Posted June 29, 2017 by Daniel Kizana in Feature

E3 2017: Hands On Preview of Outcast: Second Contact

E3 2017 took place in Los Angeles, California and was the largest video game remake convention ever. Many companies came to showcase games that they released ten years ago and are going to release again. There were no new games allowed. One of the remakes was Outcast: Second Contact, which needed another remake, after not having been remade since 2014 (that long!?). The first remake is no longer HD enough. Like Spiderman‘s infinite cinematic reboots, you just gotta keep the Outcast remakes coming.

Sarcasm aside, it just feels like innovation in our industry is dead. Like I mentioned in the Strange Brigade preview, it’s not just us; Hollywood has cranked out 15 Avengers movies in the last 9 years. Maybe this is just what happens when an industry reaches a high level of economic viability; high-risk, creatively motivated gambles on new IPs that MIGHT sell well give way to sequels and remakes that companies know WILL sell copies, year in, year out. Cue annual CoD, cue SNES re-release, cue Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (to be fair, they waited almost 20 years).

Outcast doesn’t deserve the brunt of my complaint, though. Appeal are trying to get back on their feet after a period of insolvency, and the market is telling them that this is the way to do that. It’ll probably work, too. I met with Appeal’s founder, Yves Grolet, at E3 and he ran me through the design philosophy behind Outcast: Second Contact.

Essentially, they’re aiming for a game that is mechanically as close to the original as possible, only with a few QoL improvements and, of course, a modern-day graphics overhaul. Appeal have completely rebuilt the game in the Unity engine; a controversial choice, and one that I found works both for and against the title. Lighting is stellar, textures are crisp and dynamic, and seeing favourite characters re-rendered with high-quality models will be a joy to fans of the original. The environments have the same look and feel, and I think Appeal have done a fantastic job of modernising their beloved art style.

Animations, however, aren’t as flash. Character movement is stiff, and models don’t seem blended properly with the world around them. Though I’m well aware that character models are being superimposed over environments, I shouldn’t be able to see the ‘layering’ while watching a cut-scene, like cheap green-screen on the news. This is the curse of the Unity engine; cheap and easy to work with, but your game comes out looking very ‘game-maker software’, ‘your sprites in a template’, if you know what I mean.

The original Outcast has been lauded as a significant turning point in Action-Adventure games, mostly for how interconnected the world was, and how your decisions had major impacts on the world and its people. Yves called it a ‘Systemic World’. This is nothing special in 2017, but it was fairly advanced in 1999, and Appeal have retained every part of that system. Attack an enemy mining operation, and their weapons will be weaker due to less resources. You can attack supply lines to starve and weaken your opponents. Changing something in one place, even down to a simple choice or an NPC conversation, will affect something somewhere else. I like games that manage to blend plot themes with mechanics (see Braid). Outcast is about time paradoxes, so it’s cool to see choice and consequence playing major roles in gameplay systems as well.

Gunplay is extremely faithful to the original, almost to a fault, as simple, strafe-based shooting isn’t really the cutting-edge for games in 2017. Controls are tight and everything runs smoothly, but I can’t help but think this project would have been brought to life by a revamp to the dated combat system. It felt like I was back in 2003, which isn’t even the year they were going for.

At the end of the day, these legacy gameplay issues aren’t really a big deal. You know going in that you’re playing a game from the 90’s. The people that will buy Outcast: Second Contact are already die-hard fans of the original, and just want the game to be faithful to their beloved source material. I get that. I can’t see it pulling in swathes of new players, as it’s not really competing with current-gen titles, but you never know. Outcast‘s plot is renowned for being one of gaming’s best, so maybe this will be the push that some hesitant gamers needed to try out this 90’s classic.

Daniel Kizana



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