It's a shame that Outlaws ms released during the period that the whole world was going Ouake crazy, because It didn't really get the credit it deserved.
Although it looks decidedly dated compared to the latest breed of first-person shoot 'em ups, it's clean enough when running in hi-res with the help of a 3D card, and it's surprising how well the revamped Dark Forces game engine stands up some three years down the line. The music and sound effects deserve a mention too. As you stroll down the dusty street your foes actually jibe and taunt you, adding to the atmosphere immensely - something which no other first-person shooter has so far picked up on.
In terms of gameplay there are few surprises, although the facility to pick out your target with a telescopic sight, and the fact that you really have to use the cover and choose your weapons carefully to get through a level, mean that you have to think before you move and shoot. One can presume that the developers of the excellent Half-Life were not immune to Outlaws! charms.
It's quite difficult to recommend a game that's clearly so dated when there are so many more recent and excellent first-person games available, but at this price Outlaws is definitely worth considering.
Welcome To The Wild West, No, That's not Hammersmith. (The Two Ronnies, 1972.) The real Wild West. You know, that place where black-dad baddies get involved in elaborate plots to take over tiny little towns, largely because they've always wanted a High Street of their own to gallop up and down, shooting wildly into the sky and dragging small furry animals on bits of string behind their horses. That place where women who have stupendous dccolletages and hairstyles, and make-up one hundred years ahead of their time, walk about with their heads down, because if they look up, a leering cowboy with a grubby moustache will strip the gingham from their corseted body with his eyes. (He's probably trying to work out if this is another one of those good, God fearing 19th century farmer's wives who have a bikini-formed year-round tan.) The Wild West is the sort of place where farmers and the cowhands should be friends - because alright, one man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, but that's no reason why they can't be friends. (Unless it's the farmer's cow, and he wants to keep his stock TOO per cent bovine, rather than have weird half-man, half-cow creatures wandering about on his land, frightening everybody.) It's that place, anyway.
But let's talk about you...
You are Chris Anderson - the lanky, black-dad sheriff with a fondness for red-eye and a... Start again. You are James Anderson - the lanky, black-clad ex-sheriff with no noticeable fondness for red-eye whatsoever. You look like a young Henry Fonda after six years in a concentration camp, and you seem to be wearing a false George Washington beard. You have one of those sexy wives that all ugly lawmen seem to get in Westerns, just so that it seems worse when they get killed by the marauding baddies. (Let's face it, if she looked like a pig in a dress, who'd care?) You also have a young daughter to be proud of - I say proud, because after all those years of bouncing around in a saddle, you're lucky to be able to reproduce at all.
You're an ex-lawman because you took it on yourself to shoot a lawbreaker before he could be hanged. Apparently, the authorities seemed to have taken this amiss, so you resigned from the job rather than bow to the unnecessary constraints you felt the interfering bureaucrats were placing upon you. You live in a small homestead, which happens to be in the way of someone's plans for a railroad.
Inevitably, you go to town to buy supplies one day, and return to find your homestead in ruins, your sexy wife just about to pop her clogs, and your child kidnapped by a lunatic in a dentist's smock. Off you go to shoot the shit out of the several hundred unwashed desperadoes responsible for this act of malfeasance. Like all true gunfighters, while the death of your sexy wife registers as something of an annoyance, you seem relieved to be back in the swing of things.
A fistful of references...
Basically, Outlaws is a first-person viewed action adventure. It's based on a revamped Dark Forces 3D engine, and uses Full Throttle, cartoon-style graphics This might not sound like such a good idea at first: after all, the Quake engine has set a standard in games of this type. But, having played a few levels, it looks like it might be a laugh. They've gone all-out for the 'Spaghetti Western' look by using every imaginable cliche, from the title sequence onwards.
Co-designers Stephen Shaw and Daron Stinnett are self-confessed Sergio Leone fans, and Outlaws is very atmospheric as a result. The towns are detailed and they all have secret areas. There's a sequence on a moving train. And everywhere is crawling with outlaws. There are a number of weapons -your six-shooter is backed up by a Winchester carbine and. as you work your way around the levels, you'll find more and better weapons. There's a shotgun, a knife (which you throw, rather coolly) and even sticks of dynamite. Naturally, you light these with your cigar. The controls are infinitely customisable, so you can look up and down, Quake-style, duck behind objects and crawl about in cover, popping up to shoot people. The adventure element consists mostly of exploring to find objects which allow you access to the next area - but there are no major puzzles, as such. There is a plot, however, which unfolds in the form of cut-scenes as you progress. There'll also be 'historical missions' for you to play -whatever they are. Let's hope there's a bit of wagon-circling involved.
Fans of carnage will be disappointed to know that you can't shoot the horses which stand about in some levels. This would be unthinkable in America, where shooting a horse would be like shooting a cow in India, or shooting the Queen Mother here. (Now there's an idea for a game...) Anyway, you can shoot the chickens - which seems a bit 'beakist' to me - and with the network options you can shoot each other. You can pick one of the 12 villains in the game, and sneak about in the sunshine blowing each other away with Colt 45s, whistling, smoking cigars and cracking whips. Should be a laugh.
When I was a kid I remember staying up late one Saturday night with my dad watching "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," and I remember the tremendous feeling of satisfaction and retribution I felt when Clint Eastwood had given the last of the bad and the ugly their due by planting them on Boot Hill. That feeling was very much rekindled when I walked into town as Marshall James Anderson in Outlaws. This game is the first in what I hope will be a new trend in first-person shooters -- a game with a true plot, rather than what has unfortunately become a rather standard FPS storyline: "Um, yeah, so then these aliens came in and stole all of Earth's, uh, snow cone machines, yeah, and so anyway, see, you need to go wipe them out of the universe."
The plot goes like this: you were a good lawman, but you got frustrated waiting for the not-so-swift hand of the courts to deal with a couple of bad characters, so you dealt with 'em first -- by planting them six feet under. Trouble is, while all the townfolk were grateful, the government thought you were more vigilante than hero, so they took your badge. You accepted that as just and retired to farming and raising you daughter alongside your wife, hoping for a peaceful life in the country. Of course, things didn't stay peaceful. Without a strong lawman on patrol, more shady characters edged in and this time your farm just so happened to be in the way of a land deal they were pushing. When you refused to sell, they struck at you where it hurt most -- they killed your wife, kidnapped your daughter, and burned down your farm. At this point you can already hear the music swelling; you're a man with nothing to lose and lot of righteous punishment to hand out. You saddle up, sling your 30.06 over your shoulder and head out for some serious vengeance.
Although the box would have you believe that Outlaws is as much adventure as first-person shooter, it's not. It's 90% shooter, with a few adventure elements thrown in here and there. For instance, on every level you have to find one or two items (above and beyond the standard keys to locked doors) which give you access to somewhere else in the level -- a shovel, crowbar, lantern, etc. If you've played Doom or, more appropriately, Dark Forces, you'll know exactly how to play Outlaws. One of the cool features of the game, however, is the level design. There are the standard spaghetti-western towns with lots of windows to shoot out, as well as forts, wilderness areas, a level on a moving train, underground areas, levels at night, and more. These different scenarios require different tactics as well -- towns have lots of open areas where you have to watch your back; the wilderness has cliffs which can bring swift death to those not sure of foot; likewise, a fall off a moving train brings a quick end.
At night or underground you'll need to use your lantern, which illuminates the area around you so you can see, but unfortunately also illuminates you so the bad guys know exactly where you are.
As for the weapons, while you might think that the time period of Outlaws would limit the weapons, the designers were quite creative: everything from dynamite to knives to immobile Gatling guns to a rifle with a scope for long-range pickins. Plus, you don't just run around, grab 1,000 rounds of ammo and fire indiscriminately until you run out -- each weapon holds the correct number of bullets -- six for the pistol, 14 for the 30.06, etc., and you have to light dynamite and time your throw. What all this means is that you have to reload in the heat of battle. You might think that's a pain, but it's actually really cool. It adds a great air of realism to the game. You'll be in a shootout with two bad guys who are holed up in the bank, and you'll have to crouch down behind the bar and hastily reload your six-shooter while bullets zing off the breaking bottles around you.
One last thing to note in this section: every level ends with a confrontation with a member of Dr. Death's gang, so there is an ongoing and incremental level of both difficulty and satisfaction as you progress throughout the game. It is very much a game with that "one more level" feeling to it that will keep you up past your bedtime.
The graphics are good enough in Outlaws, especially in the melodramatic cut scenes, but they are nothing special in the majority of the gameplay. They are very similar to a Duke Nukem level of sophistication -- some good effects when objects are hit by gunfire, opened, thrown, etc., but nothing ground-breaking. To tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed with some of the graphics in the game, as they seemed to be the same old Doom walls with a fresh set of western-themed wallpaper added on.
The music in Outlaws is really well done. I'm encouraged that more and more game makers are really taking the time to write original scores for their games. In this case, the music and sound effects will instantly bring back the best westerns you've seen, from stirring "Yippie-ki-yay" tracks to the sparse desolation themes that always seem to epitomize the old West. The music, in large part, goes a long way toward recommending this game, as it adds the perfect feel and is one thing that certainly makes this game stand out in a flooded genre.
This much can be said without hesitation: Outlaws is a blast in multiplayer. Everything from the built-in taunts to the unique weaponry and game flow, to that good old adrenaline rush of knowing the other guy's stalking you are all front and center in Outlaws. Add to that the massive (and free) Internet Gaming Zone Outlaws arena (204 8-player hubs open 24 hours a day) and you've got a sweet and easy multiplayer setup going. Now I know that there are those out there who feel that LucasArts sold out in throwing their lot in with big, evil Microsoft, but if you give the Zone a chance, you'll find it among the best, fastest, and largest online gaming centers out there. And the price is certainly right. Thirty minutes of downloading for unlimited free play of Outlaws, X-wing vs. TIE Fighter, use of the Zone LAN which gives you the equivalent of an IPX network over the Internet -- what are people possibly whining about? C'mon, I used to spend an hour with my old Atari 1200 downloading some crappy 8-bit game, so why is everybody so impatient that it's not the Instantnet? Hell, read a book while it's downloading the software and enrich your life. OK, ahem, stepping down off the soapbox now to go play some more.
Required: Windows 95, Pentium 60 (Pentium 90 for multiplayer), 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, SVGA graphics card, 16-bit sound card, keyboard and mouse, DirectX (included on CD)
Recommended: 4X CD-ROM drive
Outlaws is among the most solid first-person shooters on the market today. It does its fair share of innovating on the usual themes and devices within the game, and there is a lot to like about it. If you liked Dark Forces, you should especially consider Outlaws as they are quite similar. The same can be said if you like westerns -- there really isn't another game out there with a western theme, and I found a game set in the old West to be quite a refreshing change from the usual futuristic settings full of bizarre creatures and weapons. In Outlaws there is you and there are the bad guys, and the offenses for which you are out for blood are very clearly delineated, so there is not the slaughter-fest feel of a Doom or _Duke-style game where after a while you begin to feel you've signed up for an extended tour of duty in a shooting gallery. I don't think that Outlaws will be remembered as a classic game that breaks the mold for this genre, but in all fairness, I'm not sure that's possible any more in the first-person arena. It's definitely its own game, and there's a level of satisfaction in the completion of each level that's truly unique -- I'd certainly recommend it if you're a shooter fan, less so if you're looking for adventure.