Developed and published by LucasArts and released in 1997, Outlaws is a first-person shooter set in the Wild West. Players assume the role of James Anderson, a retired U.S. Marshall who returns to his former career pursuing criminals after his idyllic family life is shattered by the senseless murder of his wife and the kidnapping of his daughter. Utilizing LucasArts' Jedi Engine, first seen in Star Wars: Dark Forces, Outlaws is a so-called 2.5D game which features two-dimensional sprites in three-dimensional environments. Released at a time well before tactical shooters had begun to gain mainstream popularity, Outlaws rewards a methodical play style rather than encouraging "run and gun" tactics, as Anderson can be quickly killed by the game's many well-armed antagonists.
The atmosphere of the game owes much to popular Spaghetti Western films, most notably the work of Sergio Leone. It begins with a stylized opening credit sequence highly evocative of those seen in the "Man With No Name" trilogy, and Clint Bajakian's original soundtrack is at times fairly reminiscent of the famous scores composed by Ennio Morricone, who frequently collaborated with Leone. The director's work is even referenced directly by way of the game's three difficulty settings, which are (from easiest to hardest) Good, Bad, and Ugly.
The protagonist of Outlaws is former U.S. Marshall James Anderson, a man who resigned his post for fear that his experiences in law enforcement were leading him to become quick to judge and thus quick to pull the trigger. It is implied that he made somewhat of a name for himself during his time behind the badge, as many characters still refer to Anderson as "Marshall" despite having given up his position ten years prior to the events of the game. After retirement, he lives a peaceful farm life with his wife Anna and his daughter Sarah, far removed from the dangers of his past profession. Or so he believes...
Unbeknownst to Anderson, a ruthless railroad magnate by the name of Bob Graham is making preparations to begin converting the untouched countryside into a teeming cityscape. His only hindrance in bringing this plan to fruition is a small number of holdouts, including Anderson, who refuse to sell him their land. Though frustrated by the stubbornness of the remaining landowners, Graham is incapable of accepting defeat, choosing instead to hire a dangerous gang of ruffians and outlaws with the intention of having them "persuade" the last few settlers to vacate their land.
Returning to his homestead one day after a trip to the general store, Anderson is horrified to find his wife murdered, his daughter abducted, and his house set to the torch. Pausing only a brief moment in order to give his wife a proper burial, he sets out soon after to find his daughter, knowing only that the violation of his home is related to his refusal to sell his property. Though no longer a lawman, Anderson resolves to personally find those responsible and bring them to justice. Along the way, he also comes to the realization that Bob Graham, the man whose lackeys are responsible for his wife's murder and daughter's kidnapping, was behind the cold-blooded murder of his father many years prior.
The gameplay of Outlaws is similar in many respects to that of other first-person shooters of its era. In every level, the first imperative is to stay alive, killing any and all hostile forces encountered. The primary objective of each mission is to find and defeat said mission's boss, who is usually situated at the end of the level. In addition to dealing with enemies, reaching the end of a level usually requires finding and utilizing one or all of three different key types (brass, iron, and steel), as well as using other items such as crowbars and shovels to open new pathways when available. Players are also occasionally asked to solve puzzles in order to proceed toward their goal.
Outlaws differs from other FPS games of the time in the pacing of its combat. While many of its contemporaries encouraged a run-and-shoot mentality, Outlaws requires a slower, more tactical approach, as all of the game's basic enemies are capable of causing quick and grievous injury to the player. Charging headlong into an area will almost always result in being fired upon from multiple directions, which a player is not likely to survive outside of the lowest difficulty setting. Killing enemies before they are close enough to be accurate is usually advisable, and to this end one of the player's default weapons is a rifle which is fairly accurate at long ranges, and can be augmented by a scope later on (which is one of the first instances of a scoped weapon in an FPS).
Perhaps to further emphasize the importance of a calculated approach, the game includes a red stamina bar at the bottom center of the screen, which depletes as the player sprints or jumps. When it is half-depleted, Anderson will begin to breath heavily, and once fully depleted he cannot run and may only leap small distances. Stamina is regenerated whenever the player is not running or jumping, while standing still will rejuvenate it rapidly. Going slowly has other benefits as well, since a silent player can sneak up on some enemies, especially in low-light environments.
Outlaws comes complete with two distinct single-player options:
Story Mode The Outlaws narrative follows James Anderson over the course of nine missions as he seeks to recover his daughter from Bob Graham's gang. These missions proceed in a preset order, with each one centering on a particular member of the gang who must be defeated in order to proceed. Unlike many shooters, where an exit must be found in order to finish a mission, most levels in Outlaws end automatically once the boss has been killed. Between missions, players are treated to animated cutscenes that progress the game's story and transition to the next level. Many of the game's levels are based on familiar Wild West locales, such as a ghost town, an abandoned fort, Native American cliff dwellings, and even a moving locomotive.
Historical Missions Set in the time before Anderson retired, the Historical Mission mode has no overarching story, offering instead five missions that can be tackled in any order. As in the Story Mode, the main objective of these missions is to find and defeat a particular enemy. In this mode, however, players are scored on their performance in each mission, as well as the manner in which they apprehend their prey. Bonuses are awarded for taking in outlaws alive, and over time the player will be promoted based on their past performance. With each new rank, players unlock a special "reward" mission. These levels have no set objective, instead allowing players to engage in activities outside the scope of normal missions, such as practicing in a shooting gallery.
Going for a modicum of period authenticity, the Outlaws arsenal represents firearms and weapons that existed at the time in one form or another, though perhaps the concept of a hand-held Gatling gun requires a suspension of disbelief. Fitting in with the game's deliberate pace, all firearms must be manually reloaded one round at a time, and avoiding reloads at inopportune times is one of the game's tactical facets. In another touch of realism, none of the game's guns can be fired underwater.
Reserved for stealth or last resort, the Marshall's fists can quickly lay a man flat, though a bullet can do the same without the need for its user to be in close proximity to its target. The primary attack delivers a left hook that can usually knock a foe out cold with a single hit, while the secondary attack is a quick right jab that is somewhat weaker.
- Ammo Capacity: N/A
- Carrying Capacity: 2 Fists
The revolver is a solid medium range firearm that gets progressively less useful the farther away an enemy happens to be. In its primary mode it is fired by trigger, with a significant pause between shots. During its secondary attack, Anderson fans the hammer in order to fire at a much more rapid pace. The latter is the closest thing to an automatic weapon the player will have access to throughout most of the game.
- Ammo Capacity: 6 Bullets
- Carrying Capacity: 100 Bullets
The go-to long range weapon of Outlaws, the rifle becomes even more useful later on in the game when the scope is acquired. Scanning an open area before passing through can often lead to several easy kills with the rifle, and its large ammo capacity means that cautious players will seldom be caught reloading in the midst of a firefight.
- Ammo Capacity: 12 Cartridges
- Carrying Capacity: 100 Cartridges
Being that it has a single barrel, the biggest drawback of the standard shotgun is that it must be reloaded with each use, leaving little room for error. On the positive side, when used from its effective range, the spread of its buckshot is large enough that it is hard to miss entirely.
- Ammo Capacity: 1 Shell
- Carrying Capacity: 50 Shells
- Ammo Capacity: 2 Shells
- Carrying Capacity: 50 Shells
The double-barreled shotgun is a step up from the regular variety not just because it can fire two shots before a reload (or both at once), which makes it somewhat more forgiving to use, but also due to the somewhat tighter spread of its buckshot, which slightly extends the gun's range over its single-barreled kin.
- Ammo Capacity: 2 Shells
- Carrying Capacity: 50 Shells
Purely intended as a crowd control weapon, the sawed-off shotgun fires one or two shell in an extremely wide spread. It can be very effective in dealing with multiple clustered enemies at once, though with such a large area of effect its results can be somewhat hard to predict outside of point-blank range.
With Outlaws' arsenal skewing mostly toward ballistic weaponry, dynamite offers a much-needed means of indirect attack. A single stick can be lit with the alternate fire button and thrown with the primary attack. If thrown without being lit, it can either be picked up or manually detonated by shooting at it, which is easiest to accomplish with a scoped rifle.
- Ammo Capacity: 1 Stick
- Carrying Capacity: 50 Sticks
A bit of a multipurpose armament, the knife can be used as a stabbing implement or thrown weapon. The primary benefit of using the knife is in its stealth potential, as it is less likely nearby foes will take notice their compatriot's death if he is downed by a knife. Similarly to sticks of dynamite, a knife can be picked back up after being thrown.
- Ammo Capacity: 1 Knife
- Carrying Capacity: 50 Knives
The Gatling gun, known formally as the Ash Inc. Semi-Portable Gatling Gun, is a "semi-portable" weapon due to the fact that players are no longer able to move once it is equipped, though it is possible to aim in any direction. Special care should be taken so that one does not become a sitting duck while using it. While the Gatling gun has two firing modes, the effect of both is similar.
- Ammo Capacity: 100 Rounds
- Carrying Capacity: 500 Rounds
Though Outlaws endeavors to maintain a serious tone throughout, LucasArts nonetheless manages to sneak in a few outlandish Easter Eggs, most of which are hidden away in secret locations. Several of these are references to LucasArts' other famous properties, while some are purely for humorous effect. What follows are few of the more notable inclusions.
- By throwing a stick of dynamite into the outhouse in the game's first level, "Slim's Hideout," players can reveal a passage to a strange chamber with a single window. By opening it, players can briefly glimpse two aliens preparing to "probe" a cow with a two-man saw. A third alien closes the window shortly thereafter. Since there are no explosives in the first level, this area can only be accessed via cheat codes.
- While not exactly hidden or an Easter Egg, astute players will notice that the sound effect used for the game's boiler plate armor pickups is also present in various Star Wars titles, where it is used to signify blaster fire.
- Max from the well-regarded Sam & Max franchise makes a few appearances in the game dressed as a stereotypical Mexican bandit. He appears in one of the game's historical missions in addition to one of the three bonus levels that can be unlocked in that mode. In the latter, he is found in the presence of a squirrel as well as a miniature poodle wearing sunglasses, who also appears in other places in the game.
- At the beginning of another historical mission, players can access a hidden cave where they will find the golden idol sought by Indiana Jones at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Arc. If they choose to pick it up, players are treated to Alfred Molina's famous line from the movie, "Throw me the idol, I'll throw you the whip!" In a later bonus mission players have the chance to explore a trap-laden cave much in the same vein as the one referenced in this Easter Egg.