Outcast starts uniquely, and continues that way. After being greeted by a face that bears a frightening resemblance to Michael Portillo, you make any necessary configuration changes and begin the game proper. At which point your jaw drops to the floor. Outcast is gorgeous. But not ‘gorgeous’ as in 1600 x 1200 resolution with full 3D rendering – the top resolution in Outcast is a mere 512 x 384. This is ‘gorgeous’ as in Voxel landscaping (remember that from Comanche?), polygon characters and, far more importantly, one of the most immersive, willing-suspension-of-disbelief story-lines we’ve ever experienced.
The game is set in a parallel universe, to which you – a US Navy SEAL – have been sent to accompany three scientists investigating this new world, in order to save Earth from destruction. Nothing particularly unusual there, but the game itself is a totally new experience. Divided up into six worlds, each with its own flora, fauna and semi-humanoid inhabitants, Outcast is breathtaking and instantly involves you totally. Hours can quietly drift by as you lose yourself in the game, talking to the inhabitants, shooting enemy soldiers, plotting to recover lost artefacts and, hopefully, finding your missing companions.
Graphically, despite the low resolution or perhaps because of it, Outcast is impressive. You soon forget about the occasional jagged edges as you progress through the game’s fantastic worlds, talking to its strange beings and dodging – or occasionally riding – its beasts. Someone’s gone to a lot of effort to make the story visually believable, and they’ve succeeded.
But it’s the artificial intelligence that really stands out. Probably the best way to explain how it works is to use one of Infogrames’ own examples: “You need to enter a temple, but there’s a guard in front of it and you have only one shot left. You can see that the guard is desperately looking at a merchant, who is selling water on the other side of the square. Now you can either risk a shootout you are unlikely to win, or you shoot the ground next to the merchant, who will run away frightened to death. The thirsty soldier then probably can’t resist the lure of the abandoned water-cart for a long time and leaves his post to go for a drink, so you can sneak into the building without getting caught.” That’s a relatively simple example of the AI, but it gives you some idea of what you’re dealing with. Just like the real world, everything you do has an influence, and people remember you.
One word of caution, however. In fact, make that two words of caution. First, the game requires a whopping 600MB of hard drive space in order to run, as well as a minimum of a 200MHz Pentium MMX. Second, Outcast is as buggy as a humorous Blackadder simile, and in many cases you’ll need to download either the 1.3MB patch or the 8.3MB patch from the Infogrames Website. Guess which one we needed. On the plus side, however, there’s no need for a 3D card, because of the nature of the graphics rendering engine, and once you do get it going, it’ll keep you busy for weeks.