Review: Outcry (PC)

Outcry
Developer: Phantomery Interactive
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 09/03/2008


Russia puts out some weird surreal video games. It’s one of the reasons I love them so. A few years ago I imported Pathologic and it still remains the freakiest most f’d up game I have ever played. Although it’s never come to North America, you can download it through Gamer’s Gate. Ever since then, I’ve paid close attention to what’s being developed in the remnants of the former Soviet Union.

So enter Outcry, originally titled Sublustrum back in Eurasia. I remember stumbling across the game’s website and I found it to be one of the freakiest and coolest websites for a game I’ve ever seen. Check it out here. So of course I was quite excited when TAC decided to bring it stateside.

It’s been a banner year for adventure games, with titles ranging from the awesome like The Sinking Island and The Lost Crown to retched piles of dung like Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis and Dracula 3. With Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel and Nikopol also coming out this month. It’s going to be a busy time for an Adventure game fan’s wallet.

So is Outcry a contender for our adventure game of the year, or is it better left sitting on the rock on your local store?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Outcry is basically The City of Lost Children meets From Beyond. Heck, even your desktop icon is a character straight out of the former. Well, that of the Guild of Calamitous Intent for Venture Brothers fans.

You are a nameless protagonist is a steampunk-esque Russia, in what appears to be either just before or after the Great War. You receive a letter from your brother who imparts you to visit him posthaste, but alas, when you arrive you are greeted with the news that he has just died.

Or has he? Once you enter his home you are greeted by a phonographic recording of your brother imparting news that something has happened and it is related to his forbidden research with uses sound and vibration to pierce through the veil of our reality into a new one – one where memories and time are more fluid then in our own.

Your brother hints that his research led to his current predicament, or is it his demise? He also leaves everything to you and then begs you to destroy his research, saying that it can only lead to bad things.

So of course the first 20% of the game is you fixing his bloody contraption so that you can emulate your brother’s discovery. Then the rest of the game involves well…actually it’s pretty much up for interpretation from this point on. Is there really a “Shimmering Land?” Is it just an experiment combining a hallucinogenic plant like abertia with a sensory deprivation tank? These things are up to you, the player to decide.

I will say that every bit of the game can be read as a metaphor: from the desert to the tower to the ending with the breaking of the ice and…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Let’s just say when the ending is done and the credits have finished rolling, you’ll still be staring at the screen going, “WTF just happened?”

Don’t let this scare you off. If Adventure games weren’t a niche genre like Shoot ‘Em Up’s and 2-D fighters these days, the gaming forums would no doubt be filled with dialogue about what the story is about. IS it a straight-forward tale about travelling to another dimension or if everything is a Gulliver’s Travels like analogy for…something else. In this regard, Outcry is esoteric where another recent release, Braid, is simply pretentious.

If you are a fan of games like Baroque, Lunacy, or other titles with similarly obtuse plots that make you question and conjecture as much you play the game itself, then Outcry is up your alley. I found myself quite captivated by the story of the reporter, the professor, the capsule, and ummm, two guys trying to kill a dog(?). It’s definitely a game whose strangeness will probably turn off a lot of gamers, but that in no way lessens the quality of the story.

Story Rating: Great

2. Graphics

The visuals of Outcry are an interesting mix. Sometimes video footage of actual people is used within the game, but like the rest of the visuals, the style is done in such a way that is resembles an old Kinetoscope film. The game just oozes style, as it looks and feels like an early piece of cinema. With slightly off colour tints, and the occasional crackle across the screen or faded bit of faux celluloid, Outcry has some real artistic merit to it, going above an beyond you simple graphical programming. I swear that if it was the 1890’s and some harker was telling for crowds to, “See the amazing Cinematograph!” it would be showing pieces of this game.

The first fifth of the game looked and felt so real. Well, as real as an apartment filled to the brim with strange steam-run equipment and an organphone can be. There was a great deal of detail put into even the smallest aspect of the backgrounds.

The Shimmering World however, is well, it’s a bit different, but then that’s the point of the game after all. That’s not to say the game features anime style super-deformed people running around or some psychedelic haze. It’s still realistic, still very stylish, and still VERY steampunk, but there’s a subtle sublime difference between the two that you’ll notice almost immediately. I won’t ruin it for you, but like with the Story, Outcry is far more an experience then a game.

Due to the very stylized graphics which are meant to convey both a specific overtone and theme for the game, it might go unappreciated by the average gamer. However, I absolutely adored the styling and medium Phantomery Interactive used for the visuals. It’s very unique to watch and play through, which is something you can’t say about most adventure games. Even better, the game is a first-person panoramic, meaning there is far more to see and play than in a third person point and click.

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound

The attention to detail with sound effects is magnificent. The creaking of a desk drawer, the humming of a machine, the gurgling of water. It’s all here, and it still impresses me how much went into this game in this regard.

Musically however, it’s another story. Most of the music is piano-based, and said piano sounds a bit out of tune, with sharp, slightly off-key notes. Although this music certainly fits the theme of the game, it’s still annoying at times when you are trying to concentrate on what to do next or where you should go. As well, the music will cut out when you go into a more details screen of something you can interact with. This kind of takes you out of the mood of the game, which is a disappointment.

Voice acting is a mixed back. There is very little of it outside your brother/narrator, and he talks a lot. Some naysayers will complain about the very monotone and unemotional intonations used by this actor, but within the first fifteen minutes of the game, it’s explained in detail (albeit it not directly) why this is so. And aside from the sometimes robotic performance, the professor’s voice is pretty close to “Mr. Moviephone,” so it works quite nicely.

Again, this is a very niche game where the developers were going for such a specific feel and audience, that most gamers might not “get” the intent of what’s going on here. That makes it neither good nor bad – it simply is. I found the aural aspects of Outcry to be a bit bi-polar, but I was still able to appreciate the overall package.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

Like most Adventure games, you play Outcry solely with your mouse. As the game is a first person panoramic, your view mimics your actions with the mouse. If you move the mouse away from you, you will look up and if you move it towards you, you will look down. You have a full 360 degree horizontal view and a 180 degree vertical.

There is no real moving in the game. Each location is sedentary. You look around, click your left mouse button to read documents, pick up objects or interact with the background. You can move from one location to another when the cursor turns into an arrow and you’ll be backtracking a lot to complete your quests. My only problem here is that whenever you move, you get a blurry walking graphic that looks like glaucoma is setting in, and I wish there was a way to turn the walking bit off.

Your right button brings up your inventory, like in most point and clicks. In Outcry however, it’s a bit different. One click of the button brings up everything into one of the four corners of your screen. Documents you have collected are in the upper left for example, and the main menu is down in the bottom right. This is one of the best organized inventory layouts I’ve seen in one of these games.

There are only three real problems I had with the game. The first are the amazingly slow loading times, ESPECIALLY when you start the game up. Make a sandwich kids. The other is that sometimes, your mouse cursor will stick. What I mean is that you’ll be clicking on things and then when you try to move away you’ll notice the cursor is staying where it is at, but the screen is still moving. This was a bit annoying at times, but generally just a double tap of the button fixed it, so it’s only a minor quibble. The last issue is an odd one. Sometime the clickable areas in an adventure game are very small and precise, making your attempts to click on a much needed item frustrating because you are trying to find the one pixel that will let you pick that bloody thing up. With Outcry, there is the exact opposite problem. The clickable areas are quite large and as an example, you might be looking at a microscope and the interact icon comes up. This makes you think that you can click on it, so you do and…a desk drawer opens. Okay then. Again, this is a minor quibble but there were several times in the game I thought I could use an item because of this when in fact, it was just scenery.

Outcry has some very solid controls and it’s very intuitive to move around, even if the puzzles are well, not.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

Outcry is VERY linear, meaning there is no room for deviation. The 18th time you play it will unfold exactly like the first, making it generally a one-shot game. It’s also very short, and I beat the game in approximately six hours. Really, if one was able to rent PC games, I’d suggest this is the best course for this game.

Then there is the plot. I enjoyed it but it’s really quite out there. Again, this is going to be a turn off for a lot of mainstream gamers, but for those that like the very strange and unusual, you might play through the game again just to try and figure out what you think the story (and the ending) is all about. In that case though, I say make use of all the save files and just save the game before the big plot points and watch them that way.

In the end, Outcry has little to no replay value unless you rare eally captivated by the plot.

Replayability Rating: Dreadful

6. Balance

Here’s where things start to go bad. Outcry should NOT be your first Adventure game. This is for seasoned Adventure gamers only. Puzzles are vague, and their solutions are even vaguer. Some puzzles, like the four valves are easy, because if you read all the notes you find in your brother’s house, it comes right out and tells you. Others are not so obvious as I spent thirty minutes trying to figure out what to do/where to put the inhaler after I finished my wacky liquid and leaves mixture.

A lot of the puzzles are simply guess and check or require you to think about what you need to do. There are no, “I can’t do that” or “This doesn’t work” from the protagonist as there are in a lot of these types of games. You simply just have to be patient enough to think of every possible combination of items, be willing to try different patterns or combinations to get something to work, and be willing to go into a puzzle completely blind in regards to the objective and solution.

This is about as hardcore an Adventure game as I’ve ever seen, and as such, you might want to stick to something like Strong Bad: Episode One for your first foray into the genre.

This game is bound to frustrate even a veteran of the point and click genre. That doesn’t mean the game is a bad one. It’s just that Outcry is meant for a very specific audience, and if the idea of a game being this ambiguous about EVERYTHING isn’t instantly appealing to you, then you need to stay very far away.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

Outcry is very stylish, but every aspect of the game seemed to be ripped off from somewhere else. It’s a less sexual and gorey version of From Beyond. It’s got a lot of steampunk cliches and generic bits from other games and movies thrown in. Phantomery Interactive had a lot of influences, and it shows.

That being said, the game is quite unusual and bizarre and the story, if you can get into it, is engaging and forces you to really think about what is going on. I also like the subtle tweaks to the adventure style game play.

For a video game, Outcry is outside most people’s comfort zones in terms of what they are used to. Is it innovative, no? Is it really that original? No, as most of the ideas in this game came from other places and the dev team makes no bones about hiding their homages. Still, it’s unlike most other games on the market, especially in the point ‘n click genre.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8. Addictiveness

A mixed bag here. I really found the story intriguing and enjoyed sitting there after the game trying to decide what the ending was all about and possibly overthinking the game in terms of metaphor. I mean, it could just be this is the Worker and Parasite of video games.

As well, the vague nature of the puzzles turned me off at times. Especially when you know what you eventually need to do, but can’t find where to do it. The puzzles weren’t anything especially creative or hard. It’s just a turn off to be given something and not be given any inclination if you are on the right track or if you have successfully completely it or not.

In the end, I’m pretty to numb to Outcry which is rather fitting considering how the game revolves around emotion and memory. It’s not quite ironic, but it’s close.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Outcry is one of the most niche games I have ever played. It’s an Adventure game and the plot and puzzles are so designed that only the most hardcore fans of the genre will truly appreciate the game. Most gamers prefer to act rather than think, hence the popularity of your generic FPS. Thankfully the Adventure game fanbase is generally the intelligista of the gaming community, but it’s still relatively small by comparison.

Due to the obtuse nature of the puzzles, the surreal story and the overall vagueness of the game, the vast, VAST majority of gamers just won’t enjoy the thing. That’s neither bad nor good – it simply is.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

Here’s the thing. I enjoyed this game for what it is: A quirky piece of European existentialism with some flaws regarding user friendliness and mainstream appeal. Outcry is certainly not for everyone. It’s weird, leaves a lot open to the imagination and its target audience is a percentage of a percentage of gamers. More than likely, this title is NOT for you.

For $19.99 though, it’s a nice little artsy game to play through when you have a free weekend. Generally if a game is pretty weird or makes you go, “WTF?” I’ve played it and enjoyed it on some level. Such is the case with Outcry I’m glad I had the experience and the story was a lot of fun, but I certainly will be able to understand the viewpoint of someone who found the game boring or banal.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Bad
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

If you’re looking for the equivalent of a video game version of a Camus or Kafka novel, Outcry is your game. It’s stylish, quirky, and is constantly a surreal experience. Gamers wanting a similar but more action oriented version of the game should pick up Atlus’ Baroque for the Wii or PS2. At $19.99, Outcry is one of those games that is worth the experience of having played, even if you walk away unsatisfied or confused.

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