Voxels were a big thing back in the 1990s when it came to graphics. Due to the resolution at the time, voxels made games look incredible and allowed for real-time deformation of terrain, dynamic sound based on positioning, and a whole lot more. Outcast was one of those games that truly showcased what voxels can do, bringing with it an incredible story and gameplay mechanics at the expense of requiring an extremely beefy PC just to remotely run the game. With Outcast Second Contact: how has it fared compared to the original?
Outcast Second Contact is a third person RPG / shooter where you get to traverse alien worlds, visit temples and interact with the indigenous life native to the world of Adelpha. The emphasis is mostly on the RPG elements, bringing you an enriched story rather than the need for frequent action.
As Commander Cutter Slade, you’re set out to escort and protect three scientists on their journey to the other world to stop a vortex from destroying Earth. As you get swept up in a political plot surrounding various Talan factions that have been at war for many moons, your science team goes missing along with the probe and equipment that you brought through the portal. With the Yods delivering them a saviour (yourself) to rescue them from the tyranny of Fae Rhan, you set out to help the local populace as they search for your companions.
Immediately from the start, the introduction sequence is a set of wonderfully drawn storyboard pictures reminiscent of an oil painting. However, with no mouth movements from characters, it not only feels disjointed, but not using an in-game cut scene – like the original – feels like a step backwards. From the very start this is a recurring theme.
As you arrive on Adelpha you’re greeted with a wave of nostalgia. The visuals immediately impress with its modern aesthetic, although it won’t be long before you notice the wonky animation. After a long talk with the leader of the Talan Guardians, you step outside to see the world is an almost 1:1 replica of the original in both the loot positions as well as the props decorating the landscape.
With Outcast Second Contact taking on a non-voxel engine, the entire world just gleams with detail and wonder. The world is filled with unique lifeforms, vegetation, and monuments, the populace also has their own unique look and stature, and the colours are vibrant and vivid. There is so much detail in the levels that even without using a voxel engine the game immediately suffers like the original.
I can understand the need to make Outcast live up to the detail of the original, but when it comes at a serious detriment to the frame rate, you need to scale back to make the game run decently. There is a frequent and heavy frame rate loss throughout the game which causes major input lag – which feels at least half a second delay.
In fact, things get so bad that, when coupled with the poor frame rate, that you can’t aim properly when fighting enemies. There is an auto-targeting system to help, but when that often does not select a target that’s right next to you, you know you’re going to be frequently dying. There is an option to turn this off, but aiming is so erratic that it’s almost impossible without it on.Granted it’s not a hard game and most of the time you will be running or hiding, but you would want to at least be able to aim properly.
Going back to the animations, other than the major limbs and the mouth, the movement seems rather robotic, and manoeuvring the world is even harder and more frustrating now than it was 18 years ago. When talking to the Talan, they all seem to have facial expressions of conjecture that seem more confused than intrigued at the chosen one they call “Ulukai.” As a saviour written in their prophecy, you would think they would be happy to see you.
The fingers also don’t move which leaves you with a frequent cringe when the hands appear on the screen. It’s these little things that culminate in a freak show rather than a pirouette of animation, colours, and vivid landscapes.
What is very striking is the sound effects, which feel as if they were plucked directly out from the original and reused within the game. The voices are far from crisp, but at least the exact wording and script are the exact same.
While the script – for the subtitles – is unchanged, frequently throughout almost every subtitle are brief meanings to things like who and what the Yods are, your name, the name of places and objects. It’s all fine the first one or two times, but when it shows up throughout the game it becomes difficult reading the subtitles. As the Talans explain to you everything anyway, there is no need for such constant reminders of what is what, especially since you have access to an in-game encyclopaedia.
Elsewhere, the menu system is handled fluidly with quests being laid out in an order that keeps you on track and where to go, who to see. Furthermore, speaking to other Talans to help you find your bearings is another ingenious addition to the game. As you don’t have a map, utilising the compass with these Talan forces you to orienteer like real life.
Every Talan in the game has their own story, and every action you also make can affect their outlook on your decisions. As such, all of the political intrigue can shape your gameplay decisions from start to finish. Indeed, there is a giant beating heart in the story that it would be magnificent as a film or a series.
At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate then that Outcast’s engaging story, colourful characters, beautiful landscapes, and well-designed menu system are obtusely marred by the frame rate, animations and heavy input lagged controls. It’s a remake stuck in the past and, despite using a modern engine to bring the game up to a graphical standard, it’s just that, everything else feels stuck in 1999 along with the quirks.