Written by: Rik

Date posted: October 30, 2015

Hello and welcome to our latest discussion review. Today’s game is Outlaws, a first-person shooter from LucasArts that has absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars.

Set in the Wild West, your character is James Anderson, an ex-lawman who has since settled for a quiet life with his family. Having rebuffed land baron Bob Graham’s offer to purchase his land, Graham hires a number of unsavoury characters to, er, ‘persuade’ him to change his mind. Needless to say, Anderson soon picks up his guns again.

Released to moderate critical acclaim, but little commercial success, it’s probably one of LucasArts’ lower profile releases, although it has built up a cult following over the years. Here’s what we made of it…

A fistful of FFG

About to shoot a man in the back.

About to shoot a man in the back.

Rik: Ok, well let’s start with the usual question: what made you choose Outlaws?

Stoo: I was in a mood to tackle a western-themed game. There have been a few over the years but it’s never been quite as popular as stuff like fantasy or contemporary warfare. Also we PC nerds never got the one really big name of recent years, Red Dead Redemption. But there is Outlaws, which as a 90s shooter is very much our sort of game!

Rik: My initial thoughts were that there aren’t many Wild West games, but then I realised I actually had a few in my own collection – off the top of my head, there’s Gun, Desperados and Call of Juarez

Stoo: Yeah, Gun is one I enjoyed, it’s probably old enough now that we could write about it here sometime.

Rik: Aha! I was planning on Gun shortly – just got it working on my Win8 PC.

Stoo: Call of Juarez passed me by but looks like something I’d enjoy.

Rik: Anyway, back to Outlaws…is it fair to say we both tackled the single-player campaign, and our views are based mainly on that?

Stoo: Yep. We didn’t make it onto the historical missions, just the campaign.

Rik: As one might expect from LucasArts, there’s been some effort invested in the story and animated cut-scenes.

Stoo: The animations are great. This was the era of pre-rendered CG cut-scenes that I guess looked impressive at the time, but have since aged horribly. The hand-drawn style used here is so much better.

Rik: Absolutely. They sort of reminded me of Full Throttle.

Stoo: Yeah, they’re definitely reminiscent of what LucasArts were doing with their adventures.

Rik: Sticking with the cartoon style has paid dividends. In particular, [secondary antagonist] Dr. Death is a great sinister bad-guy.

Stoo: He has too many teeth…

Rik: And no eyes.

Stoo: Extremely creepy. And he’s voiced by Q from Star Trek, trivia fans!

Rik: Your character, (ex-)Marshal Anderson fits the gravelly-voiced hero stereotype too. He’s a farmer in the same way Steven Seagal in Under Siege is a chef.

Stoo: Haha! Yes, the retired lawman forced to pick up his gun again. He also looks a bit like Clint Eastwood, which is appropriate.

Rik: He’s clearly a man built for shooting baddies. And no amount of buying perfume for his wife in the store can change that.

Stoo: I guess his wife getting shot is a total cliché, but it’s what sets our lawman on his relentless pursuit of justice. (Er, yeah I guess we’re doing spoilers).

Rik: Hey, that’s the setup of the game. I don’t think that’s a spoiler. Otherwise all we could say is “Ex-Marshal James Anderson goes to the store for some groceries and perfume.”

Stoo: Fair point!

Rik: What I’m less clear on is exactly how come you have to kill roughly 10 million bad guys along the way.

Stoo: They’re in the way of Justice. And between our hero and his little girl. They ALL have to die.

Rik: I mean, why are they in the way? Instead of going, “this way, Marshal, sir!” I guess they’re in the pocket of [primary antagonist] Bob Graham – he’s hired the ‘Outlaws’ of the game’s title to be his enforcers.

Stoo: Right. I think our hero is following a trail to Graham and every location, including an entire small town that you depopulate, is filled with Graham lackeys.

Rik: There’s still a lot of bad guys though, kind of typical of the 90s shooter, I guess.

Stoo: I assume crime rates dropped drastically after this.

Rik: And business for undertakers picked up.

You’re outnumbered!

About to shoot a man in the head.

About to shoot a man in the head.

Rik: The gameplay is characterised by fairly clinical combat. Most baddies can be dispatched with a single shot, as can you, although you can take a bit of damage…it’s not like your typical bullet sponge combat.

Stoo: I was playing on medium and sometimes bad guys do very little damage. But it’s also quite possible to get two-shotted, especially at close range. I assume it’s even less forgiving on hard mode.

Rik: I was going to ask about the difficulty level you chose. I played on ‘Bad’ – which I assumed to be ‘medium’ [the options are, inevitably, ‘Good’ (easy), ‘Bad’ (medium) and ‘Ugly’ (hard)].

Stoo: Right, same. You’re pretty fragile. Meanwhile the bad guys vary somewhat in durability. But, it seems a point blank shot from the single-barrelled shotgun will take any of them down.

Rik: I never used the shotgun. I thought it was a bit rubbish.

Stoo: It hits harder at short range, but you have to reload every time.

Rik: The good old six shooter saw me through most of the game. Along with the rifle.

Stoo: The revolver and rifle are both useful throughout. They’re better at mid-to-longer range respectively and can fire several shots before reloading. Shotgun is most useful if, say, you want to kick a door down and know there are multiple enemies right on the other side. Although I never quite figured out why we need three of them – sawn-off and double barrelled appear more or less the same.

Rik: I only used the shotgun if I was short of ammo for the other weapons.

Stoo: I definitely preferred picking stuff off from long range with the rifle [for which you can acquire a scope attachment] whenever possible.

Rik: I felt that the bad guys were fairly ruthless but spent a lot of time running around aimlessly giving you time to reload and/or line them up.

Stoo: I wonder if their reflexes are sharper on hard mode.

Rik: Very possibly. If they are, it would make the game pretty tough, possibly tougher than I’d want. I’m definitely not saying it was too easy, just that I noticed the way that they give you a chance. You still die a lot. (Well, I did.)

Stoo: Yep. Those guys in pink shirts with two guns killed me very quickly, a few times, if I stumbled across one and was slow on the draw.

Rik: Also, I do hate the whole ‘hiding in a cupboard’ mechanic. You get used to it, of course – open every door, you expect someone to be there.

Stoo: Yeah, every time I opened a cupboard I was ready to gun down whoever was waiting.

Rik: I know it’s not real, but the number of baddies did take me back to a point I made a while ago, about how it was fine in Doom, but you can’t just take Doom and replace monsters with humans without it being a bit weird.

Stoo: Hmm, that is interesting – I was thinking before more in terms of game mechanics, where I think the swapping of monsters for humans is done with at least some regards for realism. But thematically, yeah, it’s kind of odd to be gunning down so many people.

Rik: I think it does capture that feeling of Wild West gunmanship well. But at times I was aware I was gunning down hundreds of dudes, rather than picking off a few gunmen in a town.

Stoo: It never really dawned on me before. But it’s a good point. I’ve become desensitised to mass killing in games or something.

Rik: I wouldn’t say it troubled me, was just something I noticed. It sort of extends even to something like the sound effects. In Doom, it’s fine to hear growling and other monsters, all the time. But the taunts of “WHERE ARE YOU MARSHAL?” – every five minutes, in their place, is a bit odd. I think I’d have preferred there to be more focus on the taunting during the boss battles [each level has a ‘boss character – one of the *ahem* ‘Outlaws’ hired by Bob Graham], to make you feel you were in a showdown with that character, rather than just reminding you haven’t cleared out the area yet.

Stoo: You’d think the average goons would realise taunting this relentless killing machine wasn’t going well for them.

Rik: “YOU’RE OUTNUMBERED!” *points to town full of corpses*

Stoo: At least the bosses have their own voices so you know you’re nearly there.

Rik: Did you feel the boss battles were good? They never lasted long for me – kill or be killed, quite quickly.

Stoo: If I just stood out in the open I got killed immediately. Usually I either sniped them or managed to exploit the hitbox and shoot them because a bit of arm was showing. Either way, yes, they’re tougher than ordinary goons but they’re still basically humans. It’s not like killing Doom’s cyberdemon.

Rik: Sometimes I did just think I was shooting some random guy, and then I got the end of level cut-scene.

Stoo: That happened a few times, sniped some guy behind some boxes, mission suddenly ends.

Just shot a man in the crotch.

Just shot a man in the crotch.

Rik: At least we’re mostly spared the pre-boss cut-scene, apart from at the very end. There’s nothing worse than dying repeatedly, unless it’s preceded by the same thing you’ve seen a million times already.

Stoo: *Flashbacks to Mass Effect* Note to developers, always always make cut-scenes skippable [those in Outlaws are, incidentally].

Rik: I promise to watch the first time.

Stoo: The guy in the sawmill kept one-shotting me until I thought to duck under the water, otherwise none of them were super tough but I was usually avoiding a fair fight.

Rik: Don’t mention the sawmill. That was my least favourite level by far.

Stoo: Anything to do with those water tunnels and the gates?

Rik: Yes. Lots of piddling around.

Stoo: I went through those about 3 times before I realised you were meant to shoot the switches, not try the “use\open door” key.

Rik: I felt Outlaws was at its best when it was being a Wild West shooter, e.g. the train level [Level 3].

Stoo: Yes, or that level that’s just a town with like, saloon, undertaker etc.

Rik: Wandering around looking for a key or something doesn’t interest me.

Stoo: I like some variety, but the sawmill dragged a bit. Also, no-one likes swimming in shooters. Another note to devs, don’t do it. It was even annoying in Vampire: Bloodlines and you can’t even drown in that.

Rik: Also how do you swim while holding a rifle in both hands? Anyway, going back to the levels, the environment textures can be quite samey, which doesn’t help when you’re trying to navigate, although you do have a map. Some of the bits with keys, you might easily miss. I remember a bit on Level 8 with one of the stone keys, I had no idea where it went until I noticed a fairly blurry hole on a wall. I agree it’s good to have variety, but generally the maze-like levels are less interesting to me.

Stoo: They’re not the highlights. I liked level 8’s canyons and ruins but I’m glad I figured out those puzzles with the switches quickly, or I could have gotten annoyed.

Rik: They do mix up the levels quite well; there’s not a lot of variation in terms of the baddies, but each level is at least fairly distinctive.

Stoo: I guess there’s a limit on how much you can vary “bandit with a gun”. But the maps cover a range of wild-west locations.

Rik: E.g. going from the train level where it’s all sneak along a carriage, open a door and kill three guys, you then go to the canyon, where you make extensive use of the sniper scope.

Stoo: Then the last level does the old “lost all your guns” trick, which is now a bit of a cliché. But it’s kind of appropriate to add some challenge at the end.

Rik: I think that was fair enough. I quite liked punching out a couple of guys and nabbing their guns.

Not made of sludge

Rik: Visually, Outlaws is obviously fairly dated, although I thought that it was more the boxy architecture rather than the use of sprites for baddies that had aged it.

Stoo: It came out a year after Quake, which was proper 3D, so it was certainly outdated technology. But Quake is made of sludge. Outlaws looks a lot more appealing IMO.

Rik: I think there’s some kind of additional filters in the GOG version for smoothing etc. [Note to self: With this kind of insight to call upon, I really should become some kind of technology and hardware journalist].

Stoo: Yeah, the GOG version has patches to support DirectX and Glide.

Rik: It kind of fits between Dark Forces and Jedi Knight, in terms of LucasArts tech.

Stoo: It’s comparable to the Build engine, i.e. Duke Nukem 3D.

Rik: I noticed some of the bad guys shout “There he is, get him!”, which is too close to “There he is, stop him!” from Dark Forces. I expected someone to call me rebel scum.

Stoo: Heh. It does feel like DF if you’ve played that.

Rik: I think with the style of the cut-scenes used here they had to use sprites for characters. There’s nothing worse than character models looking vastly different in-game.

Stoo: Yeah, they fit in stylistically.

Rik: I quite liked the music, but it kept cutting out for me, every time I saved. (Which I do often.)

Stoo: The music is very much a tribute to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the “Dollars” Trilogy. It’s fantastic. Although yeah, it stops every time you go to the main menu. I took it as punishment for saving too often…

Rik: There’s no quicksave either. Although I was relieved it didn’t follow the Dark Forces model of no saves. Also you must remember to save or the game will punish you. I don’t know why they used to have that thing where you get sent back to the start of the level with no guns.

Stoo: Right, I don’t have time to be restarting the level from scratch.

Rik: It’s like, I did save, you know. Although once I didn’t and got very cross.

Decision at Sundown

Dynamite is handy - unless, like me, you’re a moron who doesn’t know how to use it properly.

Dynamite is handy – unless, like me, you’re a moron who doesn’t know how to use it properly.

Rik: I have only bits and pieces left in my notes. Anything else you want to mention?

Stoo: The dynamite is loads of fun, except for some reason it doesn’t show the fuse burning. The first time I used it I lit it, got confused, lit it again, then exploded.

Rik: It took me ages to figure out you have to use the alternate fire button. I kept throwing unlit dynamite on the floor, then picking it up again.

Stoo: It’s worth it for when you can toss some over a wall, and baddies go flying.

Rik: By the time I worked it out I was nearly at the end.

Stoo: Okay, also on my notes, does the game differentiate between headshots and body shots?

Rik: Not sure.

Stoo: I’ve a feeling it does, which would be impressive for 1997, but not sure myself either.

Rik: If you hit a guy properly he’ll die in one. But sometimes there’s partial damage. I doubt it’s as sophisticated as headshots though.

Stoo: They do duck behind cover, which is an appropriate feature.

Rik: That’s worth mentioning – it all adds to the Wild West shootout feeling. I’ve got a note saying “nice manly death groans” – which makes me sound like some kind of twisted pervert, but obviously I thought it important enough to write down. Oh, and going back to the taunts, some of them are quite camp in their delivery, I thought – “YOOHOO! MARSHAL!” [nb some artistic license has been used here – this isn’t an actual quote from the game].

Stoo: Anything else?

Rik: There’s limited use of non-combat inventory, which you do tend to forget about (e.g. you have to use a shovel at one point). But it’s mainly a straight shooter.

Stoo: Right. It’s got a few tweaks to the mechanics but it’s definitely a 90s shooter, albeit one I enjoyed greatly.

Rik: So how do we evaluate it overall?

Stoo: I don’t know if I’m biased by being a fan of Clint Eastwood movies but, I’d say it was a great shooter. I’d rather play this than Quake, easily. It’s a bit like Blood – not cutting edge tech but a game with buckets of character. Plus, the campaign is exactly the right length – 9 levels feels like just enough.

Rik: I’m not really your go-to man for pre-Half Life shooters. I enjoyed it about as much as Doom, and more than either of the Star Wars shooters of the era. I enjoyed the different setting, and clinical nature of the combat, but I did have a few ragey moments with it too. So I guess it’s a recommendation for anyone who likes 90s shooters. What about a score? I’d say a 7.

Stoo: I’d go for 8, but this was more my field of interest anyway.

Rik: Well, we can go with you as the genre expert. I’m a harsh marker anyway.