First posted on 30 November 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
There are 4 recognized subgenres of adventure games—graphic adventure, puzzle adventure, horror adventure, and action adventure. Each subgenre offers a different mix of gameplay and challenges to the players. Despite this diversity, there has been a steady decline in the number of adventure titles being published. This situation is worsened by the over saturation of other genre games in the current market. Many industry critics are beginning to believe that the adventure genre is dying.
It just so happens that there is proof out there that the adventure genre is not dead. Rather, it has just been pushed aside. The genre has a lot of vigor left, and many developers still believe that they can help to revive the genre. Appeal is such a developer. It has made a game that is action packed, entertaining, and really fun to play. Its creativity is seen through the unique blending of the different adventure subgenres into a single game title. What is this game, you ask? It is called Outcast!
In the year 2007, a group of scientists decides to find out if there is life in other planets by sending a probe to a parallel universe. To their delight, they start receiving signals from a planet to where the probe has traveled. Minutes into the mission, however, an unknown entity from the planet damages the probe and sets off a cataclysmic effect that is about to destroy Earth, unless someone can retrieve the damaged probe back in time. You are Cutter Slade, an US Navy SEAL Commander, who has been chosen to travel to this new world. Cutter has a troubled past. Years ago, Cutter has lost a team member during a rescue mission. Having now put aside the regret of his past, he must lead 3 scientists (Marion Wolfe, Professor Anthony Xue, Professor William Kauffman) to the alien planet and retrieve the damaged probe. Yet, the mission unexpectedly backfires when Cutter arrives on Adelpha, the planet where the damaged probe has landed, without the three scientists. When Cutter is discovered by the natives of the planet, he is mistakenly hailed as a returning god called the Ulukai, Soul of the Essence. Not only Cutter is now on a mission to locate the scientists, he must also help the natives to rid of two evil enemies named Fae Rhan and Kroax who have been terrorizing them. Before Cutter can return home, he must find the 3 missing scientists, locate the damaged probe, and secure 5 sacred artifacts called Mons that are needed to defeat Fae Rhan and Kroax so that Adelpha can forever be freed from their tyranny.
Although Outcast is touted as an action/adventure title, the game actually combines elements from many different genres—action, adventure, strategy, and role-playing. It is therefore as a game that should appeal to many kinds of gamers. Even with its diversified gameplay, it is clear that this all in one title is still primarily focused on adventure. The design team has developed a revolutionary graphic engine to power this adventure. Instead of the traditional polygon based rendering, the engine in Outcast uses voxels to render its graphics. The use of voxels allows the creation of huge and sprawling environments, especially outdoor. This rendering method has been previously used to create the graphics in another adventure game called Blade Runner that is based on the movie of the same name. An advantage of voxel based engine is that it does not require graphic hardware acceleration. Many adventure gamers today have rebelled against living in the age of 3D graphic hardware acceleration that is now dominating the gaming scene. What is perhaps less well known is that fact that Appeal has started working on Outcast nearly 4 years ago, at a time when 3D graphic acceleration is not yet popular, Personally, I think it is unfair to judge the quality of a game solely on whether or not it supports 3D graphics acceleration, especially given that an adventure game can be a very entertaining title even if it does not support the latest graphic hardware. That said, I applaud the designers of Outcast for choosing a voxel based engine because it is a fitting technology that is well suited to this type of game.
Appeal has also received much publicity concerning the Artificial Intelligence (AI) used in Outcast. The AI in Outcast is based on a propriety engine codenamed GAIA (Game Artificial Intelligence with Agents). GAIA is a set of C++ library that provides sophisticated control of game characters. It is based on research in Distributed Artificial Intelligence (DAI). In DAI, intelligence is represented as a distributed activity over a set of autonomous routines called agents. An agent uses skills, such as hearing, sight, acrobatic, to complete assigned tasks. These agents can interact and even compete with each other to realize a complex task. Typically, a game character's behavior is guided by several interacting agents. Each agent is responsible in dictating part of the global behavior of the character. This flexibility allows the description of seemingly complex behavior (such as sense danger, run, and hide) by a set of simplified routines. A language called Athena is then used to program these behaviors in Outcast.
Among the most important elements of an adventure game is its gameplay. The gameplay must be fun, entertaining, and not boring. Outcast delivers some of the most enjoyable gameplay that I have ever experienced. The game can be played in a either first or third person perspective. The world of Adelpha in Outcast is divided into 6 regions—Ranzaar, Shamazaar, Talanzaar, Motazaar, Okasankaar, and Okaar. Ranzaar is the first region where Cutter begins his journey. Shamazaar is a lively region filled with plants, animals, and ancient temples. Talanzaar is a barren region with a massive city called Okriana. There, Cutter can talk to the Talans (the natives of Adelpha) to purchase weapons or ammos and to inquiry about side quests. Motazaar is also a barren region with a hellish atmosphere. Large pools of lava with vicious plants and animals occupy this expanse. Okasannkar is a region that is filled mostly with water. There are deadly fish like creatures that swim in the mashes and a beast called the Gorgor that blocks your path to acquire the Mons. Okaar is the final region and the toughest on to pass through. The natives there are very strong and you need a powerful weapon to get pass them. The game space in each region is huge and is filled with numerous enemy soldiers. The soldiers have some impressive AI. They do not merely stand around to be shot by you. They run and hide for cover when are being shot and cause provide quite a challenge to an adventure gamer. The game is relatively nonlinear, so that you can travel to any region in any order you want and complete the missions. Outcast can be a lengthy game, particularly if you choose to complete all the side quests.
Both the animation and music in Outcast deserve special praises. In this game, basic animation is done by both keyframing and motion-capture using Appeal's own motion capture facility. All models are created with Alias Power Animator on SGI workstations. Facial animation is made to respond to sound samples in real time, and additional procedural animation provides control of character movement during key sequences. Real time inverse kinematics are used for the characters' legs to model the character response when walking on bumpy grounds or stairs. Cross blending and interpolation are also used to smooth out animations during transitional maneuvers such as changing from a slow walk to a full run. The music in Outcast is performed by the 81-piece Moscow Symphony Orchestra and a 24-person Chorus. It is well written and gives the game a true epic feel. For example, when you are ready to do combat, the music changes to a powerful and suspenseful melody; and when you are done fighting, the music immediately switches back to a soft melody. This is truly among the best music soundtracks that I have ever heard.
There are a lot of great features worthy of mentioning in this game. The music is definitely my favorite feature. I urge anyone who wants to hear great gaming music to listen to the CD with a standalone CD stereo system. You are guaranteed to be impressed by you hear. The graphics in Outcast are decent considering there is no 3D hardware acceleration. The sceneries of all the regions are full of impressive eye candies. Out of the 6 regions, my favorites are the Okaar and the Shamazaar. There is a lot of character interaction in the game. The characters are compelling and the voiceovers for these characters are superbly done.
Unfortunately, Outcast has a few downsides that can be quite annoying. The most aggravating annoyance is its low resolution. The game offers only 3 fixed resolutions (320x240, 400x300, and 512x384). Bugs have been reported when screen are rendered in higher resolutions. Another annoyance is the inconsistent character control. I have a hard time manveuring the Twôn-Hâ, a creature that is your main mode of transportation in the game. At a point, I become so frustrated that I have decided to take the creature back to Shamazaar and finish the game on foot. The last annoyance is the random crash, which thankfully, happens only infrequently. Interestingly, in the original Outcast script, the name of Cutter's companion is Sonia Wolfe and not Marion Wolfe, as explained by designer. Douglas Freese, "Sonia Wolfe's name was changed because I felt it was too close to Sonia Blade from MK." Some critics have complained about the stupidity of the lead character's name "Cutter Slade". While I may agree that it is a juvenile chocie name, it is certainly not as bad as names like "Duke Nukem". Folks, in my opinion, that is a stupid name!
What is my final verdict of Outcast? Even though I am not a big fan of action/adventure games, I must admit that Outcast is among the best action/adventure titles that I have ever played. So, if you are an avid adventure fan who is looking for a game that mixes different genres, a game that has both style and longevity, or a game that offers a good dose of action-packed puzzle play, I suggest that you give Outcast a try. Believe me, you are going to find Outcast to be an enjoyable gaming experience.