Title: Outland
Platform: Steam, Windows, Xbox 360, PS3

Reviewed on: Windows

Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
Players: Single player,
Co Op

Written by Bad Demoman 26th November 2014

Bullet Hell games have always fascinated me – I think it’s the complexity of the patterns. Unfortunately, try as I may, I've never had the skill to play most of them. As a genre, Shoot em’ Ups have always seemed to have too high an entry level and are often ridiculously hard, meaning the patterns that attract me to these games also deliver my swift exit from them. My entry into obsession with these games was one by Treasure called Ikaruga with an interesting mechanic – switching polarity to absorb enemy bullets. So when I saw Outland by Housemarque, with its similar mechanic and strange mix of bullet hell gameplay in a Metroidvania platformer, I was naturally interested – maybe I'd finally get to play a bullet hell of sorts that I could actually beat. So does this alchemy of game elements come up with pure gold, or create a muddy sulphurous mix?

The plot is fairly basic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it works in the games favour. Following the reincarnation of an ancient hero on his quest to fight twin sisters who embody Chaos, it takes on the aspects of a folk-tale more than a standard video game plot. Other than the opening cinematic, which tells us of events preceding the game by 30,000 years to set up the villain, not much is actually said – after bosses, a little bit of text will be in the loading screen to give a minuscule amount of lore on the opponent you just faced, and that's pretty much it.. This actually works amazingly well, because the game becomes more about the journey, the things you do and the battles you fight than anything that you could be told through a cut scene.

Outland is probably the first game where I went out of my way to unlock concept art. The art style is beautiful, and I've never seen anything quite like it before. Going for a dark, tribal style to match the storyline, the foreground is almost entirely black, with most colour coming from contrasting blues and reds to portray which polarity you need to be in to harm an enemy, or interact with something. In spite of this, the game is far from devoid of colour. The background is vibrant and varied between areas – from dark, atmospheric forest canopy to ruins lit by a setting sun. Combined with intricate details in the black foreground, each area comes to life and it makes you feel like you're on an epic journey rather than an traipse through some dull platform-laden corridors.

The game play of Outland consists of two things – platforming and combat. The platforming is incredibly satisfying, even before the introduction of polarity-changing. Generally, any game with a great wall jump that gets used a lot gets a big plus from me and that is definitely the case here. The animation for the wall jump is very fluid and looks great, especially impressive considering the protagonist is largely the same colour as the walls. I found myself trying to use it to get around as much as possible, even where it wasn't necessary, and the sections relying on its use were some of my favourites. Once both polarities are accessed, platforming is taken up a notch – things can be so much more intricate and interesting when the limitation of bullets being possible to dodge is removed. At multiple points when entering a room, I had to sit back and plan out my every move through a field of deadly shots before making a move. Particularly complex rooms can feel more like a puzzle than a platformer.

Combat is a fairly simple affair – You have one attack button which slashes with a fairly long range sword. Most of the complexity of the combat comes from the different enemy types, of which there are many. Strategies that work on one enemy will probably not work on others. Some will only take damage from behind, or will hide in the ground. Of course, this only makes an enemy complex the first few times, or even just the first time you face it. However, the combat is further complicated by some of the best parts of the game – when the polarity changing platforming is combined with fighting enemies. Traversing a room full of bullets can be challenging enough, but when enemies of varying polarities are thrown in to the mix too things can get intense. It feels like a Catch 22 sometimes – I need to change to blue to attack this red enemy, but if I do I'll be pelted by red bullets. I'll admit, a fair few rooms took me multiple tries, but it only makes it more satisfying when you finally beat them.

I really wish I could tell you all about the co-op, with its exclusive challenges and how much more fun it is to play through with a friend. But unfortunately, I can't. When I tried it with Whistler on multiple occasions, and even after patches, we were both plagued by debilitating slowdown and staggering. I would blame my slow computer but Whistler’s computer is considerably more powerful than mines, and he had the same issue. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to be an uncommon issue. It may be patched later or it may be some strange interaction with certain computers – I can't say for sure.

If I were to choose one word to describe Outland, it would be smooth. The graphics, the platforming and the combat all exude smoothness. The polarity switching concept is something that made a lot of sense in Ikaruga, but it was a surprise how well Housemarque made it work with platforming, giving Outland some extremely unique gameplay.

I’d like to also mention that the co-op has reportedly been patched recently yet we were not able to schedule a chance to try it out by the time this review was finished.


Beautiful graphics,

Simple yet satisfying combat,

Fluid platforming.


Couldn't get Co-Op working.

Final verdict,
Outland gets a 9 out of 10.

Written by,
Bad Demoman

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