Outcast - Second Contact Review

By Kevin Tavore, 17 days ago
In 1999, Outcast was released on PC to glowing reviews. It offered a living, open world in an era where it was practically unheard of and critics showered it with numerous "Adventure Game of the Year" awards. Unfortunately, it failed commercially despite the positive press and its developer, Appeal, ultimately went bankrupt while trying to fund development of Outcast II, which never released. Decades later, the heads of Appeal reacquired the IP from Atari and released Outcast 1.1 on PC. The new release was a success and Appeal used those funds to springboard into its latest project: Outcast - Second Contact. It's the game that inspired the game that inspired the game that inspired your favorite open world. Now it's back and it's time to put on those rose-tinted glasses and find that Outcast is absolutely worth your time.

1

Let's set the stage: Outcast is dated. It's filled with mechanics so old they feel alien or ancient, like relics of a time long ago. In a way, that means this game is poor by today's standards. If it were created for the first time today, it's hard to imagine that anyone would forgive its issues, but you should forgive them. This is a game that's truly magical. It's not diluted by hundreds of collectibles, an endless swarm of side missions or activities, skill trees, tacked on or integrated multiplayer, or any other staple of modern open world games. Instead, Outcast is open world gameplay distilled into a form that's pure and so easy to love for it.

Our hero in this tale is Cutter Slade. Yes, Cutter Slade. You can see a picture of him in the title image above. My fellow Newshound Kelly called him "budget Nathan Drake," a reference to the main character in the Uncharted series. That's fair, but she's not quite right. He's more like Nathan Drake's favorite action hero growing up. Cutter Slade is dripping with edginess and there's little else to him. He has woman troubles but he doesn't let it get him down. He's all about helping anyone who asks, but he's also so over this whole alien world thing as soon as he gets there. He's on a mission and nothing's going to stop him. He's so comically outrageous that he feels like the inspiration for every modern satire of 90's action, but what else is a hero going to be other than awesome? It sounds ridiculous and Cutter is just the start. Outcast isn't done being the avatar of the 90's.

The world of Outcast has been completely redone to modern visual standards.The world of Outcast has been completely redone to modern visual standards.

The story is simple enough. The government is experimenting with wormhole technology and sends a probe through into another world, where it is promptly shot down by the alien denizens of the world. For some reason, this causes a problem with the wormhole and it's going to cause the world to end. That's where Cutter Slade comes in. He's a U.S. Navy Seal, so he's called in to lead a crack team into the wormhole to fix the probe and save the world. He's not sure this is worth his time, since he's a badass and all, but he grudgingly agrees. Also on the team are, you guessed it, two scientists who just can't agree on anything and an ex-girlfriend. The story plays out with a few twists and turns along the way with an ending that feels like the ultimate popcorn action flick. It's a fun time, but it's just the context. The meat of Outcast is its world and that's where the magic is.

The world of Outcast is called Adelpha and it's inhabited by an alien race known as the Talan. The Talan are humanesque but clearly they're doing their own thing. The Talan have their own religion, their own social structure. Each Talan has a daily life that progresses as you play. It's a full culture in a way that even many modern games cannot capture, and that's not the only way that Outcast is a success even by modern standards.

The alien Talan feel like real people who you'll want to helpThe alien Talan feel like real people who you'll want to help

There's a full reputation system in place, and Talan will have their dialogue change depending on how you are received by their race. If you decide to blow up a chest inside someone's home to get its contents instead of convincing someone to give you the key, the owner of that chest will be angry when you encounter him. If you shoot one of Adelpha's beasts of burden, the Twon-Ha, the merchant that sells them as mounts will be angry with how you treat the beasts and will refuse to sell you one. Of course, if you are benevolent and helpful, you will be rewarded accordingly and Talan will be willing to help you.

As you interact with the Talan, you'll be given what are essentially quests, although this was before that was common parlance outside of RPGs. These quests will send you out into the world. In a modern RPG, this will be a directional arrow or a dot on a minimap telling you exactly where to go, but in Outcast you'll need to immerse yourself in the world and actually listen to what everyone has to say. As an example, in an early area, you're tasked with convincing a local mayor to stop producing food for the enemy soldiers. He'll refuse but mention how his village has lost a religious artifact. By talking with other Talan in the world and exploring, you'll find many more Talan to help and eventually locate the artifact, which you can then use to convince him to stop providing food to the enemy soldiers. Quests like these make the world feel alive.

Since we never got a real Stargate game worth playing, Outcast is the best Stargate game ever made.Since we never got a real Stargate game worth playing, Outcast is the best "Stargate" game ever made.

This living world is Outcast's greatest success. The Talan feel interconnected as you travel between the different lands. There are six lands in total, all connected by what are clearly Stargates. Each of these lands has its own ecosystem and residents. At first, they feel like separated quest hubs only connected by those gates, but as you complete quests across various zones, you'll find these Talan are all connected with deeper bonds across worlds. One quest will see you seeking out a ceremonial knife from barbarian Talan and shortly after see you helping a merchant in the major city get in contact with his brother, a farmer in a different land. These bonds connect back and forth all over and it ensures the world truly does feel open instead of the six instanced zones that it technically is. Thanks to a lack of fast travel, you'll actually find this world feels more alive and connected than something like The Elder Scrolls. That all of this was created in 1999 is amazing.

It's not all butterflies and flowers, though. Combat in the game is atrocious. Modern shooters have come a very long way since 1999. Outcast is simple. You use the auto aim and lock on, then just fire into bullet sponge enemies until they die. The combat is complimented by equally archaic movement that's a hindrance at times but can also aid you. If you keep moving, you're basically immortal as enemies can't hit you. You can also skip combat by literally ignoring enemies and just running by them. As an example, you can see me in combat with five or six tiger things:


The audio hits some highs and lows with Outcast. On one hand, there's an orchestral score that's really pretty good from the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and when you consider the fact that in 1999 an orchestral score was unheard of, it's even more impressive. The score helps the world feel alive and the adventure feel like an adventure. It's a definite high.

The game is also fully voice acted, but it seems the state of video game voice acting in 1999 just doesn't compare today at all. That's your low. Words cannot describe how jarring this is, so take a look in the video below, but also keep in mind that this horrific voice acting is also a part of the game's charm. It does quickly become something you'll think of fondly as you play.


The achievements are going to see you exploring the world and completing most of the game's quests, except for the main quest. You don't actually need to beat the game to get the full 1000, although you'll get close and you'll probably want to do so just so you can learn what happens to Cutter Slade and Co. You can load up any guide to find out how to finish any quest of which you're unsure. Since it's a direct port, even an archaic GameFAQs walkthrough will see you through the game. Overall, the achievements should pose no deterrent to playing the game and they should all be finished in less than 20 hours.

Summary

Outcast was plucked straight out of 1999 and dropped into 2017, but in many ways it's better than what we have today. Sure, the combat is horrific and there are other details that clearly show the game is dated, but it doesn't matter. If you're looking for a modern masterpiece, this isn't it; instead, Outcast trips back to a time when games were all about exploration and being absorbed in the world. The alien Talan feel like real people who you'll want to help and they live in a world that feels alive in a way even games like Skyrim do not. Cutter Slade is an outrageous protagonist but he's lovable in his own way — the Nathan Drake of the 90's. These elements come together to create a package that's a pure joy to play through. This game simply exudes charm in a way that few others do. Outcast was the adventure game of the year in 1999, and it's my adventure game of the year in 2017. Outcast is a special piece of gaming history that surprisingly and against any reasonable expectation withstood the test of time. It absolutely should not be missed.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Alien world is fully realized and feels connected
  • Alien race has its own culture and its people their own lives
  • Cutter Slade is a 90's action hero who's easy to cheer for
  • Refreshingly free of modern open-world tropes
  • Visuals have been improved nicely since 1999
Negatives
  • Shooting mechanics are extremely dated
  • Movement is strange and can be abused to remove any difficulty from the game
  • Voice acting is jarring, although it eventually becomes endearing
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 15 hours in the world of Adelpha exploring as Cutter Slade. Along the way, he helped many Talan and earned 39 out of 39 achievements for 1000 Gamerscore. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.