There’s an argument that’s been floating around for the past few years. Can video games be art? Obviously, that question can’t be accurately answered here. However, the downloadable game “Outland,” is so beautiful that it is sure to blur the line in many gamer’s minds.
The story involves two sisters whose elemental powers helped create the world eons ago, and who now threaten to destroy it. The soul of the warrior who sealed them away the first time has been reborn into a new body, and it’s your job to guide him on his quest to save the world. It’s a very simple story on paper, but the world in which “Outland” takes place tells its own tale. The environments are so exquisitely designed and rich with detail that you’ll find yourself interpreting the rather austere story in your own way. Like Sony’s “Shadow of the Colossus,” this is a rare game that intentionally leaves out details in a way that invites you to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.
“Outland” is a 2-D action-platformer that shows off some of the most drop-dead gorgeous environments and art direction ever seen in a video game. It’s that pretty.
The game plays like the classic “Castlevania” series, but with one massive twist-your character can switch between Light and Dark “polarities” at will. When you are in Light mode, you are invulnerable to attacks from that element, but can be damaged by Dark elemental attacks. The same goes for the Dark mode. Enemies can only be damaged when you attack them with the opposite element, and many switches and platforms can only be used while using one element or the other. This means that in the span of five seconds you may go Dark to pass harmlessly through a barrage of Dark fireballs, turn Light long enough to climb aboard a platform, and turn Dark again to slay a Light dragon enemy. It’s an invigorating gameplay mechanic that has been lifted straight from the space shooter game “Ikaruga,” but “Outland” takes the idea to the next level.
Your unnamed protagonist can jump, slash, and slide his way through the game’s stunning 2-D environments. The game world is laid out like the “Castlevania” games, but with less exploration and no searching for different types of weapons. With that said, you do gain a plethora of acrobatic maneuvers and explosive special attacks as you progress throughout the game. All of this is pretty standard for the genre, but the element-switching feature really makes this game stand out on its own.
Just when you think you’ve got the game mastered it presents you with new puzzles and enemies. This makes the combat deeper than many full-priced games, where indiscriminate sword-waving will get you from level one to the ending credits. You can also test your mettle in the co-operative challenges, where working alongside another player is essential. Sadly, there is no offline option for this mode, but it’s still a great feature to have.
The gameplay is great, but the presentation is what will really blow you away. “Outland” uses limited palettes and contrast between vivid colors and shadows to create a visual experience unlike any other seen in a game. In a generation of seemingly endless muddy-grey-brown game worlds straining for realism, “Outland” shoots for the moon with environments that can only be described as stunning. The musical score’s thumping tribal drums and emotive strings had my heart pounding more than once as well. In short, this is one of the best-looking downloadable games ever made.
It’s one of the most fun, beautiful, and inventive games of the year, and trounces many higher-budget titles across the board. Did I mention it’s only ten bucks? “Outland” may or may not be “art,” but it is without a question a game that players should experience for themselves.