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Product: Outcast
Company: Infogrames
Website: http://www.outcast-game.com
Estimated Street Price: 35
Review By: Byron Hinson

The Story & The Features

I remember seeing Outcast running at the ECTS show in London, UK about 2-3 years ago, It looked great then and from the shots on the box it looks great now (Great box btw). The story goes a little something like this.

1984

In an attempt to bring together Einstein's theory of relativity and the laws of quantum physics the idea of Superstrings is born. It says that there exist 6 dimensions in addition to our space-time.

1998/99

Basing on the theory of Superstrings the scientist William Kauffmann mathematically proofes the existence of an infinite number of parallel-universes in addition to our own.

1999

William Kaufmann and Professor Anthony Xue meet at the MIT Seminar. Xue shows high interest in Kauffmann's studies. He even claims that it is possible to send particles into the nearest parallel-universe to our own.

2001

Under support of the United States government the two scientists start the SideStep-Project - with the goal of sending a probe into the closest parallel-universe to our own.

Outcast Screenshot 1

5th June, 2002

In a secret base on the north pole the experiment of sending the probe "Christobal" into the closest parallel-universe shall finally begin. The probe instantly disappears in a violent burst of energy. A few moments later it starts transmitting back video from what seems to be a planet in a parallel-universe. And what's more - the dream of live beyond earth is finally being fulfilled. A strange humanoid creature approaches the probe and suddenly fires with what looks like a weapon luminous projectiles on the camera. The connection breaks down...

5th June, 2002

A few seconds later the launch area is destroyed in a huge explosion and some kind of black hole is formed that - like the big ones in outer space - sucks up everything and everyone unlucky to be too close. What's more the hole seems to be growing rapidly and by that mean, has to be considered as nothing less than a major menace for earth and mankind. The whole project has turned into the greatest disaster ever since time immemorial...

5th/6th June, 2002

After a short debate the crisis unit of the United States decides to send an intervention team of 4 persons right to the damaged probe in the parallel universe. The prototype of the secret north-pole base is brought back on line. After a couple of hours the intervention team - consisting of William Kauffmann, the man who initiated the whole project (he carries the 5 electronic cards needed for the repair of the probe "Christobal"), Anthony Xue, Assistant to Kauffmann, Cutter Slade, second in command and Marion Wolfe, exobiologist - make ready for their most important assignment ever. Their mission: To repair the damaged electronic circuitry on the probe and to neutralize the threat of the black hole.

6th June, 2002

In a violent burst of energy the 4 members of the intervention team are catapulted into the parallel universe. They'll have to find a way back to our own universe or they're gonna stay there forever... Like Rambo in his finest days, they are the last hope for the whole human race.

The list of features is rather large - so here goes:

Revolutionary Graphics-engine combining Voxel-landscapes and -buildings with Polygon-characters
6 huge worlds
163000 displayed voxels per frame
24 million voxels per world
Over 20 different character types
Skeletal Animation
52000 motion-captured animation frames
Up to 20 textures per character
All current state-of-the-art graphic-features like Gouraud Shading, Coloured Lighting, Texture Mapping, Mip-mapping, 32 bit Z-buffering, Bilinear Filtering etc.
Bump-Mapping
Anti-Aliasing
Dynamic Shadowing
Advanced Particle System
Advanced materials rendering (skin, chrome, metal, translucend...)
Realistic Physics Engine
Advanced AI featuring natural instincts (self-preservation, hunger, exhaustion...), emotions (curiosity, fear...) and wishes (earn money, information, make friends...)
Complete social structure with money, food and information flow consisting of 600 individual NPCs
1st and 3rd person perspective
Intelligent AI-grunts, who communicate, duck behind obstacles, use advanced combat tactics (flanking, covering...) and flee when they are about to be overrun
6 weapons, each of which can be upgraded 3 times (including Flame Thrower, Grenade Launcher, Laser...)
Lots of useful tools and items like X-ray goggles,  a cloaking device, explosives, a  holographic projector etc.
60 minutes of original music (Moscow Symphony Orchestra) - 24 singers in the chorus

Installation & Settings

Outcast comes on two CD's - The first one is the installation disk, the second one being the CD you use to play the game (It contains the top notch soundtrack). Installation is simple, but time consuming as the game installs over 400MBs of data to your hard-drive. Finally it checks your version of DirectX and then the Outcast icon is placed on your desktop and you are almost ready to go.

When you click on the Outcast Icon for the first time, you are shown the introduction movie (Which lasts around 10 minutes and is played as an AVI file), the next time you click on it you are presented with a number of options:

New Game: Begins a new game.
Load Game: Loads up one of your saved games
Settings: Lets you change graphical, sound and control settings
Quit: Takes you back to the desktop

Changing the graphical settings in the game isn't recommended as Outcast comes with a number of default settings for certain Pentium machines from Celerons right through to new Pentium 3 machines. The only change I made was to setup Outcast to use the SoundBlaster Live! EAX features.

Gameplay

When the game was first previewed a year or so ago, most magazines put it in the "Tomb Raider" category of games. Thankfully Outcast isn't quite so limited as Tomb Raider was, it is an Action/Adventure game, but there is more adventure than action to be found here. On your first go you may well get confused with the number of different controls that are available to you, it took me a while to get used to it, but once you figure out where your hands are best placed then you'll get the hang of it.

Outcast's engine can run in both first & third person camera views, the first time I played the game I thought that the camera angles were awful, but when I realized that I wasn't controlling the game in the right way I then managed to figure out the way you actually control both your character and the camera angles at the same time. You have both walk & run modes, look up & down (Via the mouse if you like), special swimming moves and weapon controls via a sort of laser targeting system which is very easy to control especially when you use the Mouse & Keyboard combination.

Outcast Screenshot 2

As I mentioned earlier, the emphasis in Outcast is on adventure, you can't just go around shooting everyone and everything that moves, otherwise you will lose the trust of other characters in the game. The trust of the other characters in the game is imperative, because without them you can not find the other members of the team and the probe that you are looking for. When you meet new characters in the game, you are given the option to talk to them via a icon (this is called the contextual icon and it also includes crawling, jumping, swimming and diving icons) that appears on the top left of the screen. Once you have chosen to talk to someone another screen sometimes appears which allows you to select certain dialogue branches. Although some conversations can go on for a lifetime, they are important to the game.

There are a number of different characters, animals and religions in Outcast. The main characters are Farmer and Fisherman, Merchants, Soldiers, Shamaz (Priests), Hunters, Slaves, Beggars and Recreators. Each character in the game belongs to a certain religion such as FAE (Fire), ELUEE (Water), Gandha (Earth) and KA (Air). The majority of characters in Outcast also speak in a different language, which the manual helps you learn.

Not only do you have a number of weapons at your disposal, you also get the chance to use various gadgets such as invisibility, tracker devices, trip wires and binoculars. During the game you pick up other inventory objects such as keys, unknown metals, crystals, underwater shells and ammunition.

There are six worlds you get to play through each with its own terrain. These worlds are as follows:

Ranzaar - The White Earth/World of Snow
Shamazaar - World of Temples
Okasankaar - World of Marshes
Talanzaar (Okriana) - World of the City and Hub of Adelpha
Okaar - The Ancient Forrest World
Motazaar - The World of Mountains

Graphics

Outcast uses Voxel technology, which in theory means you not only get some superb graphics and effects, but you also don't need to have a 3D accelerator installed to play the game.

The engine behind Outcast is, with one word, revolutionary. It is the first time that the realistic landscape rendering of VoxelSpace and the detailed character presentation of Polygons together with Bump-mapping and Anti-Aliasing have been combined in a PC game. On another note before I tell you just what I think of the graphics engine, the highest resolution available in the game is 512*384. Those of you with 3D graphics cards who are used to high resolutions may be thinking that this is an awfully low resolution to run any game nowadays even with a 2D graphics card, well read on and find out just what I think.

The default setting that was chosen for my Pentium II 450Mhz machine was 400*300 this meant that I could have almost all of the special effects running on my PC. There are lower and higher resolutions available to you, but it really isn't worth changing the default settings.

Outcast Screenshot 3

Despite the low resolution the graphics can be breathtaking, you get brilliant effects such as the breath showing in the cold weather, wonderful snow effects and some of the water effects and reflections are the best you will see in games today. Like I mentioned before about the lack of needing a 3D accelerator card with Outcast, you can still get almost as good graphics as if the game actually needed one, but in certain places you do get the "blocky" feel about certain landscapes and characters (When close up to them).

All of the cutscenes in the game use the actual Outcast engine, which means there is no waiting around for any animations to load up off of the CD. The cutscenes themselves are excellent, they are used both for special effects and when you are talking to other characters in the game, the game engine zooms in on them and allows you to see all of their lip movements and other animations. The animation on the characters is wonderful, as mentioned earlier, you can see the main characters breath when running in the snow, hand movements are also used in abundance when talking to other characters.

If you have a PC capable of running the game at its highest resolution with all special effects switched on, then you will be in for a visual treat as the game looks wonderful at 512*384, but for those of you with anything lower than a Pentium III I cannot recommend that you try it, as the game runs very slow at this resolution and it isn't worth spoiling the actual gameplay for the sake of slightly better graphics.

Sound & Music

Outcast is not only a visual extravaganza but also a aural delicacy. The soundtrack comes on CD 2 in the package and is written & composed by Lennie Moore & performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. The music is the perfect compliment to the gameplay, settings and surroundings, it builds up in certain areas on levels and also manages to get your hair standing on end at all the right times.

Sound effects are as equally impressive as the music, with crunching snow, sound of walking on wood and thankfully some excellent voice-overs have been used. For those of you who are lucky enough to have a SoundBlaster Live! card then you are given the chance to use EAX in the game via the settings panel, although I couldn't notice a major difference (I only have a two speaker setup so I can't really judge it well enough to make a proper verdict) in the sound effects I did notice that some sounds were slightly lower in volume and harder to hear which was a little surprising.

Final Comments

How It Grades
Originality: A-
Gameplay: A-
Story: A-
Graphics: A-
Cutscenes: B
Sound: A+
Interface: B+
Multiplayer: N/A
Overall: A-

I can't say that I have played another game so far this year that has enthralled me quite so much as Outcast. Despite the lack of High Resolutions and 3d accelerator cards the graphics still tend to amaze and have a Wow factor. The only other disappointment is that despite having a Pentium II 450 with 128 MB and an AGP 2d card is that I can't really run the game well enough to play it in the highest resolution, but considering the graphics hardly change no matter what resolution you use it doesn't really affect the game.

I also have to say that Outcast easily has the best CD music that I have heard in a game and that includes Star Wars because this soundtrack is original. Overall this is an excellent game that I recommend to anyone who can run it.

Overall Score 91%
Version Reviewed Version 1.0 UK
Release Date Out Now
In The Box? 2 CD's
1 Set of instructions
1 Keyboard Layout (Inside the CD Jewel Case)
Reviewers PC Setup Pentium II 450
Windows 98 Second Edition
128 Meg SD-Ram
Voodoo 2 - 8mb
DirectX 6.1a
SoundBlaster Live! Value
Toshiba SD-1202 DVD-ROM - 32x
17" LG Electronics Monitor
ATI 8mb XPert AGP Graphics Card
Microsoft Force Feedback Pro
Microsoft Freestyle Pro (USB)
PC Required Pentium 200 MMX
32 MB of RAM
600 MB of available hard disk space
4x CD-ROM drive
Microsoft DirectX 6 (Included)
DirectX Compatible Sound Card

 

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