It’s not advisable to ingest any magic mushrooms or anything even slightly hallucinatory before loading up Outcry, as this has to be one of the trippiest games ever to find its way on to the adventure game shelves.
You play a writer who has been summoned by the brother you haven’t seen in a long time, only to be told by a creepy landlady when you arrive that he is no longer alive. She hands you a key and for the first half of this game you have to explore this dingy and decayed dwelling and work out – virtually without clues – how to power up a rusting steam-punk machine that is supposedly a portal to another dimension.
What is visually striking about the game is that everything looks like a 1900s early silent movie, complete with scratchy and bromide-coloured film and blurry edges. In the background a sinister and disturbing piano and violin soundtrack adds to the unsettling atmosphere (at times annoyingly so, but you can switch it off) and the panoramic camera angle means you are literally looking every which way for clues.
It’s not just the design which harks back to an earlier era, because as well as relentless browns, dank cellars, snaking power cables and rusty equipment, the gameplay style is also a throwback to the Myst days. You click where you want to go and then you move there in three jerky stops, and because there’s no deviating from that path there’s a fair bit of back-tracking every time you want to change rooms.
The puzzle system is fairly standard, in that you’re essentially collecting items to assemble or joining wires, cables and circuits. However, although the cursor changes when you’re on a hot spot, you have to figure out yourself when you have the right item to interact with it. For some puzzles there’s no immediate confirmation that you’ve done it correctly, so a lot more Myst-walking is required until you know it’s OK to move on.
There are some truly unnerving moments, especially when you move into ‘The Shimmering Land’ – such as the set tilting 90 degrees, a ghost scene of two boys with a dog being attacked, the hazy shuddering in the desert scenes – but much of this is offset by the obtuseness of later stages of enigma solving. This is definitely not a game for adventure newcomers and if you make it to the end, the denouement will come as cool to some and disappointing to others.
You spend a good deal of time wading through turgid pages of complex science-babble in the professor’s notes and, apart from the spooky landlady, the only occasional figures you come across are spectres.
On the other hand, there’s a clever time travel technique which enables you to collect items that are missing or damaged in the present. If you have the tenacity and patience you may feel rewarded for staying on the journey, but it’s more likely you’ll want to return to the real world long before the end.
Company: Mamba Games