Outland Review (Xbox360)

Video games often tussle with the balance of good vs evil, sometimes even giving us the option to choose our own alignment. Of course, it works in some places better than others - imagine a Mario or even a Metroid game in which you could turn nasty, and start ripping enemies to shred with razor wire and lightning bolts from the sky. Then again, your enemies were asking for it, so does it really matter how your go about ending their lives?

Outland follows the Metroidvania exploration path, injected with a mysterious folklore storyline and playing like a more concentrated version of fellow XBLA title Shadow Complex. There are secrets to find, boss battles to overcome, tons of areas and rooms to explore, powers to obtain... the list goes on. It's a meaty, enjoyable title from start to finish, although it can feel a little repetitive from time to time.

Outland is quite easily one of the most gorgeous titles for XBLA

The story is like something ripped straight from Greek mythology. Three goddesses create the world and then, for some reason, decide to destroy it again. However, a hero manages to fend them off and lock them away, killing himself in the process. Now a new hero has arisen, but so have the evil goddesses. Hence, it's time to kick some more heavenly ass.

Each Outland world is expansive, with platforms to navigate, ladders to climb and obstacles to dodge. Your hero has some serious sword skills, and can cut down any enemies that dare to cross his path. As you explore, you'll find new powers which can then be used to open more pathways and reach areas you originally could not. If you've played any Metroid or Castlevania-like title before, then you'll know exactly what to expect.

The first thing that you'll no doubt pick up on is the gorgeous, neon-like visuals. The combination of silhouetted platforms, enemies and foreground against the stunningly detailed, illuminated backdrops is such a treat for the eyes. Enemies are easy to spot thanks to stripes of colour on their bodies, and your hero glows red or blue, depending on what power you're currently wielding.

Ah yes - the powers. Along the way, you'll find red and blue auras, and these can be swapped between by pressing the right button. These powers have a number of uses - blue bullets, for example, will not hurt you if you're blue, while red won't hurt red. Blue enemies, on the other hand, can be cut down easily if you are red, and red enemies by your blue aura.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and makes for some incredibly clever platforming action. Bullets fly all over the screen at certain points, and you'll need to keep running and changing aura on the fly, so that streams of different coloured bullets don't hurt you. Think a cross between a bullet-hell shooter and a simple platformer, and you've got a vague idea of how these sections pan out.

Combined with the exploration and secret-finding, Outland throws some incredibly satisfying gameplay your way. Hidden areas can be found by breaking down walls or even just jumping straight through invisible gaps, and attempting to collect all of the secret golden mask thingies is pretty entertaining, and makes for some solid replayability. There are plenty of other powers to find along the way too, again working in a Metroidvania-style way to allow you to push on further than before.

It seems like a strange thing to go gooey over, but the map is utterly fantastic. With the press of a button it loads up instantly with no loading time, meaning you can switch back and forth between checking where you're going and the action very quickly indeed. It highlights where you're meant to be going, and a glowing line to show where you just came from. Incredibly useful stuff - other developers should take note of how well such a simple idea can work.

Outland is great fun, and lengthy too, with plenty of worlds to dart around, great concepts to take in and some epic bosses to defeat. Co-op challenges are also available, allowing you to take on certain areas with a friend. This is definitely more of a single-player experience, but it's nice to jump in with someone else every now and again.

After a few hours, however, this accumulation of great feats begins to jar a little. The silhouetted visuals are definitely gorgeous, but barely ever change, meaning that levels all look rather similar. The level design, too, is regularly fantastic, but now and again is a little simplistic. We can't honestly say that there was a single world that was our favourite, as we barely even remember how they were different to all the others!

In this way, Outland is its own worst enemy. After we'd played half the game, it felt like the second half was simply the same thing all over again, just with slightly different powers. We can't even really offer up suggestion on how this could be improved - it's just the nature of the title. Perhaps more variation in enemies would have done it, or some interesting setpieces that pull the player away from the main action for a short while.

Boss battles will make you go 'WHOA!' and then probably say it again

We also encountered a number of game-breaking bugs. Maybe we just play games funny, but a few times we managed to get stuck in walls, and our character simply would not move away. Eventually, we had to restart the game - this wasn't too bad, since you only need to start again from the last checkpoint, but it still pulls you completely out of any immersion you were experiencing.

Outland is a solid and enjoyable platformer, and one of the best Metroidvanias available for Xbox Live Arcade. Fans of the genre will note the repetitive strain later into the experience, but anyone else is bound to have a blast throughout.

Top Game Moment: Darting through streams of red and blue bullets, switching aura constantly.


By djole381 (SI Elite) on May 05, 2011
Too bad there are no games like this on PC.