the game and, to me, played a significant part. The voice acting for nearly all the characters is wonderfully done. The slightly muted, full and rich sounds of the Talan tongue were consistently present throughout the adventure and the earthly tones of the humans was, for the most part, well done. Although at first I found Slade's delivery to be a bit grating, in time, it too, like most other aspects of the game, became just another part of the enjoyable experience.
For me, Outcast is a refreshing journey with a notable (and believable) alien culture, immersive storylines, easy interface (though complex enough to handle all aspects like weaponry, inventory management and in-game quest notes) and well conceived graphic environments. The story, whether Cutter's quest to find the five "mons" needed to ensure continuation of the Talan's existence or his efforts to locate his three companions from Earth and help in the desperate task of closing the black hole threatening human existence, moves at a good pace.
Although I was never able to get the game to play in anything more than a "letterbox" format (with the exception of the administrative screens) at any resolution, the lack of a full screen appearance was not a distracting feature in the long run. The involvement of the plots and the progress of the adventure are more than adequate, thus negating any sort of serious criticism in that regard. Of minor concern are the onscreen local maps that can be toggled. They take some getting used to and require a little study to understand exactly what you're seeing. The printed manual is woefully short on information and not much help in this (or most) areas, however, in-game documentation is more than adequate.
The one major complaint I have with Outpost is the propensity of the camera, in third-person perspective, to get behind objects, thus blocking your view of the onscreen activity of Slade and other NPCs. Even this has a good "fix" though, as you can switch quickly back and forth between first- and third-person perspective at the press of a single keystroke. Whenever I was faced with the "block" I simply changed perspective, moved quickly away from the offending item, and just as quickly reset to first-person view, a process that became very intuitive and a non-problem with practice.
In summary, Outcast is a delicious foray into an alternate universe, well designed in nearly all aspects. Even the stuttering steps of the occasional NPC who gets blocked from entering a doorway (a sort of St. Vitus dance) is excusable, and, in fact, I actually found myself moving out of the way so he could continue on with his business, such as gathering wood for a fire. My enjoyment was akin to reading a good, long novel with the accompanying feeling that you get when you don't necessarily want it to end so soon. I can only hope that the designers follow up the title with further adventures set in equally fascinating locales.
Graphics: Graphics are simplistic in some places but overall depict very pleasant and appropriately alien environments. The occasional "side-on-view" glitch would rear its ugly head but not to the point of distraction.
Sound: Without doubt some of the best music I've ever experienced in a game of this type. Appropriate swells, poignant lulls and definitely worth hearing. Voice acting was well above the norm for the genre and the specific Talan accents and manner of speaking went hand-in-hand with the alien culture.
Enjoyment: There are very few aspects of Outcast I can seriously find fault with. The story will immerse you completely and the divergent plotlines run parallel, like a stream separated by a rock, dividing then joining again.
Replay Value: Like any good book, might be worth an eventual re-read but certainly not on the heels of completion.
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