Gaming history is a strange and twisted thing. Who would have thought, for instance, that one of the most popular PC games around, Warframe, would essentially be the sequel to the middling c-list shooter Dark Sector? I certainly wouldn’t have expected to be playing Bayonetta on PC even four or five years ago. What’s more, sometimes you can come across games that seem to be a little wise beyond their years – take Outcast, for instance, an early 3D action-adventure game that shows its age in many ways while still feeling fresh in others. If you’ve yet to give it a shot, you might be interested to try out the recent remake of that title: Outcast: Second Contact.
When an experiment to explore a mysterious parallel dimension goes wrong, the Earth is threatened by a rapidly-spreading anomaly that threatens to destroy the planet. The world’s last hope lies in the hands of a team of scientists who will enter the other dimension and repair the damage before the end arrives. Crack survivalist and man of action Cutter Slade is chosen, presumably due to his 1980s action hero name, to look after the eggheads…and, naturally, things go wrong, so now it’s up to Slade to explore the world of Adelpha, help the local Talan race fight off an evil warlord, find the scientists and save both worlds.
Outcast is both a product of its time and a portent of something more; I generally found it to play somewhat similar to console adventure games like Beyond Good & Evil and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Exploration and combat both take place in 3D, with hidden goodies found in places you’d expect them to be given that this was new; you’ll get a lot of mileage out of looking behind things and checking the bottom of waterways, for example. There’s a fair amount of platforming that the game seems to believe is more difficult than it is; combat, meanwhile, is fairly simplistic strafery that tends to be over before it can become frustrating.
Animations tend to be a bit janky and the game lacks some of the modern conveniences we’ve come to expect, but on the other hand NPCs go about their business using what appear to be set schedules regardless of your interaction, something we’d eventually see prominently in titles like the Elder Scrolls games. The odd bug here and there also suggests that both the original title and this remaster/remake are biting off a little more than they can chew; I was running into quests that broke as early as the first hour, though in a comical turn the game actually let me skip the task in question after two or three non-failure failures. Other quirky 90s elements include an in-universe take on game saving using a crystal called a Gamsaav that’s explained by an early NPC as a form of soul storage. There’s a lot of charm here; I think a younger me would have been quite taken with the original Outcast.
The original Outcast was notable because of its presentation, which used a voxel-based rendering technique that resulted in some intriguingly impressive graphics for its time while laying waste to your poor, defenseless CPU. Second Contact appears to use a more traditional engine and is probably a little less likely to set your computer on fire as a result, though I still ran into numerous performance issues despite having some seriously beefy hardware. Outside of these issues the game looks good enough for a title that originally hails from the 90s.
Sound-wise, on the other hand, we probably could have used a re-recording or two, as Slade and other characters alike tend to sound like they’re talking through tin cans. The other sound issue is a little less serious – if you turn subtitles on, you’re treated to in-line translations of pretty much every phrase that isn’t standard English, which is a good idea in theory but in practice these rapidly become redundant and inadvertently hilarious. For example, I’m pretty sure that after the first hour or so you’ll know that the Talan are the (native race of Adelpha) but the subtitles will gladly remind you every single time the term comes up.
Outcast: Second Contact isn’t without its warts, but it’s good enough for what it is – a remake of a classic adventure that many early PC gamers are sure to hold close to their hearts. For contemporary players it’s interesting to see some seemingly anachronistic elements of modern game design in an older title like this. Either way, if you can look past the odd performance issue and the generally 90s-era design then you should enjoy this one.