Outcast: Second Contact – Review
Platform – PS4, PC, XBOX ONE
Developer – Appeal
Publisher – Bigben Interactive
MSRP – $34.99
Outcast: Second Contact is a game no one really asked for. Developed by Appeal and published by Bigben Interactive, Outcast: Second Contact is the remake of the original Outcast game for PC. In 1999 Outcast was released as a critical darling with respectable sales figures; overall, a success. It is a cult classic that is viewed as one of the first successful forays into the third dimension. So the question is, does it hold up?
The short answer: Not particularly. Even with updated graphics and some work under the hood, Outcast: Second Contact is a game that would have been better off being remembered as an innovative success in a much younger industry. Instead it is a reminder of the lessons the industry has learned. It’s a game that exemplifies why sometimes nostalgia isn’t enough.
Outcast: Second Contact tells the story of Cutter Slade, a government agent sent through a portal to an alien dimension to save the world from a reality-destroying cataclysm. Once there, Slade must assume the role of savior and messiah of the indigenous people if he is ever going to get him and his team home. Wow.
It is hard to tell whether the original development team understand the inherent camp of its core concept, but thankfully the pulp and bravado shine through. Slade and co. are appropriately cheesy, with horrible puns, one-liners and gags. And this could have been a wonderful way to take the character.
Unfortunately, delivery and execution of that camp leave quite a bit to be desired. General writing is all over the place. There are brief moments where Slade’s over-the-top machismo is to be found endearing, but these moments are few and far between. More often than not, most players will find themselves skipping through the exposition dialogue (a luxury this reviewer did not have) to discover the next area they need to go.
Writing is often times aggressively bad. There is always a fine line between writing something that is inherently cheesy, something that is so bad that it is good, and writing something that is just objectively bad. Unfortunately, Outcast: Second Contact finds itself on the latter side of that line. Too many jokes fall flat for the text to be elevated to something respectable.
All of this, of course, needs to be taken with a grain of salt. When remaking a game there are some things that are almost near impossible to fix—one of them being the overarching story. The industry twenty years ago was much younger one, and some of the things that we take for granted in the present were almost unheard of in 1999. It seems a comprehensible story is one of those things that developed in the past nineteen years.
It also seems that one of the things that did not get an update was sound quality for the voice acting. Performances range from appropriate to horrendous, and they very clearly are using the same exact audio files from ’99. And if they are not, then whoever was responsible for remastering them needs to be fired.
Combat, thankfully, fares a little better than the story. Combat is the primary way your character interacts with the world, and it shines through. It is a constant fight of moving from cover to firing, back to cover and ultimately, to flanking. It nicely adds an element of strategy to the twitch-based system. It is clear, especially since this is one of the first attempts at a system like this, that the original developers put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting the combat right.
This is particularly clear in how your actions (via quests and side-quests) have a very real impact in how your enemies react. If they take the time, players can cut off supplies by allying themselves with the indigenous people and reducing enemy effectiveness by a great deal. Opportunities like this keep the flavor of moment-to-moment gameplay fresh.
That being said, there are clearly some cut corners. Bugs are rampant throughout the game, and certain things that could have been updated to capture newer audiences were overlooked. For example, in one particular firefight, after three of the four enemy combatants had been dispatched and I attempted to finish off the last, I flanked them from behind. After unleashing an unholy volley I realized that no damage was being done, even though I had an absolutely unobstructed sight. I came to realize that since the enemy had cover from the front, it gave him total 360 protection.
That is one egregious bug that should have been fixed before release. And that was not an uncommon occurrence.
The graphics have drastically improved compared to the original. This is often a very legitimately beautiful game. That is doubly impressive when the fact that most of the core area concepts and designs were done by the original team. Appeal did a phenomenal job of giving each location a very real sense of place that makes it feel both logical and distinctive. It’s difficult to think of two separate locations that feel repetitive or redundant.
While the environments are something to behold, the same can not be said of the character models. There is no doubt that they are an improvement over the ’99 version’s polygonal designs, but they also aren’t anything special. Where the cracks particularly tend to show are in the animations. Every step, every interaction, every jump, is extremely clunky. It’s amazing how much the poor animation quality hampers the game as a final product. The player may do some cool things, but those things never feel cool. It never looks cool.
It’s amazing how much the stunted and rigid movements of the player character, adversaries, and NPCs bring down the total experience. The player is immediately forced out of the experience every time Slade performs an awkward roll across the screen.
As said in the beginning of this article, Outcast: Second Contact is a game no one asked for. Appeal and Bigben Interactive deliver on a title that was beloved by many twenty years ago. But due to some poor choices in priority, namely placing graphical fidelity over bug fixes and better animation, that original audience is the only audience who will truly be able to appreciate this updated version. Outcast: Second Contact is a game that is less than the sum of its part, and that is a real shame. There is a really good game under all of this, but unfortunately it’s hard to notice under all those weird jumps.