I never played this back when it was released in 1999 because it needed a far beefier computer than I could dream of. Outcast was made in the crazy days where 3D acceleration was a scary and new invention, so all the graphics were done on the CPU alone. Hell, 3D games were a scary and new invention at the time, and nobody had any idea how they should work. So Franck Sauer, Yves Grolet and Yann Robert, three truly invincible professionals (and names you may recognise from Agony), decided to show the world exactly how it should be done.
Click the images to view them as lossless PNGs.
(I wonder if he's at all related to the real, not-drunk and actually pretty good at his job, U.S. naval officer Captain Slade Cutter? (wikipedia link))
poor Snake, they don't go so far as to kidnap the Commander, they just park a helicopter right outside his favourite dive and provide a gun-shaped hint that it's time to move along.
Anyway, back to business. In this near future, scientific discovery has entered a new golden age, with advances in superstring theory suggesting that travel to parallel worlds may be possible. For the past few years, a top secret research project has attempted to send a probe into another world. Yesterday, they succeeded.
"Where'd you wind up, Belgium?"
I like Cutter's jib.
What's the big ruckus? Well...
For seventy one minutes, the probe worked. There was a video feed being sent through the dimensional barrier and everybody was very happy. And then an alien guy on the other side found the probe and started shooting at it. This turned out to be a Bad Thing.
"Yes, and the vortex is growing exponentially, Commander. We estimate twenty-five days before the Earth is no more than a... cosmic memory."
Somehow they've managed to cover it up so far, but it's getting a little difficult.
So here's the mission: I have to escort Nice Professor, Grumpy Scientist and Ex-With-A-Grudge to the parallel world so they can repair and retrieve the malfunctioning probe and save the God-damned day. I like it.
Cutter's going alone without any equipment on him, because, um... And he's got to go into this pod thing right now, because, um...
We have arrived in the parallel dimension... a ski lodge somewhere in Space Canada?
According to the big ol' manual that I briefly looked through before I got bored, Cutter is a gifted linguist, so I'm thankful we've been spared the excruciating 'Chocolate? Chocolate good. Food. Food good.' exchange that we could have had instead. They speak English because it's a game.
"Hundreds of moons ago, the prophet Kazar spoke of a higher being, the Ulukai, who would arrive at this time to save Adelpha from destruction at the hands of Far Rhan. To do this, you will need the five Mons, sacred objects that have been hidden around the regions of..."
Cutter's polite, given the circumstances. He says that whatever it is they're asking him to do, it will have to be secondary to finding 'the big metal thing' and shutting it down, otherwise nobody is going to be in any state to save anybody.
Because Zokrym's got the nicest robe, he got the pick of the best stuff. And because he's not a complete twit, he readily returns Cutter's magic miniaturisation backpack, his HUD visor and a pistol. Other Talan won't give up their sacred talismans so easily I'm warned; I'll have to earn their trust by proving my worth as their Ulukai. Or I could sneak in through their window at night and swipe their stuff when they're asleep like an evil Anti-Santa.
"We will know, Ulukai... All will watch your every move."
Before I go and begin my quest for the missing scientists, the malfunctioning probe, and the Mons, Zokrym has one last gift for me. The blessed gaamsavv crystal. You... might be able to guess what this thing does.
an Eric Chahi game, you'd have been murdered in your sleep.
BRUNO BONNELL PRESENTS AN INFOGRAMES PRODUCTION
Time to explore the village. Outcast is a third person action-adventure game, but you can also switch it to a useless first person mode if you enjoy Cutter's slow ambling pace.
According to the map, this is the town (or perhaps region, or even dimension) of Ranzaar. It's been cut off from the rest of the Talan civilisation to prevent any invasion force from pursuing the recovering Ulukai. It's a calm place, set in the mountains, with lots of delicious, nutritious snow to eat. I could run back and forth here all day enjoying the thick, crunchy sound of it under my feet. There's quite a few guys shuffling about, picking up a log, dropping a box. It's a fun life being an alien in Space Canada.
Cutter's visor never shuts up. Whenever there's an item you can pick up, it will highlight it with a distracting bright green reticule and read out a description. Ammo, minerals, even the ridiculously specific 'Foreign Vegetation With High Levels of Adrenaline' can be found everywhere.
Jan's decided to test my skill as a warrior by putting me through a series of Talan warrior
I'm trying to figure out how to tell Jan and his dad apart. I think Jan has a higher mouth and Zokrym has divots on his forehead. One of them likes to sit down cross-legged and block the path through the village while smoking a pipe, but I don't know which.
Enough talking, I'm bored. Onto the shooting test!
With three expertly placed energy bolts, the crockery lies defeated and I am a master of weapons. They're unusually slow projectiles. If Cutter was capable of movement, I'd almost think I could outrun them. Why didn't they give Cutter some ordinary, predictable 'bullet weapons' if this was such a critical mission?
You know, Cutter isn't just like Jack O'Neill from the Stargate TV series, he is Jack O'Neill. And that is no bad thing.
And where did Jan run off to? He's given me the slip amongst a bunch of identical robed alien guys.
The full, live orchestral ambient themes I'm hearing are awesome, but because they're static tracks they rarely match up with what's happening on screen at any given time. They're also short, so I'm hearing the same swells and crescendos repeating (mercifully not as often as in Tron 2.0) and often drowning out critical parts of the dialogue.
My reward for scaling the climbing frame is Cutter's radio transceiver! Sadly, nobody's answering right now.
Gloom used to.
Somehow, you have to figure out which direction the guard is facing from the single pixel that you can see. On top of that, I think he's actually turning around every second or so. This looks impossible unless I have a tranquilizer weapon that I don't know about.
Bah. He got me. And again. And again.
Hey, come back, I finished the test!
Nope, it doesn't count because I took too long and he got bored. Rack 'em back up, let's try this again.
Well there you go, I flunked the sneaking FOREVER. He was glitching out and turning every which way and I never stood a chance.
That's the tests done with. Let's explore some more.
After consulting with the unnamed Talan for some useless non-information, I decide it's time to return to Zokrym to report the almost-good news.
Outcast has a pretty sophisticated presentation for conversations. Characters will try to drop what they're doing if they can, and give Cutter their full attention. They'll take a step or two back to find a place to stand so that the camera can show their face clearly during dialogue.
Zokrym's satisfied that I'm ready for action. On the other side of the 'Daoka' gate lies a place called Shamazaar, a dangerous world under siege from the Bad Aliens. To the far west, I will find Shamaz Zeb, a wise man who can point me in the direction of one of the five Mons the Ulukai must seek, and may also have heard about the probe.
Zokrym's men will activate the gate so that I may finally fulfil the prophecy of the Ulukai.
Here we go!
Oooh! There's some kind of item hidden under the water here. It's got some unpronounceable military acronym for a name, and the inventory screen isn't giving me any clues. Sort of looks like a spanner, perhaps?
And get a load of these real-time ripples! Wow!
I kind of already forgotten what Zokrym said I should be doing here, and there's not much in the way of landmarks in any direction. Time to flip on the scan-o-goggles.
There's some activity to the south-east! A red dot on the map... an objective marker? A foe?
These are either good guys or bad guys. Just because they're soldiers, it doesn't mean that they're the bad guys. They could be the resistance. I have to be smart. Let's put my gun away and sneak up to them.
It turned out to be a holographic decoy, which automatically began strutting up to the picnickers and causing a hell of a commotion...
I'm glad I did a few laps of the icy lake in the tutorial village, because these guys took more than a few shots to kill. Amongst the spoils: some ammo, and some other useless gadgetry that I can't identify. Maybe one of the Talan could give me some pointers on how to use this stuff.
All the models, especially Cutter, are very nicely animated. Even if his running animation looks like he's trying to wade through custard. There's not much in the way of landmarks in this new world. No trees. Nothing but a living action figure standing in a world of plasticine scenery.
The landscape is very oddly formed here. Perfectly straight shelves of land, forming a staircase up towards something concealed by fog. There has to be something interesting at the top of it all. Let's go.
It fires quickly, which is useful because you'll need the full magazine to be direct hits to take down a bad guy for good. Anything less and they enter an invulnerable state where they stagger around for ages, clutching their wounds, before suddenly rejoining the fight and hitting you with a sucker punch shot.
The enemies aren't dropping much of use. Whatever weapons they're using, it doesn't look like I can take them yet.
Shamazaar is in turmoil, I'm told. The good guy Talan are being used as slaves by the forces of the warlord Kroax to harvest 'riss' in these paddies. Only the Ulukai could possibly save us, but we're not going to give up our sacred objects because we are idiots.
The visor can detect enemies but it's never helpful. The buggers keep sneaking up on me and blasting me from off-screen. It's possible that they're cheating and appearing out of the frame as I walk past. It would be nice if there was a radar, or a constant 'DETECTED' message to let me know when I'm about to get my a fireball up the butt. The visor can somehow tell me about miniscule amount of precious minerals it sniffs through several metres of rock, but warning me about the big flashy bolts of alien magic heading directly at me is too much to ask.
I need a new strategy. Surely there's something in my equipment that can tilt these battles in my favour!
This is hopeless. Retreat, Slade!
That's that I guess. I'll just return to the checkpoint when I arrived on Shamazaar.
Gaamsavv early and often, everybody. You do not want to repeat the tutorial world. Jan's tests are unskippable!
Say, I've just realised who Slade kind of reminds me of...
|Body Harvest (N64)|
Image from Hardcore Gaming 101
Body Harvest came out in late 1998 on the Nintendo 64 and dear God does it look rough next to Outcast. Did Body Harvest really look like that? It's been a while since I've played it but... wow.
I've got tons of bullets from my unplanned scuba session, so it's all guns blazing to reclaim the gate!
"Say, Zalinass, how much for one of your twon-ha?"
"You want to bring a twon-ha into your life? How nice!"
"Heh, yeah! Ain't I a softy? How much?"
"Will you care for it as one of your family?"
"Sure thing. How much?"
"And sing to it when it is tired?"
"Ah, yeah. How much?"
"And give it a bath when it needs one?"
"You need a date, Zalinass. Really, man."
No, I don't mean it's 'really good'. That's his name. He's Shamaz Zeb, the man with the master plan. He can heal me at no cost, and he's sure to tell me where I can find one of the five lost Mons so I can get back to doing important things like rescuing lost scientists or saving the planet.
Zeb's just a substitute Shamaz brought in to replace the last guy who was brutally 'reverted' by the evil alien warlord guy, Kroax. The last guy possessed the secret knowledge of prophecies and the path of the Ulukai. This guy barely knows what's going on outside his front door.
Luckily I gaamsavved before I met with the Shamaz, so I only have to repeat one lousy conversation.
It's weird, but it's also kind of rational in its way. Magic is magic, so what's a blacksmith to do? But if it's a physical item you want, then given the right source materials sure you can build whatever you want! Just because they think Cutter's gear is sacred, it doesn't mean that's it's actually enchanted. It's still just stuff.
Eventually, through yet another blindingly tedious linear conversation 'tree', Maar says that he will consider withholding the food if Cutter can return the village's 'essence stone'. Hooray. I will totally locate and return your item in return for you telling me about the next thing that isn't the probe I'm trying to find.
Don't accidentally shoot anyone friendly, whatever you do. Way back in the tutorial world, Zokrym drilled into me the importance of tempering my actions and earning the respect of the Talan. I thought that meant there was a reputation system, where stealing and violence would be met with disapproval from the other characters. As far as I can see though, what it really means is that if you kill a plot-critical character, you instantly lose the game.
Which ones are the plot-critical characters? They're... the alien guys. Some of them anyway.
While I'm out adventuring on the barren mouldy wastes of Shamazaar, occasionally I get flagged down like a taxicab by some random Talan, even in the midst of a pitched battle, and asked to help them with their resistance efforts. One particular guy asked me to help him find a Shamaz to heal his friends. Walking all the way across the map from North to South and then escorting the defenceless Shamaz all the way back under enemy fire? No thanks. By now, I'm sick of even hearing the Talan voice.
I can't think of anything else I can do here. It's time to return to the Daoka next to Zalinass' herd and see where it takes me.
Up ahead of me is a vast trading post. Before I enter, a Talan in a turban warns me away, saying there's a heavy enemy presence inside and today they're going to be extra peeved because he's spent the last few days stealing all their stuff.
I'm going to have to blend in, become one of them. Become invisible.
If you think about it, Cutter is running around in a fluorescent T-shirt with "I am the Messiah" written on it in big letters. Not the most subtle way to infiltrate an enemy base. Where did this thing even come from? He was wearing a vest in the intro video!
Um... well, I've only got a few dozen bullets left and it takes an entire mag to get one of these magic guys to stay dead. It'll give them something to think about at least!
I made it. Wasn't easy.
And then I realise that I have no money left to buy ammo for it, and cry.
"Our crane has gone berserk! We're all in terrible danger! Can't you do something to stop that box?"
"Absolutely", replies Cutter.
I pull out my pistol and shoot the rope, expecting the box to snap free and tear through the market like a rampaging bull. Nothing happens. I use my few remaining bullets shooting at the body of box a few times until it comes to a rest.
"Thank you, Ulukai! You truly are the saviour of us all!" the man beside the crane yells, with tears in his eyes.
"All in a days work."
In return for my miraculous intervention, I am rewarded with a pittance in money and ammunition. Such excitement.
Splat, surrounded, dead.
Huh, so there's no way to explore this town without getting ambushed and annihilated. I was sort of looking forward to exploring the other worlds, but I can't reach their Daokas. I'm stuck!
Alright, that's enough Outcast. This isn't a fun game and I don't want to see it any more.
There's nothing but vast tracts of hideously dull nothingness. I feel like there's nothing to look forward to. And if there was, we wouldn't be getting there very fast.
I've been playing for so many hours and there hasn't yet been a single "Oh did you see that awesome/funny/clever thing I just did?" moment. Maybe it all comes together at the end. Why can't it come together now?
Because everything in the game is so spaced out in both space and time, you can't really watch the game in videos either unless you are in a maximally chilled out mood. You'd have fifteen minutes of walking, followed by ten minutes of "Yod Mon Fae Yod Ulukai Yod", and then fifteen more minutes of walking back. With this resolution and these camera angles, I don't know how much of the game you'd even be able to see.
You could try to play the game in small bursts over time, but the amount of controls and game world nonsense you'd need to remember would mean you'd be spending hours getting back into the groove each time you wanted to resume the adventure.
The Outcast I've played is a poor shooter and a mediocre adventure. There are so many other fun things you could be spending your life doing. Why play Outcast?
Reading about Outcast is miles more fun than playing it or watching it. Franck Sauer has a magnificent website with an in-depth article all about the making of Outcast, complete with the story of how the game came to be made, lots of work-in-progress videos and illustrations. There's also making-of videos and goofy in-universe out-takes with Cutter and the gang. (Included in your gog.com package, or on YouTube.)
There was also a PS2 sequel in the works, which from what I've seen looks ridiculously swish for what would have been an early release.
All that work has to amount to something. I'm not able to see it, and that's depressing.