PAX 2010: Outland PreviewBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Sep 06, 2010
What We Know: Not too much. Ubisoft's Outland was just announced earlier this week, so Pax 2010 is the game's coming-out party. According to Ubisoft, the PSN/Xbox Live platformer "puts players in the middle of a world of balance and chaos where their efforts allow them to bridge the ancient divide, or doom the world to destruction. Each player's adventure will take them between light and darkness and force them to adapt to an ever-changing world. This light versus dark core gameplay is inspired by the arcade classic Ikaruga.”
What We're Seeing Now: While I love a rocket launcher as much as the next guy, sometimes the adolescent, violent wish fulfillment of "standard" video game becomes tiresome and depressing. Luckily, there's a counter-trend in the form of artsy, thoughtful 2D platformers. Outland fits squarely into this group, joining Braid, Limbo and others within the sub-genre that I hereby dub nu-platformers. Coming from major publisher Ubisoft, It's not technically an independent game, but Outland definitely carries the indie vibe.
While I didn't get to actually play the game -- Outland is in too early a development state to allow for hands-on -- I witness a guided demo of a level and a boss battle, and I'm very very impressed. Outland's influences range from ancient Mayan architecture and art to Shadow of the Colossus and old- school Prince of Persia. Add in an evocative story that has to do with waking up in a dream and either damning or saving existence, and you have an intriquing game.
Tiein these disparate elements together is a main game mechanic where the player switches between "Light" and "Dark" polarity, and can only interact with enemies of that same school. So if you're Light, you are safe from enemies and obstacles that are Light, and vice-versa with the Dark side. You can step on right-shaded platforms, but if you're light-switched, you'll fall right through a dark-platform.
You can switch polarities at will, and will have to frequently: Parts of the demo that I saw involved wave after wave of light and dark bullets flying from the sky that had to be avoiding using quick switches and fancy footwork. The action is fast-paced, and the controls seem smooth and tight, although it's hard to be totally sure without my thumbs on the sticks.
The game encourages exploration by offering power-ups and rewards in hard-to-get-to places, like a good platformer should.
Along with the running, jumping, climbing and exploring you'd expect from a fast-paced platformer, Outland's protagonist also wields a sword to attack enemies. The combat looks fluid and exciting, and allows a variety of attacks, with more to come. As the game gets closer to retail, more attacks and combos will be added. I predict almost God of War style battles with waves of enemies dispatched with balletic swordplay.
Artistically, Outland is fascinating. The general aesthetic owes a lot to Mayan art, and the player runs through a vibrant, jungle-set levels on levels that looks like a Mayan ruin gone insane. It looks amazing -- just check out the screens!
The boss battle at the end of the demo level was particularly impressive. The player is confronted with a huge robot-thing that looks like it crawled right off the wall of an ancient Mayan temple. The boss level takes more than a little influence from Shadow of the Colossus, including the sense of scale that that game did so well -- you are tiny compared to your towering adversary. As you might expect, he/it has a weak spot: His eyes. So you must scale the heights of the menacing gollem and slash his lit up eyes.
While the Modern Warfare franchise is in no danger from nu-platformers like Outland and Limbo, it's nice to know that they're out there, and when Outland is released, hopefully in 2011, I'll be downloading it. You should to.