In terms of keeping up with market trends, Insomniac's venture into Facebook via its newly revealed Outernauts might feel somewhat belated, considering how Zynga made their mark back in 2009. Yet what the console game developer hopes to do is bring its brand of plot-driven game design to the social platform, the same kind of narrative draw that made Ratchet & Clank and Resistance so well known. Facebook gamers know all there is about goals (farming or otherwise), but do they know quests? Insomniac is looking to educate the social gaming masses.
Some of us do like character motivations and narratives to pull us into a game. We could care less about having the biggest city or a thriving cafe. With Outernauts, there's a conflict against an intergalactic megacorporation, a race to find a universe-changing artifact, and lots of space pirates to battle. Your playable hero, whose name you choose, could be either gender and can have their hair, skin, and armor customized. Like many RPGs, armor pieces each have stat enhancements, and completing a set of a particular kind of armor will yield bonuses.
Of course having an involving narrative runs counter to one of the fundamental draws of many successful Facebook games, namely the fact that these products do not have endpoints. When you have a customer base willing to spend dozens upon dozens of hours on a plot-less game, one would think that something with an actual ending would take little time to beat. Insomniac's solution? Just make Outernauts' universe really, really big. The studio claims that three seasoned QA testers took about a week of full shifts and uninterrupted playing to get to the end of the game; and that doesn't include the strong possibility of expanding Outernauts' universe should this game become a hit.
If the game’s success is partially tied to how well it monetizes, EA and Insomniac are relying on the traditional approach of paid premium items that will enhance your overall experience but won’t necessarily give you an upperhand against a skilled opponent in a PvP match. On the merchandising front, Outernauts monster plushies will feature codes to unlock the game’s starter beasts. The rest of the monsters can be found in the game without having to spend a dime.
Beyond general star trekking throughout Outernauts, Insomniac has made sure you'll have a lot to do, from customizing your homebase to capturing beasts and putting those beasts in battle. Outernauts' battles do not work off a simplistic and shallow rock-paper-scissors mechanic. Rowan, nor the pirates fight each other; they use monsters to do the work for them, with 1-vs-1 fights or as many as 3-vs-3. While you can keep numerous creatures in your homebase, you’re limited to carrying six beast in your travels. These creatures grow through experience, needing hundreds of battles to evolve through their various possible states.
Getting some hands-on time myself, the mouse click controls will be familiar to any Facebook gamer. You can click where you want Rowan to go, provided there aren't any obstacles in the way. Click on a nearby object to pick up/activate/harvest it; the rest of the user interface works off easy to understand menus.
While many Facebook users know their way around puzzles game like Bejeweled and Zuma, it’s not surprising that Outernauts offers a more platform-based puzzle element to Outernauts, something that Ratchet & Clank fans are all too familiar with. The example I saw involved the simple task of moving a platform to form a bridge. Finding the switch was the hard part (which wasn’t hard at all), though the folks at Insomniac promise that Outernauts will certainly have much, much harder puzzles.
Beyond the beasts' own elemental affinities, your actual attacks have their own affinities as well, creating a sense of layering and depth to combat. So if you're skilled snow-type chimp used an attack with snow affinity, an opponent’s flame beast may not stand a chance. That kind of affinity-based stacking isn't required, nor should you tie yourself to that kind of strategy. There could easily be a situation where a flame beast would do well with a lightning attack. There are over 10 affinity types to consider including aquatic, flora, terra, and phantom.
After all the impressively realistic visuals and grit of the Resistance games, Outernauts makes for a comforting return to the kid-friendly stylings of Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank. Like that classic series, Outernauts' concept art was conceived by Dave Guertin and Greg Baldwin. After exploring several vibrant, distinct worlds, and seeing numerous Outernauts characters myself, it wouldn't be the far-fetched for a PlayStation gamer to presume that both properties are somehow connected (they’re not). Furthermore, the story exposition unfolds through comic-book style word bubbles in-game, complementing this cartoony visual style.
You’ll be able to see for yourself when Outernauts launches this summer.
By Miguel Concepcion