1999 was an interesting year for many reasons. It was the year we saw Manchester United achieve the infamous treble, the year we saw doomsday preppers going bonkers for Y2K, and for gaming, it was another year with countless top-quality releases such as Dino Crisis, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, GTA 2, and Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, all of which have become iconic in the gaming industry since then.
Whilst it may not be one of the first titles from 1999 that our minds flick back to, there was another game that arrived that year that too; one which has had a huge influence on gaming, and on the open world RPG genre particularly. The game I’m talking about is Outcast, one of the first 3D open-world adventures to cause excitement within the gaming community. Had it not been for that successful venture in 1999, things could have been very much different for the genre that we so frequently enjoy today. But in a day and age in which open-world RPGs saturate a vast part of the gaming market, can Outcast maintain its standing as a fine RPG/action-adventure title? I jumped in to the recently remastered adventure to find out.
The story of Outcast: Second Contact puts you in the role of former U.S. Navy SEAL, Cutter Slade, a straight-talking chap given the tough task of saving the entire world. After scientists finally breach the hidden walls of the universe and find a portal to an alien world in a parallel universe, a U.S. government probe is sent through the unknown to the world on the other side. Just minutes after transmitting the first images back to Earth however, a destructive alien life force from the planet Adelpha quickly finds and damages the probe, causing unexpected and deadly events to begin on Earth. With just a few hours left to save the planet from being ripping apart and the destruction of life as we know it, it’s up to Cutter Slade to escort and assist three government scientists on a mission to Adelpha to retrieve the damaged probe and close the Black Hole in order to save humanity.
After arriving on the alien world however, things aren’t as straightforward as first planned. The trip through the portal has seen the scientific ensemble that Slade was supposed to escort lost in travel and Slade himself is now found waking to a hero’s welcome from the indigenous alien folk, the Talan. They quickly hail him as their Ulukai – the ancient messiah predicted to arrive during their planets time of need. After some long and drawn out conversations, it’s agreed that the Talan race of Adelpha will assist you in locating your lost scientists and the damaged probe. But in return, you will try your best to fulfil the role of the Ulukai and save their world.
That may sound like the job you’d expect to see given to the folk of Star Trek, but any hopes for an interesting tale of interplanetary allegiances working towards the greater good are quickly overshadowed just minutes into play. After getting past all the early extended and unnecessary cutscenes, players finally step out into the open world and one thing becomes clear – the folks behind bringing this PC cult classic to console have done very little in the way of modernising things.
After a tutorial, you are sent through another portal – there are lots of those in this game – and travel to one of the main areas of the world. There are several different areas for players to travel to, all of which are separated by large bodies of water and generally come under the control of the different factions at war on the planet. It’s fair to say for a game that originally released in 1999, each of the playable areas are genuinely massive and it’s not hard to see why this would have been one of the main praises back then. But whilst it’s nice to have large open areas to explore, to be enjoyable there needs to be something to do, something more than just exploration, and that’s a large part of the problem within Outcast: Second Contact. Regardless of which location you are in, there is very little other than a change in colours and the enemies’ hostility that allows each area to feel different from the last one you’ve explored. Sure, the layout isn’t the same, but with very little detail put into making things look and feel different, each one tends to blend into a recurring experience that quickly feels overly repetitive.
On top of that, other than finding ammo and materials, talking to the various NPCs that casually go about their day-to-day business and fighting enemies in order to clear areas, there is very little else to do. Sure, you still have a story to progress through, but even though this has the potential to actually be something quite special, the painfully long and slow conversations with each and every character are enough to send anyone to sleep. And that’s without mentioning the generic dialogue options that come with each conversation.
For me, variation is an important factor within games, whether I’m playing the latest FIFA, racing through Forza, or shooting my way through one of the FPS titles. If there isn’t variation to what I’m doing, then my interest is sure to dwindle fairly quickly, and Outcast: Second Contact is a game that fails terribly to incorporate change and variation to the general run of the mill missions.
Even many of the NPCs look near identical to one another, with a lack of definition to their appearance. The only real way to tell who you need to be talking to is by hunting down the characters that have a name attached to them, which is a sure fire way to find the guy you need to talk to in order to progress. Although with each character looking similar this can take much longer than it should.
After finding the right person to speak to however, players must then endure excessively long conversations that all feel rather uninspiring when considering the rather serious nature of the story, with NPCs often continuing to speak long after they need to. I eventually found myself trying to avoid contact with characters as much as possible.
The thing that truly takes away any chance of enjoyment though was just how horrid the controls are. For a game that is arriving on console for the first time and has such a huge following amongst the PC community, it’s a shock to see the controls given such a lack of attention. With jumping feeling terribly unnatural, general movement proving sluggish and shooting seeing you using an entire clip before you actually get a shot on target, actually playing the game can prove a challenge. There are a couple of new additions this time around that enable players to crouch to take cover and utilise the newly implemented ‘dodge roll’ to evade enemies, but with such an unoptimized and unnatural feel to things, Outcast: Second Contact is more like a chore than a game that can be enjoyed.
Outcast: Second Contact is a game that feels more like a direct port of the original rather than a fully remastered experience. With sharper visuals that ultimately fail to really improve much over the original 1999 release, and controls that feel like a carbon copy, Outcast isn’t a game that many will remember fondly a second time around. It must be said that the story has the potential to be something special, however the poor implementation of key game mechanics and a lack of variation throughout makes Outcast: Second Contact the perfect example of an unneeded remaster.