Unlike wine, whisky and wurst sausages, video games usually don’t get better with age. In an industry based around evolution, it’s very easy for once groundbreaking innovations of game mechanics, graphics and interaction to soon become the expected norm. So it was with some trepidation that I approached Outcast: Second Contact for review.
This is a remake of the 1999 almost-classic and the reason for my trepidation was simple; Outcast blew apart my tiny little eighteen year old mind upon release day. Heralded as one of the first open world games, Outcast enabled the intrepid player to explore a massive open world, stunningly rendered in voxel-based graphics which, at the time, provided an unprecedented and realistic environment. It was an extremely ambitious title, but it was deeply flawed too and many of the gameplay elements were clunky and left a lot to be desired. At the time the reach for the stars attitude of the developers, Appeal, helped hide the many missteps, but can the same be said for the modern remake?
Appeal, including many of the team who worked on the original Outcast, are back on board as developers and it’s clear to see that they’ve gone for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it too much” approach. This is the 1999 version with jazzed up polygonal graphics and a few tweaks to the gameplay here and there.
First off, the plot is the typical sci-fi bilge, but I shan’t go into it in much detail here. Suffice to say it’s dull world saving, good guy rescuing, baddie shooting fluff and only rescued by the protagonist being brilliantly called Cutter Slade. Unfortunately his name is the most exciting aspect of this hero. Played like a humourless Bruce Willis, the dialogue between Cutter and the alien inhabitants of Adelpha is a tedious trudge. Which is a shame, as for an action exploration game, Outcast: Second Contact requires a lot of talking.
Its the laziest type of world building, to be told about the inhabitants, customs and behaviour of an alien world rather than shown. Born out of the necessity of 1999 technology, it really stands out when playing the game again in 2017. I found it best to gently close my eyes and enter a meditative trance whilst working through the many dialogue trees. On the plus side, when the subtitles are turned on there are now translations for all the alien terminology, so at least you know what or who everyone is talking about now… unless you have your eyes closed and are in a meditative trance, that is.
Graphically this is still a pretty game after the shift from voxels to polygons. There’s a delightful fifties sci-fi feel to the appearance of the world and its inhabitants. Landscapes are richly coloured and detailed, filled with deep purples, bright greens and golden hues, this is an environment you will want to explore. It stands out against many of the homogenised game worlds that modern sci-fi adventures take place in. Sure, a part of me was sad to say goodbye to the voxels, but the pixels that have replaced them are more than suitable.
Things go downhill when you get to the gunplay though. The addition of some interesting gadgets and varied weapons, such as teleport pads and flamethrowers, isn’t enough to save this from the standard ‘strafe from side to side and shoot’ technique. I’ts the sort of combat you’ve seen a hundred times or more, and whilst there are some slight tweaks to the original’s formula – Cutter’s bullets fly faster and enemies are less likely to stand frozen as you shoot them repeatedly in the head – it’s virtually the same as the 1999 original.
It’s worth noting that, for a massive open world game in which there is a lot of ground to cover, Cutter runs really, really slowly. He handles like a brick with bicycle wheels and his ability to change direction is strangely stilted, which becomes increasingly frustrating during combat. His shambling gait, and that of the other creatures around him, is also made rather hilarious thanks to the charmingly jerky animations. Think puppets on strings and you have the right idea.
The soundtrack, as in the original, is wonderful. The orchestral score consistently provokes a sense of wonder and excitement, and stands in stark contrast to the tedium of the gameplay. Your ears will be telling you that something exciting is happening, even if your eyes are informing you that your ears are dirty liars. There’s no lies to be told about the voice acting though, which sound like the actors were recorded reading their lines in a busy public toilet, possibly while concerning themselves with more pressing matters.
Practically everything else is as it was in the original. Those stand out qualities in 1999 are now humdrum and not particularly well delivered. There’s a reputation system that affects the manner in which your allies treat you and alters the dialogue options, and while this was an outstanding feature in the original it’s now so commonplace as to be barely worth mentioning. But I did.
Outcast: Second Contact is an eighteen year old game that’s been given a makeover. This is absolutely fine if you’re a fan of the original and want to play it again on modern hardware, but if you don’t have the nostalgia quality there’s absolutely nothing that you won’t find here that’s done far better elsewhere. For a steep price tag of £39.99 on PS4, that’s just not good enough.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4