Outland (XBLA) Review

1 May

Very rarely does a game come along that is so rich in stylistic quality it catches you by surprise. Finnish developer Housemarque’s Outland does just that and all for only 800 Mircrosoft points.

Outland on the surface is a mix mash of all the positive aspects of many games that have come before it, taking them and twisting them into something that not only works well but is very enjoyable to play. The foundation of all Outland’s puzzles are based on colour polarity, something made famous in Treasure’s Ikaruga. And all of Outland’s map exploration, emphasis on upgrading powers and collecting takes inspiration from games such as Super Metroid or Shadow Complex.

However, even with saying this, Outland feels fresh and not only unlike any XBLA game you’ve ever played before but unlike any video game entirely. Throughout playing I was lost in just how pretty this game is, the contrast between the colours, the deep blacks and the glowing red and blues, all this whilst having an incredible amount of fun.

Even while facing tough bosses you will be caught in Outland's beauty.

Story wise, Outland is very basic, your usual tale of chaos, destruction, mighty heroes who have fallen and the power of light and dark, which is usually presented in cut scenes or screenshots with blocks of text which I found to actually pull me out of the escapism of the beautiful world. The story itself focuses on two magical sisters who control light and dark magic, which are represented by the colours red and blue, this power is then presented to your character as you use them to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Using a power type, which is shown by your character being clocked in its represented colour, means you can do damage to enemies of the opposite type and you also negate that colours energy, therefore not taking damage to yourself. Sounds basic, and it is, until later on where you have both types of energy flying around the screen in pretty, yet deadly, patterns and you are tapping to switch colours at a rapid rate.

Certain death has never looked better.

Outland offers even more if you are looking for a rich and long gaming experience with Arcade mode and Co-Op mode. Arcade mode sees you toughening it out once again on levels you have already bested looking to set fast times and high scores. Co-Op not only allows you to play the entire single player campaign with a partner but also Co-Op only challenges that will really test your teamwork skills.

My only major complaint is the difficulty. Outland is hardcore, and there’s no way of turning down how punishing it is. While you have to respect the fact that Housemarque has stuck to their guns and demand that you play the game they way they have intended, I cannot help but see the less capable gamer being sucked in by this games awesome style and getting nothing but frustrated with the later levels. Same goes for the boss battles as well, whilst epic themselves, most bosses are quite drawn out and take some time, if you die (and you are going to, a lot), you have to start the boss from the very beginning. Which is slightly frustrating in a game where the environment itself evokes nothing but calm.

Besides that Outland has many qualities that are sure to make it one of the must have XBLA of this year. Smooth combat and platforming, a soundtrack that partners the environment perfectly and exploration done right.

All in all, Housemarque’s Outland is a well brought purchase in a generation of throw away titles and experiences.

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