I remember when Outland was announced at last year’s PAX. I instantly fell in love with both the visual feel of the game and the game’s expected polarity-platforming mechanics; I believe my exact phrasing was, “Unfortunately, Outland is not due out until next year, so I can’t make sweet, sweet gamer love to it quite yet.” Well, it is now the aforementioned “next year,” and I have had many hours over the last two days to make that sweet, sweet gamer love to Outland…and there was much rejoicing.
Outland is every bit as beautiful as I expected, and more. Screenshots don’t do the game justice the way actually playing it on a 42″ HDTV does. The dark, silhouetted foreground stands in sharp contrast to the vibrant, stylized background. Blue, yellow, and red are used to accentuate the black foreground so wonderfully you find yourself wanting to just…look. Gameplay animation is so smooth, for the player character, enemies, and environmental objects alike, that you find yourself wanting to just run and jump around the levels as if you were a pretty little girl in a field of daisies…not…not that I’ve ever wanted to be a pretty little girl in a field of daisies…with the warm sun shining down on me, a light breeze on my face, and the feel of grass under my bare feet…ANYWAY. The music and sounds are subtle, but completely enhance the visual feel of the game. Outland is simply stunning.
Outland is an excellent example of a game where the story doesn’t matter. Now, to be fair to Outland, the story they provide isn’t bad; on the contrary, it’s a good story. The premise is simple, and the progression is handled smoothly and unobtrusively. You are the reincarnation of an ancient hero, returned to ensure that the Sisters who created the world do not bring about its destruction. Each boss you fight on your way to the big-bads of the game gives you a little more insight into how events lead to the current situation, culminating in a final battle. The best thing about it, though, is that the story doesn’t get in the way of the game. There’s enough story to motivate you and tie events together, but not enough to distract you from the incredibly beautiful and entertaining mix of polarity and platforming the game brings together.
Before going into my comments on the gameplay, I have one complaint: the Checkpoint system. For the most part, I absolutely adore the checkpoint system. Checkpoint towers are scattered throughout the world of Outland, and make for great safety nets before entering difficult areas. Unfortunately, they don’t always work like they should. The most aggravating example came in The City section. I hit a checkpoint, then went through a long and dangerous tunnel, filled with polarity-shifting, to activate a trigger at the far end. This trigger unlocked a door near my starting point. I hit the checkpoint at the end of the tunnel, headed back, and hit my original checkpoint again. Now, to be clear, I have a checkpoint before entering the tunnel, at the end of the tunnel, and again after exiting the tunnel; all activated. I died shortly after this due to a bit of carelessness, and when I respawned at the checkpoint, the door was locked and the trigger un…triggered. The game, however, did not forget that I had gone through the tunnel, because the enemies that only spawned on my return trip were now spawned before I re-entered the tunnel, along with the enemies I had already defeated! I have reported this to Ubisoft’s PR, who will pass it on to the developer, so hopefully a patch or update can be released to fix the issue. While not gamebreaking, it was very frustrating.
That being said, Outland’s gameplay is simply fantastic. They have taken the polarity and platforming mechanics and merged them perfectly, with an easy to handle learning/difficulty curve. Starting off, you do not have access to polarity gameplay. You are yellow, you can damage anything you see, and anything you see can damage you. Eventually, you unlock the Light Spirit (blue polarity), and are stuck in Light mode. In Light mode, blue energy passes through you harmlessly, and you are able to defeat red enemies. A little farther on, you unlock the Dark Spirit (red polarity), which acts the same as its opposite, except…opposite. Once you have both polarities, you are able to shift at will, which is where the game really starts to shine. It is not as difficult as Ikaruga, but it does get difficult. Polarity-shifting becomes very important, both in normal platforming and during large boss fights. There are areas where simply moving from one point to another requires precisely timed polarity-shifting due to waves of alternating energy projections. Boss fights get progressively more difficult and require more and more polarity-shifting as you move forward. On top of polarity, there are areas of the world that you simply can’t access due to not having the skills/abilities needed yet. As you progress through the game, you slowly unlock these skills/abilities, and return to past areas to take advantage of what was previously out of your reach.
The story mode lasts at least 6-8 hours, but that’s not the end of your Outland experience. As you progress through story mode, you unlock content for two other modes: Arcade and Co-op. Each stage you enter becomes unlocked in Arcade mode, which is similar to a Time Attack mode. You get through the map as quickly as possible while taking as little damage as possible. There is replay value galore in trying to beat your previous times and master each level. As you progress through each level, you will come across co-op challenge portals. Simply walking across one will unlock it in the co-op menu. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no local co-op in Outland. If you want to play through co-op, you’re doing it online. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like playing games with my wife, and a lot of games now are ignoring the local co-op option, much to my dismay.
Developed by Housemarque and published by Ubisoft, Outland is currently available on XBLA for 800MSP, and will be available on PSN, when PSN itself is available, for $10. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you passed up Outland. If you’re old enough to remember playing classic platformers, and cool enough to remember playing Ikaruga, this game will give you so many flashbacks you’ll think you’re high. On life, that is!
Excellent implementation of Polarity
Excellent platforming mechanics
|Faulty checkpoint system|
No local co-op, only online