Outland: review

  • Format: XBLA, PSN
  • Unleashed: Out Now (PSN version has been delayed)
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Developer: Housemarque\
  • Players: 2
  • Site: http://www.housemarque.com/

It was an average, humdrum day in the Housemarque offices. Lighting effects were being rejiggered, polygons recounted, and all that sort of game developer business. But all of a sudden, one of the designers had an idea.

“I have an idea!” he announced. “Let’s make a platformer and a shoot ’em up… at the same time.”

After an awkward pause, the room burst into cheers and Outland was born.

You’ll find all manner of leaping, sliding, and wall-jumping in this subdued, alluring downloadable title. Your shadowy protagonist, silhouetted and aglow with neon, will dash and bound his way through the five worlds with a thrilling grace. The minimal story acts as a setting rather than an involved plot line, steeped in mystery and awe. Traversing the ghostly environments meshes well with puzzle-solving and combat, the latter of which takes a surprising amount of skill to master. To help spark your exploratory spirit, you’ll find the odd secret dotted throughout the interconnecting levels. Combine all that with tight controls, beautiful aesthetics, and an ethereal soundtrack and you have the makings of a great game on your hands.

But our fictitious idea man is not yet content. No, there must be infinite waves of bullets that spring up from all angles to give Outland a new layer of dynamics. Of course, it would be foolhardy to talk about this game without comparing it to Ikaruga, the renowned, tough-as-nails shoot ’em up from Treasure. Like the colour-coded shooter, Outland’s enemies and bullets come in two flavours, and you’ll eventually gain the ability to switch your character between red and blue at will. If you’re currently blue, red bullets will waste no time in murdering you, and vice versa; on the flip side, you can only harm opponents of the opposite colour. This logic sets up a challenging situation of risk and reward, always forcing you to pay attention or get cut down.

Changing colors on the fly will help ensure that you don't die. And that rhymed.

The game is finely tuned and intricate in its own uncomplicated way. Responsive controls let you tackle any given situation however you like as solid combos from your own imagination are chained together. Dodging projectiles, hopping over pits, and fighting off two monsters of differing colours is a fluid activity that relies on your wits and skills. Special powers are unlocked throughout the game that add to an already versatile moveset. The story mode is punctuated with fantastic boss fights and leads to a crescendo of swirling missiles during the final encounter. Outland doesn’t reach the insane difficulty of games like Ikaruga, but it definitely makes it to about the sixth level of bullet hell.

In case you want some human interaction, a fellow player can join you via online co-op. Playing through the story with a friend is a welcome addition, but the atmospheric journey is probably best played solo. However, a handful of unique challenges have players struggling to survive and depending on one another to avoid certain death. This is an intense workout of the teamwork muscle group that leads to some triumphant finishes. It’s too bad that no offline options are available; finding a game isn’t easy, and a real-life person by your side would make things a lot more fun.

Also, the game is kind of like Shadow of the Colossus. Are you sold yet?

Without question, Outland’s exceptional entertainment is worth its paltry price. It takes the best ingredients from two successful genres, mixes them with care, bakes them to a golden brown, and produces a pie of delicious gameplay with a scoop of wondrous aesthetics on top. And there’s no higher praise than comparing a video game to pie.




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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

One comment

  1. Stephanie T /

    I adore this game. Played it nonstop to completion and got all the achievements in it. Some of the best art direction I’ve ever seen, genius level design (especially later on), and fantastic boss fights.

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