There’s a Penny Arcade Comic called ‘A Trick of Retrospective’ which demonstrates how properly weaponized nostalgia can make you feel like a kid again.
Outcast: Second Contact is such a game, a remake of the 1999 PC game ‘Outcast’ which is touted as the world’s first 3D open-world game. While that’s…arguable as you could say Mario 64, Final Fantasy VII, and others had an ‘open-world’ of sorts, you absolutely *can* draw a direct line from the systems and design of Outcast in 1999 (and Daggerfall) to the open-world game explosion that was ushered in by 2002’s Grand Theft Auto 3.
You are Cutter Slade – a man with a name so macho you grow chest hair just uttering it out loud. Transported to a strange and mystical dimension following a scientific experiment gone awry, it’s on you to befriend a mystical alien race – the Talan, save the world, rescue missing scientists, and complete side-quests along the way.
From a modern perspective, the game can be…frustrating. It does *not* hold your hand. Aiming and movement are clunky. And they replaced the deliciously silly CGI cutscenes with comic-style animatics where character mouths don’t move. As far as I can tell, aside from a *much* needed graphical update, the ability to roll and kneel, some bonus lore, and an autosave feature, the game releasing on consoles is the exact same one that came out nearly two decades ago.
Good. Had Outcast: Second Contact added quest markers, loot boxes, multiplayer, or any number of staples from the current generation of open-world games, it’d seize being so fascinating. It’d be an iteration, not a restoration.
And that’s ultimately what Outcast: Second Contact is, a restored artifact; not unlike the meticulous work done on the Sistine Chapel in 1980 and 1994. Had the developers gone in and meddled too much, taking out this, adding that, you’d end up with something that only tangentially resembled the game so many people fell in love with in the first place.
Speaking of love, it’s easy to see why people loved this game, and why they clamored for this remake. Evoking Speilberg, George Lucas, and Zemeckis’ spirit in a way games today really don’t, Outcast delivers a sense of sci-fi wonder rarely seen in games. The music, the locations, the sky featuring multiple moons and planets, will wow you – even if, like me, you never played the original.
It’s an entirely subjective point of view, but despite limited resources and the aforementioned ‘jankiness’ of it all, for some reason Outcast: Second Contact feels more ‘alive’ than many modern day games in many cases.
Take for example Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Massive budget, incredible open-world, good graphics, and customization and things to do to last you a life time. It’s more polished, more robust, arguably a ‘better’ game, but somehow less…intriguing. There is no wonder. The Library of Alexandria exists not as a hall of knowledge, but instead as an obstacle or quest hub. Cleopatra is there as a touchstone, not as a person of particular insight.
Meanwhile, in the first…5 hours I’ve put into Outcast: Second Contact, I’ve met a dumb leader – Zeb, a man desperate to find his brother, Ilott, and other characters with distinct traits like being bad with women or a bit too obsessed with the animals they care for. These aren’t three dimensional characters by any stretch, but they are, for a lack of a better word…human.
Ubisoft spent hundreds of millions of dollars to re-create Ancient Egypt down to nearly every detail, only to use it as a slaughter-box for power fantasies filled with characters it feels like we’ve seen in every Assassin’s Creed game ever.
In contrast Outcast: Second Contact has this weirdo story about alternate dimensions, religion, the essence of our souls, and enough lore to make JR Tolkien go cross-eyed. Assassins Creed is clearly an evolution on Outcast’s gameplay in every facet. But somehow the intangible magic Outcast possesses, hasn’t translated.
For the record, this is not a review of Outcast: Second Contact. I’ve only made it past the game’s first ‘world’ and am having a hell of a time. Referring to GameFAQs guides from 1999 when I get stuck or lost or confused…which is often – it’s slow going.
And that’s where the nostalgia comes in. I haven’t played a game like this in *years*, and it’s refreshing and challenging and frustrating in a way that reminds the player of how things used to be. When a strange little game like this could take a huge swing at something new and weird and mostly succeed because the stakes weren’t as high.
It’s also poignant. Engaging in Skyrim-esque conversations with the characters, you gain insight and some silly quips from both Slade and his new friends. A particular favorite of mine was after the death of an NPC’s loved one. The NPC asks me to hurt the man responsible. “I thought you guys were non-violent?” asks Cutter. The response? “I would never impose my beliefs on another being.” I yelped. Good stuff.
Thus, as the release date approaches, if you’re the kind of gamer eager to explore the medium’s past, or want to try something familiar on paper but wildly alien in practice, or want to see what Nathan Drake would look like tricked-out in Sci-Fi gear, Outcast: Second Contact is absolutely worth a look.