Outlaws: The spaghetti western with meat.
Today’s exhibit from the vault should really be in a zoo, why? Well it’s a near extinct beast that has three ultra rare characteristics: first off it’s a good Lucasarts game that isn’t based on old Georgie boy Lucas’ Star Wars franchise, or a point and click adventure but most of all it’s a Western, a genre hardly seen or heard from in this age of grungy (read: brown and grey) near future settings and related contemporary nonsense.
The game has you taking the roll of retired Marshall James Anderson who returns from a trip to get supplies to find his home destroyed, wife mortally injured and daughter kidnapped by a pair of outlaws acting under the (misunderstood) orders of Bob Graham, a ruthless business man hell bent on taking the Marshall’s land for his railway. Taking the roll of Anderson you blaze your way through ten stages of first person shooter action each filled with gun toting bandits and boss character outlaws while looking for your kidnapped daughter and vengeance for your deceased wife just like a classic spaghetti western movie.
‘it renders you immobile due to its size’
The game uses Lucasarts’ own Jedi FPS engine originally built for Star Wars: Dark Forces and mixes 3D environments with 2D sprites for objects and people. This keeps things moving at a quick pace but next to other FPS games of the time makes it looks rather antiquated as other games released around the same time where starting to master three dimensions with Id’s Quake released the year before a good example of the blossoming 3D FPS genre. There was a multiplayer option but despite numerous patches and fixes never worked particularly well with many of the weapons being badly effected by lag making it a frustrating experience.
Being set in the late seventeen hundreds there’s no fancy compact automatic weapons to use with Anderson starting off with just a single action six shot revolver that you can use the alternate fire to fan (holding the trigger and slaming the hammer quickly with the palm of the opposite hand for near automatic fire, true spaghetti western style) and a lever action rifle that can be upgraded to a sniper rifle with the addition of a rifle scope. As you progress other weapons like shotguns in both single or double barrel models can be used along with knives, sticks o’ dynamite and even a tripod mounted Gatling gun for fully automatic fire but using it renders you immobile due to its size and weight.
Despite the historic setting many of the game’s mechanics conform to shooters of the day with different types of keys: steel, iron and bronze standing in for Doom style red, blue and yellow key cards with water canteens replenishing health and even the odd tool such as a crowbar or shovel needed to open stuck gates or dig through soft patches of earth to access secret areas. Where the gameplay deviated from the norm was in its fresh ideas that would quickly become common place in the genre as much as coloured key cards and using oversized medi packs.
‘dripping with spaghetti’
The first one is the first ever sniper rifle in a FPS. Yes I know Shiny Entertainment’s MDK often gets credited with this accolade, but Outlaws beat it to release by a few crucial months but no doubt the debate will carry on long after this feature is done. By collecting a rifle scope Anderson can increase the practical range of his standard rifle with a simple zoomed in reticule that pops up making long range kills a duck shoot. Sure it’s a far cry from the .50 cal camper’s boom stick found in every FPS today but still deserves the credit for being the first.
The other big contribution to the genre was the train stage. Sure it was, along with the sniper rifle, made popular by other FPS games (notably Rare’s Goldeneye 007) but its genesis was Outlaws with level three being entirely set on a train in motion with Anderson working his way through the carriages and over the flatbeds and carriage tops.
That’s not to say the game should only be regarded as merely the birthplace of then new videogame conventions as despite the now very obvious technical limitations as it still looks, sounds and plays a real treat. The scene setting introduction displays Outlaws’ brilliant art style with every level starting and ending with an animated sequence that progresses the plot each moment dripping with spaghetti western atmosphere.
‘Morricone filled with mournful horns’
The voice work is first rate as you’d expect in a Lucasarts game with each outlaw having a distinct personality. Special mention must go to John De Lancie’s (yes THAT John De Lancie) creepy Shakespeare quoting Dr. Death who kills Anderson’s wife and finally gets his comeuppance in the best scene in the game (which you can watch be viewing the video below, plug, plug) Clint Bajakian’s score also deserves mention with each of the game’s many themes and tunes easily the equal of anything every composed by Ennio Morricone filled with mournful horns and bombastic trumpets that definitely puts it in my own personal top ten game soundtracks of all time.
Anderson is no superman or cyborg space marine so all it takes is a few bullets to send him to boot hill so careful use of cover and corner strafing soon becomes second nature as you wait for enemies to exhaust their six shots or two barrels before planting them with your own cold hard lead. The only help other than using tactics and smarts to avoid fire is the occasional boiler plate you can tie to your chest to provide some ad-hoc body armour, just like the ending to A Fist Full of Dollars, one of many nods to the genre with even the difficulty levels called ‘good’ ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’
‘all too easy to snort’
Well I’m almost out of space and haven’t had a chance to talk about the Lucasarts cameos by Sam and Max or the extra bounty hunter missions included when you’re done with the story mode so I’ll leave it to a fellow videogame fan to help summarise my thoughtsâ€¦
â€œIf you were to cast a cursory glance at Outlaws it would be all too easy to snort with derision. Believe me – all you have to do is play it for a while and you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away. Check it out.â€
– Charlie Booker