Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Outland

There's been somewhat of a revival of side-scrolling platform games of late on PSN and XBLA but this latest release from Ubisoft and Housemarque is perhaps one of the better examples, borrowing elements from top games and combining them perfectly. Prince of Persia and the shooter Ikaruga are undeniably its biggest influences but there are hints of Castlevania, Brink, Metroid, Limbo there too.

But it's the Ikaruga element that deserves most praise and attention - the innovative colour-changing mechanic making this title stand out from the crowd. What this means is that our protagonist can harness the powers of light and dark, represented by blue and red. A quick button press sees our hero change to the colour that best helps him depending on the environment and the enemies he faces. He can absorb bullets of the same colour and takes no damage from similarly-coloured bad guys, only losing health if he is the opposite polarity.

The plot revolves around your character and his desperate attempts to track down a lost Shamen in the hope that he can explain his strange visions. He soon discovers the truth about some ancient conflict and realises that only he can bring it to an end. It’s all about mythology and folklore, brimful of huge beasts and devious puzzles.

Regardless of the colour-changing factor, it remains a solid platformer in its own right. It's a huge world you have to explore with giant bugs and creatures standing in your way. Switches need to be reached to operate doors, platforms can only be used when you’re a certain colour, and coins, health and treasures can be collected along the way.

It can be pretty tricky negotiating the various pits and perils so fortunately there are loads of checkpoints to minimise the frustration levels. The beasts that populate this land vary from slow moving mutant spiders, dragonflies that spew bullets and speedy explosive bugs – and that’s before you even encounter the awesome screen high bosses who require multiple hits and plenty of cunning to defeat.

Things can get a little repetitive along your journey and, as with other games of this type, there is a fair bit of backtracking with switches and exits often at either end of the map. You won't care too much though as it's a gorgeous game and the backgrounds will provide a nice distraction along the way.

There's certainly a pick-up-and-play appeal, with the controls easy to grasp and your objectives pretty self explanatory. Additional attacks and moves become available as you progress, which adds a bit of variety too. Once you're done with the single player game - which lasts a respectable five to seven hours - there is a decent online co-op mode, which will add to the longevity. Outland was a game that flew under the radar a little but it's thoroughly enjoyable and should definitely make it on to your download list. A must buy purchase!

*Reviewed on PS3