Outland Hands-On Preview -- An Epic, Gorgeous Platformer in the MakingBy Garrett Martin - Posted Mar 15, 2011
The universe might be expanding, but my house certainly isn't. There's a hard limit to how many video game boxes I can fit on my shelves, and that makes this generation's surge in high quality downloadable titles even more exciting. PAX East spotlighted a number of big-name games coming soon to stores near you, but downloadable titles like Outland were the convention's word-of-mouth hits.
Tucked away in a corner of the Ubisoft booth, drowned out by the hype for Call of Juarez: The Cartel and the incessant narration of its cross-aisle neighbor Bastion, sat the impressive downloadable platformer Outland. Developed by the Finnish studio Housemarque, who made the PSN-exclusives Dead Nation and Super Stardust HD, Outland should hit Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network later this year.
Outland grafts Ikaruga's polarity-switching dynamic onto an old-school side-scrolling platformer. Its striking art style could be dubbed Mesoamerican Tron, with an intricate latticework of bright color coursing through a leaden Limbo-style silhouette wearing vaguely Native American garb. This lithe warrior runs, slides, and wall-jumps as fluidly as a certain Persian prince through a hostile environment filled with spikes, insectile enemies, and deadly blasts of colored energy.
Outland starts off with a relatively powerless character whose only skills are acrobatic. After a brief spurt of basic platforming, this warrior flashes back to an ancient sword-wielding predecessor who fully masters the light-switching technique that comprises the game's primary gimmick.
Button presses switch your character's energy from red to blue and back again. Your character can traverse obstacles of the same color but the opposite shade inflicts damage. Red and blue platforms are intangible unless your character is the corresponding color. Enemies are also imbued with one of the two energies, and can only be killed when you're the opposite hue. Physical attacks from enemies will always reduce your limited health bar, but projectiles won't hurt you if it's the same color as you.
Outland quickly capitalizes on the potential of its gimmick. Within minutes of first encountering the color-switching mechanic, you're tasked with jumping up a series of moving platforms of alternating colors. You have to jump and quickly change colors in midair to land on the next platform, perfectly timing each jump and button press to successfully reach the top of the cliff. Radials of red and blue energy spiral on the edges of the screen, making it even harder to move precisely from one platform to the next.
This segment is similar to the rapid-fire gravity shifts in the excellent PC game VVVVVV, a game admired by the Outland producer manning the game's booth. It comes so early in Outland that you can only imagine what sort of challenges lie deeper in the game.
Outland might sound like a random hodgepodge of references, but you don't really notice those similarities when you're playing the game. You're too busy enjoying the view and sussing out the game's mechanics. Hopefully, the platforming and light-switching puzzles won't grow old over the course of the full game.