Giant Bomb Review

40 Comments

Outland Review

4
  • PS3N
  • XBGS

Housemarque's latest download is bursting with uniquely challenging action and visual panache to spare.


 There are a handful of really impressive bosses in here.
Now that last year's ill-conceived top-down zombie shooter Dead Nation is fading into memory, Finnish developer Housemarque is back on the right track with Outland, an eye-popping 2D platformer that owes equal debts to Metroid and--of all things--Ikaruga. That odd combination results in a tightly designed downloadable game bursting with demanding traversal, surprisingly deep combat, and lush visual design. You can't be a fan of 2D action games in 2011 and not give this game a look.

Outland stops short of rendering its entire playable area on one giant graph-paper map, but the game's five areas are loosely tied together by level exits and teleporters that feed you fairly smoothly from place to place. You don't quite get the feeling of continuous exploration that you'd want after playing games like Shadow Complex or the latter day Castlevanias, but it's close enough. Though Outland is more linear and requires much less backtracking than those games, there are still areas you won't be able to access till later on, when you've acquired abilities that let you slide under things, launch into the air, or bust down walls with a charged shot. 

The sword combat is more involved and thus more satisfying than you'd expect on first glance. In addition to a basic three-hit combo, you can slide into enemies to daze them or slash upward in an uppercut-like motion to pop them up into the air. You can incorporate all of those moves into a single attack on an enemy, sliding into them, popping them up in the air, then leaping up and finishing them off before they even have a chance to hit you. It's a ton of fun. Both the fighting and the platforming are snappy and fluid, allowing you to get around the levels and fight enemies with speed and grace.

      Navigating the lush environments is quick and easy.
It's a good thing you've got such precision control, because nothing about Outland's action is more demanding than its central reliance on a red-and-blue contrast that governs how you interact with enemies, platforms, and masses and masses of colored bullets. (There's that Ikaruga connection.) You can change yourself from one color to the other in a split second, which is a good thing, because you have to do that instantly, constantly, all the time to get by. You can only damage enemies of the opposite color, but you can only absorb bullets and stand on platforms of like color, so you get into lots of creative situations where you'll be switching colors every second or two to keep up. Like the combat, it's greatly satisfying to flip your alignment rapidly to get through some of the tougher scenarios cleanly without taking damage.

The game ramps up the difficulty of these two-tone scenarios gradually--it's the better part of an hour before you can even assume both colors--but by the end of the game, you'll be looking at some downright grueling challenges that force you to navigate enormous clouds of mixed bullets while fighting enemies that change their own coloration randomly and will shock you if you hit them at the wrong time. Oh, and you're standing on platforms that disappear out from under you when you flip colors. For the most part, you'll get through these sections with patience or trial and error (or both), but some frustration is inherent in the later levels. 

As demanding as the action is, the game's presentation could be a little clearer. The camera tends to pull out to such a degree your character is sometimes only a few pixels high, making it tough to see exactly what's going on if you don't sit especially close to your TV. And someone made the needlessly confusing decision to have your character flicker blue and red when you get hit, which sometimes made me do a knee-jerk color change that made me get hit again before I realized that it was a bad idea to change color in the first place.

 Beware this hell of bullets.
I have no reservation calling Outland an absolutely beautiful game. Housemarque does a lot with a little here, employing a silhouetted art style similar to Limbo but with Tron-like red, blue, and yellow highlights applied to the characters in mostly tribal patterns that make them stand out and help highlight the tremendous animation. The backgrounds look like spare watercolor paintings with a lot of gentle light blooming and copious parallax scrolling to give them detail and depth. The five major areas look significantly different, with motifs ranging from a lush green jungle to dank caverns and frigid, mountainous peaks. Every screen of this game makes a great argument for why 2D games still matter from an artistic standpoint.

Outland's main campaign will probably run you about six hours, the high quality of which more than justifies its $10 asking price, and there are collectibles, speed-run levels, and some decent two-player cooperative challenge rooms if you want to lengthen the experience. I suspect this game is going to fly a little under the radar with so many high-profile titles releasing lately, but even a passing interest in 2D action demands that you at least give Outland a look.     Brad Shoemaker on Google+
40 Comments
Posted by McDunkin

Probably gonna pick this up now.

Posted by Link43130

Outland is pretty amazing.

Posted by honeycut1

I was not even aware of this game

Posted by Kyreo

Glad to hear this game was as great as it sounds.

Posted by Zamir

YES, i called it

Posted by csl316

looks awesome

Posted by rcath

Thats it, I am throwing my Wii out a fricking window.

Posted by TheYear20XX

This game looks...outlandish.

Posted by cooljammer00

I find the PSN review logo doubtful...

Posted by cooljammer00

Also, hearing about it on the Bombcast made me think of those really hard and fun rooms from the latest PoP game, Forgotten Sands.  Jumping between walls of water, freezing and unfreezing them.

Posted by crusader8463

Shame it's only on consoles. Would have liked to play this with someone.

Posted by Marz

I enjoyed what i played of this game.  I really dig the art style.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan
@rcath:
Why?
Posted by VonSohn

NOTE TO CO-OP PLAYERS:
Cash and upgrades are not shared, making this game annoyingly uncooperative in one respect.
Also, a few of the achievements are single-player only. If you like the game, not a huge deal.
Still, some odd design decisions made in regard to co-op.

Posted by transience

this game is really awesome and needs some damn exposure.

Posted by craigbo180

A mix of Limbo, Tron, Metroid and Ikaruga. 


This game sounds rad.
Posted by PerfidiousSinn

Best impulse buy ever. I was not expecting this game to be so enjoyable, and the art direction is fantastic.

Posted by JesseCherry

So should it be played co-op or not? The no shard thing does stink a bit

Posted by Enigma777

I love me some Metroidvania sidescrollers and I love Housemarque. Will definitely pick this up once the PSN is back up. 

Posted by beard_of_zeus

People should buy this game, it's really excellent! Plus it's only $10 (instead of the normal $15), which is surprising, given its high quality. It gets a 5/5 from me! :)

My only qualm is that I wish there had been more than 5 of the co-op challenge rooms, I found those supremely interesting. One of them has one player controlling both players' color alignment, and yet another requires the players to work together and use some of the intricacies of the melee combat to juggle and move bombs around to get through crumbling walls and finish the level. Cool stuff.

Posted by EgoCheck616

I'll buy it as soon as they put it on Steam.

Until then, meh.
Posted by yoshimitz707

@Brad How did you manage to get a PSN version with PSN down?

Edited by m0rdr3d

I picked this up a few days ago when I saw a few major sites gave it 9's and above.  Enjoying it so far.  And that $10 pricetag is nice.
Posted by Spiritof

LOVED Super Stardust HD, really liked Dead Nation, so I gotta be in for some Outland.

All I gotta do now is goto my PS3 and....oh, wait-a-minute....

Posted by Fracture

The last boss fight in this game is insane! Love this game.

Posted by radioactivez0r
@cooljammer00: I had the same thought when reading about it elsewhere, and since I had some trouble with that part, it made me a little leery of this game.  Still, sounds like fun.
Posted by Slaker117

Going to buy this right now.

Posted by beard_of_zeus
@Fracture said:
" The last boss fight in this game is insane! Love this game. "
I agree, all the boss fights are actually notably well designed. The level 4 boss is probably my favorite - that running and jumping sequence before the fight proper is awesome.
Edited by Underachiever007

This game is friggin' beautiful in motion.

Posted by ptys

Is it just me or is the box art sub par?

Edited by Geekcore
@ptys: I agree. The box art is bad. 
Posted by JackSukeru

I'll probably get it once PSN comes back up, that and Clash of Heroes.

Posted by ProfessorEss
@ptys: It's kinda weird. It's a decent piece of art that seems like it could have been the base of a good cover, but then they just threw an out of place logo on it and called it a day.
Posted by Aaron_G

I think I am going to get this when I get home later tonight! 

Posted by CookieMonster

Was seriously unimpressed with the demo. Might give it another chance if its on sale at some point.

Online
Posted by BigFatSamurai

Just downloaded this game last night....It's really awesome. Sweet visuals and personally takes me right back to the heyday of the 2D platformer. Great stuff! If you grew up in the early 90's like me, this is a must have.

Posted by ObsideonDarman

Great Review Brad, just bought it myself and I think it's really damn good.


One of the Best Downloadable Games I have ever seen.
Posted by TheMailToad

I would be buying this so hard right now, but alas, no PSN.

Posted by ddensel
Posted by NTM

Not that I can complain about the written review, but I wish it got five stars to show everyone that it's worth buying. This game needs to be bought so there can be a sequel, and it's a really fantastic game. It might just be my favorite downloadable game to date.