Synyster Graves


by on May.08, 2011, under Xbox Live Arcade

Outland is a scrolling puzzle-based platform game available on Xbox Live Arcade. It focuses on an unnamed protagonist who fulfills the prophecy of being the one who can save the world from destruction by the world’s creators, the two sisters, creating a hazard filled polytheistic utopia. It’s very difficult to put Outland into any particular genre as it has borrowed so many traits from other games which somehow gives it no identity although I can see what they were trying to achieve. Outland borrows the physics and puzzle aspect heavily from Limbo but substitutes the dreary and dark outset of the aforementioned. Instead Outland is bright, colourful and more inclined for free movement more akin to Ninja Gaiden rather than Limbo. In fact the majority of the movement like sliding and wall jumping will appeal to Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi fans, and encompasses an art style which is both surrealistic yet interactive at the same time.

The combat is simple giving you a melee sword attack which has a uppercut move which stuns most enemies and a slash attack for quick combos. While this has the inability to actually combo most enemies as they will just casually hit you reducing one of your health bars, you can tactically stun enemies from behind minimising the damage you can receive. You can upgrade your health bar and special attack meter, but these upgrades are few and far between and since the game ramps up the difficulty significantly, you’d like to think you were actually given a chance and allowed to become tougher as the game get tougher.

Changing colours to absorb projectiles...SAME as Ikaruga methinks

The most important aspect about Outland is the different energies in the game, light and dark. You have the option of switching your polarity using the left bumper as energy orbs of the same colour allowing you o pass them without damage, whereas polar energy will hurt you and cause you to lose some of your life. Pretty much, no wait,  exactly like Ikaruga. There is variety in the number of skills you acquire throughout the game like launch pad jumping and the ability to break through walls, but there is no denying that the game is very difficult in the challenges it gives you and unless you have a huge amount of patience, you will be turning off the game sporadically or throwing controllers in a worst case scenario.But one of the main problems with this game is that the screen is flooded with projectiles all mixed up with the red and blue, and it’s very hard to avoid all the fire without losing any life. It’s as if it wants to be a flying shooter like Ikaruga or R-Type, while forgetting that it’s an action platformer like Shinobi. This obviously, makes it very frustrating to play.

Checkpoint system: inconsistent and totally pointless at times

Another huge reason for throwing the controller, is the checkpoint system. It ranges from bollocks to total pointless bollocks. Hitting a checkpoint mid-level will take you back there if you die. That’s what a checkpoint should do. However if you then complete a very difficult puzzle and run back to the same checkpoint to save you doing it again, well it won’t remember it and take you back to the first time you hit the checkpoint. So what is the point of having the checkpoint still standing? It looks the same, but if it won’t remember your current poisition, it should not f*cking be there or at least it should look different somehow. Even in Sonic the Hedgehog the way point changes once you pass it so you know that you can’t re-save there. Plus if you exit your game, you back to the start of the level, no restart from the checkpoint, so unless you plan on wasting your day on this game, an subsequently dying from their tricky traps, then do as much as you can before hitting those checkpoints, otherwise you will be stuck.

Outland's Dragon boss: clever weakpoints but really cheap projectile attacks

Well one minute they give you the checkpoints, the next minute they decide not to have any at all. In the boss battles which are very challenging at times, almost to the point of wanting to punch someone, that a boss who assumes as much as three forms, and involves you changing location entirely to fight each form, does not have an interim checkpoint. Surely that is standard for any game, to have a mid-level save on any boss fight if they change their form and location? Instead no, changing location and dying at the last part will make you go back and do it all over again. What a pile of guff.

There are positives to draw from this game such as the art style and ambient music, but it proves to be all a mask for the ridiculous difficulty this game possesses, overlaying the over-zealous vertical labyrinth littered with energy fountains on every corner, spouting deadly orbs, clearly created by some game designer masturbating himself into a coma as he was making it. The enemies are decent looking fit in very well with the level design, albeit having an array of cheap and cowardly attacks. The only saving grace of this game is the fluid movement you have over the character as the Ninja Gaiden-esque traversal across the level is quite satisfying.

In summation, Outland was a well conceived idea with great movement in a desirable to the eye environment, but it badly let down by over the top bombardment of projectiles which cover the screen like a scrolling shooter and even more let down by shoddy save points and ridiculous bosses which are just too f*cking stupid to play unless you’ve managed to successfully commit self harming through caffeine overload.

Impressive as it may look and as fluid as the movement is, I personally found Outland to aesthetically pleasing, but ridiculous to play, but carried enough intrigue to see me carry on through the game despite swearing every five minutes through sheer frustration. Ironically, I’m surprised that I did get that mad with this game and there were no QTEs, timed based objectives or escort missions. Then again this was made by Ubisoft, who make Lara Croft games. Outland had the potential to be a really good XBLA title, but falls over at the simple things like unexpected ramping up of difficulty and horrendously cheap boss battles with no interim save features. I would love to say how original this game is but seeing that I’ve already mentioned Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden, Limbo and Ikaruga, I would love to say how this feels like an interwoven masterpiece, rather than the irritating mish-mash of games that it is in reality. It’s not a BAD game, it’s just not as good as most people are suggesting it is.

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