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Jeremy Jastrzab
08 Apr, 2011

Outland Preview

PS3 Preview | Prince of Persia + Ikaruga = Win.
Where have all the platformers gone? The once most prevalent gaming genre has been replaced by cinematic first-person and third-person cover shooters, leaving aficionados to chew off the occasional Castlevania or Mario title. However, just like shmups have found a new lease on life on console download services, the emergence of top downloadable titles such as Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy and Splosion Man suggests that 2D platformers have a long and prosperous future here. Given the technology, scope for artistic merit and mechanical precision that’s now available, it’s a surprise that we haven’t seen more.

While all the above mentioned titles certainly have earned their stripes through puzzle-orientated focus and reflex play, they also highlight the lack of action-orientated platformers, similar to the likes of Castlevania. Ubisoft, owners of one of the pioneering action-platformer franchises, Prince of Persia, are coming to the rescue with the highly stylised Outland. Not much is known about it at the moment, and having played through a recent preview, it’s really hard to understand why. Coming from the developers of the radically popular Super Stardust, there is no doubt that Outland demands attention.

Speaking of shmups, the defining characteristic of Outland, outside of the unique visuals, is the combining of action platforming, inspired by Prince of Persia, with polarity - the gameplay mechanic most prominently displayed in Ikaruga. Essentially, combat revolves around two different forces: light and dark. Your character is (eventually) infused with each of these, though only one can be activated at a time. You’ll absorb damage from enemies the same colour, while deal and take damage from the opposite colours. Keep in mind, this polarity mechanic will be used to solve puzzles and encourage fast-paced platforming too.

Don't know what's happening... Too busy gawking.

Don't know what's happening... Too busy gawking.
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The premise goes, that the protagonist is haunted by extremely vivid visions of light and dark forces and the end of the world, to which a shaman deep in the jungle has some sort of solution. Apparently, the sisters of light and dark are stuck in a vicious cyle of creation and destruction, and every time the cycle hits the destruction phase, the immortal soul of a hero awakens in an unsuspecting individual to set things straight. So, guess who you play? Thankfully, the play time was more than enough to make up for the story throwing you into the deep end.

The protagonist starts off with only the ability to jump and straddle walls. However, the first few moments of control will confirm with you that the platforming itself will be superlative and sublime. Borrowing a little bit from Metroid, you’ll find come across areas that won't allow you to progress, without finding the requisite 'power-up' – the first two being a sword (for melee attacks) and the ability to slide under obstacles. A big difference with Metroid though is that Outland is divided into levels, rather than playing across a huge, persistent map. Each level at least looks to encourage players to explore, though it’s unknown what effects the ensuing collectibles will have.

The combat comes off as pretty simple, though there weren’t any chances to see whether it gets more sophisticated, in between the giant spiders and creepy crawlies. However, the platforming and puzzles were much more obviously affected by the polarity mechanic - some of the platforms will only be accessible when the right power is activated. Early on, you’re required to avoid not only traps, but streams of bullets – which are fired in shmup-like patterns. Once you had acquired the ability to change polarity though, these patterns become much more elaborate and demanding, as you often needed to change polarity on the fly to get through.

Now that's how you power-up.

Now that's how you power-up.
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What the demo did well, was create a sublime and exhilarating feeling when you successfully tackled the various kaleidoscope and firework-like extravagancies on show. While you can only go off screenshots for now, Outland promises some huge boss battles as well. Obviously, the main concerns will centre around how long the polarity mechanic will carry the game, as well as whether the notorious difficulty of Ikaruga will surface… Still, the word is that players will be able to tackle the story with a friend in co-op, where players can help and revive each other, while the Challenge rooms that are unlocked through the course of the story will demand proper teamwork.

Any gamer worth their salt will have their attention caught at the gorgeous screen shots, and then they’ll start salivating once they see how much is happening on screen at once, without the slightest hint of a hitch. As a 2D platformer, the visual style of Outland is reminiscent of Limbo, but much more complex in detail, remarkably vibrant, with a much richer palette and a lot of the art looks inspired by ancient South American civilisations. Basically, if you’re sold on the screen shots and videos, Outland is probably a game for you.

There are many reasons to be excited for Outland: Classic, supremely refined and fast-paced traditional platforming, the potentially excellent use of the polarity mechanic, huge boss battles and a visual style to drop your jaw. From this demo, it’s already known that the game plays and controls like a dream, so there is nothing to worry about here. The only issue is to see whether it manages to maintain the ambitious scope for platforming, puzzles and combat across the entirety of game. The evidence so far though doesn’t make much of this issue…
Overall:
To anyone in the market for a fast-paced, innovative and stylish platformer, Outland demands your attention.

Related Outland Content

Outland Review
28 Apr, 2011 Out of this world.
Donkey Kong Country Returns Review
11 Dec, 2010 Same kind of moon, new kind of jungle.
Sonic Classic Collection Review
16 Mar, 2010 The best of Sonic returns in your hands.
3 Comments
3 years ago
Looks really slick! Gotta love the creativity in these Downloadable games icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
was a little turned off by the ikugara comparison but dear god do want
3 years ago
Want to eat this.
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Publisher:
  Ubisoft
Genre:
  Platform
Year Made:
  2011
Players:
  1

Read more...
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