Review: Outland

I’ve been itching to add a well-crafted 2D platformer to my list of downloadable PS3 games. When I bought Outland ($9.99 on the PSN store) I was hoping for something different and unique (the kind of traits I seek out in a game). Outland provided just the experience I was looking for, with its creative gameplay, crazy level design and a minimalist art style that complements the game’s polarity-switching concept and adds a ton of atmosphere.

The premise: 30,000 years ago, there was an epic battle between a great Hero and the Sisters of Chaos. The Hero was able to imprison the Sisters at the cost of sacrificing his own life. Now the Sisters of Chaos have found a way to break out of their prison, and you, as the reincarnation of the great Hero, must find and defeat them once again.

Developed by Housemarque and published by Ubisoft, this game can easily get you playing from start to finish. It helps that the gameplay is easy to grasp. Outland has very solid jumping and climbing mechanics and responds quickly to your commands; it feels just right when you understand how to move the Hero. No clunky physics here. At first glance it may seem difficult, but the tutorial does its job at preparing you for the dangerous world of Outland.

The Sisters of Chaos control both the powers of light (blue) and dark (red), and you too quickly gain that ability. This is what makes Outland’s gameplay special – you switch your Hero’s color from light to dark with the press of a button (similar to the Treasure classic Ikaruga). Certain obstacles in the game shoot out either dark or light energy, and being the same color as the energy balls will protect you from being hurt. Even enemies you encounter can be light or dark, and you’ll have to damage them by using the opposite color, so the trick is to know just when to switch - the R1 or right trigger is definitely your friend here.

It can get quite hectic as you progress through the game. As the difficulty ramps up, you’re going to see yourself constantly changing from Light to Dark. It can be quite challenging – it’s hard enough that it keeps you concentrated, and hooked. The difficulty was never a bad thing though – I always welcomed the increased challenge, and Outland keeps a great pace. Since new abilities are always just around the corner, the inventive level design constantly challenges you to hone your latest techniques. This keeps the gameplay fresh all the way to the end.

Some abilities, such as the power to destroy rocks and a slide-attack, give you the option of accessing previously inaccessible paths in older stages. There are coins to collect, which are solely used to purchase life and power upgrades. But don’t think for a second that an upgrade will allow you to steamroll through the next few stages – even with them, you’ll need to develop clever strategies to tackle upcoming obstacles.

The boss fights are creative and unique; each section of the Outland world pits the Hero up against a huge boss. To defeat them you must attack certain weak points and learn their crazy methods. Some let you learn their patterns, while others begin with a chase scene and end in an aerial showdown. Each boss is completely different, and at the start of each fight you know you’re in for an amazing encounter. There are five in total, and each one is as impressive as the last. It gave me that ‘Shadow of Colossus’ sense of epicness; that sense of wonder at climbing the Colossus searching for that weak spot, only on a 2D plane.

There is a multiplayer component - if you find the game too hard, you can enlist a friend to join your adventure. Sadly, co-op is only available as an online option – there’s no split-screen mode. Some might think of this as a letdown, but in all honesty this game is better appreciated if played alone, though having the option of playing co-op is a great addition. There are also co-op-specific challenges that you have to unlock by progressing through the game, and these challenges prove to be just as good as the single player level designs.

Everything about this game maximizes the artform’s potential, from the numerous types of enemies to the wide variety of level designs. The silhouetted foregrounds and expansive, layered backgrounds give the game a grand sense of scope. Every puzzle is unique in its own way, forcing you to abuse your new abilities to succeed or requiring skillful maneuvering to lessen the damage done as you traverse the complex streams of dark and light energies flying across the screen. With solid controls and the kind of hectic gameplay you don’t often see in modern-day gaming, Outland is so close to perfection.

The score for this game complements the world perfectly. It fits well with the art design and it provides the perfect atmosphere while playing the game. The soundtrack also helps make the boss fights even more intense, making me grasp onto my PS3 controller for dear life.

Outland more than satisfied my platforming urge. Priced at only $9.99 and clocking in at over a lengthy 12 hours, this is an excellent purchase. Its replayability, however, is at close to none. Though you can backtrack and access hidden paths, these secret areas serve only to give you more coins to upgrade your life and power. After finishing the single-player mode, the only replay value to be had can be found by playing it again via co-op, or experiencing the co-op challenges. Nevertheless, it’s still a great game – it’s certainly one of the best platforming games on PSN and XBLA and should not be missed.

Score: 95/100


-          Great gameplay mechanic

-          Responsive controls

-          Amazing art design

-          Challenging level designs


-          Weak replayability factor