Outland-PC-Review Outland PC Review

   28/10/2014 at 15:50       Dean Bennett       1 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Steam, Housemarque, PC, Platformer, Bullet Hell

Outland: It’s out there.

2011. It was a memorable year, not always for good reasons. Amy Winehouse died, the US finally did in Osama Bin Laden, The Harry Potter films were finally finished, the Arab Spring was in full flow with the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, and the kids were looking for a new high as Meow Meow became illegal. Sadly it was the year of the Japanese Tsunami too. On a plus note it was also the year that the game Outland, from the talented bunch of people at Housemarque first appeared on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Now, three years later, that same game is available on Steam for your PC. It’s right there on the intro screen, copyright 2011, and copyright 2014. It’s like someone stuck their hand down the side of the sofa and went “Hey look! Here’s that port of our game we done did, but lost for ages!” Or maybe it was a side-project of someone in the studio, “Ermm, guys? You know, I reckon I could port over that old Outland game. I could do it in my lunch hours and weekends if that’s cool?”

“Knock yourself out Kid! Why not?”

Maybe there is a boring contractual or legal obligation that everybody tried to ignore? I really don’t know, but whatever the reason Outland is here. Again.

Actually it’s been available for a few weeks, but as Ubisoft and Housemarque feel it’s ok to bring a game to new platform three years after its debut, I’m guessing they won’t mind if this review is a couple of weeks late too. Was it all worth the wait?

I feel pretty, oh so pretty, so pretty and witty and bright!

I remember the marketing artwork for Outland back in 2011, and it hasn’t changed since then. It most commonly was an image of a shadowy figure with a sword, set against a garish contrasted background of red and blue. There was something about those bold primary reds and blues that turned me off this game originally. It seemed somehow cheap. I didn’t know what the game was, but those colours screamed to me of 16 bit colour palettes and blunt design to match the colours. Any interest I had in learning about Outland was washed out by the glare of those colours. Which was a shame actually, because that meant I missed out on something rather individual, and in actuality, really easy on the eye.

We’ve probably all learned by now, through Super Stardust and Resogun, that Housemarque do sparkly eye candy very well indeed. Outland displays that trend too. It’s a 2D platformer, an open world design with parallax scrolling backgrounds and a detailed silhouetted foreground of the usual devices; platforms, ladders, switches and doors. The game is set in a strange pseudo-mayan world of jungles, all hanging vines and imposing statues, but it is done in a clever way that it could be almost anything, Asian, Native American or even African. Butterflies glow, platforms pulsate with colour. It’s really rather relaxing. Your character is a wonderfully animated figure. He sprints and leaps about, robes flowing behind him, and he jabs and slashes with his sword almost like the Prince of Persia himself. 

The story is an age old one. A character has the burden of salvation thrust upon them. A battle of light and dark, cleanse the land, yadda, yadda, you know the drill. In this beautiful land of lush green jungles and ruins lit by a golden light, we first see those bold reds and blues appear. Things then cease to be so relaxing. These are the titular light (blue) and dark (red) that must be controlled and defeated to succeed. They appear as a sort of ‘Danmaku’ or Bullet hell, there will be times when waves of red or blue projectiles are fanning across the screen, seemingly impossible to avoid. Luckily you can switch between colours and absorb those projectiles Ikaruga style.

You’ll also need to be an opposing colour to defeat certain enemies. From there, that’s how the game pans out, scaling platforms, jumping gaps, working your way through these connected levels. You hack at spiders, jellyfish, and other fauna that deign to stand in your way. There are light ‘Metroidvania’ elements, where you will backtrack to earlier areas that you couldn’t reach, but the game is straightforward. It can be challenging if you don’t pay attention and some moments require deft switching between the light and dark to progress. Combat is simple with a basic 3 slash combo, an uppercut and a slide, that are augmented with a ground stomp and some other moves later, but your arsenal is limited. Movement, although beautifully animated is a little skittish, with that need to reverse direction to stop a sprint, but it’s all part of the challenge.

Go there, hit that, rinse and repeat

It did feel repetitive after a while, there is little beyond the ‘find a switch’, ‘open a gate’, ‘avoid and kill’ tropes, so when the Boss fights appear they do serve as a welcome diversion. These are always very lovingly crafted, be they large Colossus like golems or flying Dragons. There is a particularly memorable Spider that fires webs of Bullet Hell. The game lasts a good six hours plus, and has collectibles and leaderboards if you wish to extend that play-time. I felt it was just about right. It did not out stay its welcome and I enjoyed the sense of completion. There is also a co-op mode which unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to try, but that might be fun to jump into.

All in all, it’s great to have a game like this on the PC even so long after the initial release. It’s well made and a good-looking game. The art will make you happy and the challenge will never frustrate as long as you are patient and learned in the ways of the genre.

Outland is available on Steam now for £6.99/$9.99. Get out there and get some.

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