Outcast: Second Contact Review
First released in 1999, Outcast is a sci-fi open-world shooter adventure that rose to cult classic status thanks to its uniqueness and how it influenced future generations of open-world titles. Unfortunately, the game developed by Appeal isn’t widely known today. Much like the iconic Anachronox, Outcast was supposed to have a sequel that was soon canceled due to the studio’s bankruptcy. The original developers are now jumping back into the video game industry with Outcast: Second Contact, an HD remake of the original game.
First, a word on what I mean by “HD remake.” Usually, a “remaster” means the game was given some degree of graphical overhaul without major changes being made to its core experience. An example of this is the recently released .hack//G.U. Last Recode, which includes the original .hack//G.U. trilogy as well as a fourth, exclusive game. For the most part, the three games that comprise the classic PS2 trilogy only received some graphical enhancements.
On the other hand, a remake can mean more than just graphical enhancements as well as less than a complete remake per say. The critically acclaimed Samus Returns is a full reimagination of Metroid 2 while Resident Evil HD Remaster is an HD overhaul as much as it is a remake thanks to its new features. Second Contact falls short below the latter. The core experience is exactly the same as the original and the 1.1 releases with some added flavors besides the updated graphics. The changes made are nothing close to what Capcom did to Resident Evil, but they still elevate the game enough to be more than just a remaster.
The story of Second Contact didn’t suffer any major changes. This re-release uses 1.1’s voice files and probably its music and sound effects as well. The cutscenes are photographed in a very similar way and the journey plays out the same. You are Cutter Slade, a former US Navy SEAL who’s put in charge of an escort operation. While making otherworldly studies, a group of scientists accidentally caused a black hole to form inside Earth’s atmosphere and in order to fix it, they have to traverse into a parallel planet to locate a defective probe. After stepping into the machine responsible for taking them to the world of Adelpha, Slade wakes up in a small village inhabited by the alien race known as “talan.” They call him “Ulukai” and claim that, in order to help him save his world, he must first help them save Adelpha from the tyrant Fae Rhan.
Outcast: Second Contact can be difficult to follow if you’re not paying attention. The introduction cutscene lays out the background and introduces the major characters. Although the lifeless storyboard-like animation does a poor job at setting the game’s tone (and honestly, is lazily executed even with a low budget), its voice acting taken straight from Outcast 1.1 help characterize the cast. While in paper Slade may seem like yet another Generic Joe video game man, in practice his personality makes going through the game all the more enjoyable. We could argue how good a person he is, but as a character, he’s undeniably great—especially if we consider the title was first released in 1999, a time when developers didn’t really have to put any effort into soldier-like male protagonists. Though the vast majority of the talan have the same voice actor, their lines are never boring due to Slade’s dry sense of humor and the aliens’ ingenuity. Interacting with them is almost always amusing whether it’s for the actual dialogue and how funny their muffled voices sound or their perpetually clueless expressions.
As far as presentation goes, however, Outcast: Second Contact is a mixed bag. It’s important to note that what makes the purchase so appealing are the graphics. The overhaul may not only please previous Outcast fans but also draw newer ones into the mix. The designs are well realized (besides the intro cutscene, which as mentioned, is underwhelming) and although the graphics look like they’ve been developed five to ten years ago, they are sharp and pleasing to the eye. The most noticeable issue from the get go is that Second Contact sounds awful for today’s standards. My guess is that the developers used the audio files from Outcast 1.1 (an “HD” re-release with improvements that make the game run on modern hardware), which already sounded off back when that version was released. The voices are always muffled, with the issue being quite obvious whenever Slade is talking. The quality fits the alien race of Adelpha, but everyone else sounds like they recorded their lines with a tape recorder at their mum’s garage.
One of the first things that most players will notice about Outcast is its soundtrack. Composed by Lennie Moore and performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, the score is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric things in video game history. It perfectly captures the essence of 90’s sci-fi with its drama and manages to impart the atmosphere of Adelpha. For instance, the area of Okasankaar, a sort of flooded mountain range, invokes the feeling of high fantasy swamps. The area’s theme track embraces that with a somber tone that fits the village of Cyana and the eerie skybox like a glove. As fine as the music sounds, it too suffers from the quality issue the other audio files have. Low notes are pleasing enough while higher notes show the game’s age and since the score relies heavily on drama and effect, it’s best to play with your volume turned down. (As a side note, there are absolutely no audio options in the settings menu.)
On the surface, Outcast: Second Contact seems perfect for younger audiences but in reality, it’s quite important to dive in fully aware that the game is almost two decades old. The animations look fine for a low budget attempt at reviving a cult classic, but the mechanics are as bad as you’d expect of a game from before the turn of the century. It’s not impossible to get used to Slade’s clunky movement or his inability to cling to reachable ledges and in fact, the dated feel can be amusing at times. Yet, the younger audiences Second Contact is trying to pull in might find everything atrocious since this is more akin to Resident Evil HD Remaster than it is to Samus Returns, except it doesn’t have as many enhancement options as Capcom’s re-release.
For what it offers, Outcast: Second Contact might be a little overpriced. Yes, the developers couldn’t make all the money they needed from Kickstarter, which puts them in a difficult situation going forward. However, a little over $30 for a remake that does little to enhance the original game is a bit much. It can be a worthy purchase if you’re willing to overlook Outcast’s age and immerse in this fun open-world adventure—mostly because the updated graphics make a huge difference. But if you don’t care at all about graphics and want a lot more achievements, Outcast 1.1 costs about $6.00 on Steam.
As a Brazilian, I can’t finish this review without bringing up regional prices. While Outcast: Second Contact seems to cost a bit too much even for Americans, it’s even more of a trap in selected countries such as Brazil, Russia, Chile, and even China. Taking my local storefront as a reference, Second Contact is priced at R$124 (full price rounded up) while 1.1 is only R$12 (full price rounded up). New AAA releases over here tend to cost between R$130 and R$230, so it’s an absurd that an 18-year-old game should cost anything close to that even with updated graphics. Fans might find value in the price and the fact that they’re helping out the developers with funds for a potential sequel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the title doesn’t sell well enough (in the US or otherwise) due to its absurdly high cost.
In the end, Outcast: Second Contact does what it set out to do: to introduce the cult classic to younger audiences whilst giving older fans a prettier version. The graphics make a huge difference, but one has to ask if they should charge $30+ for an 18-year-old game—and this is more important in countries where the price is deliberately higher. Its mechanics received little to no improvement but on the other hand, this re-release is the best way to experience one of the unspoken influences of modern open-world games.
- A prettier version of a cult classic
- Open-world aspects that inspired modern conventions within the sub-genre
- Gorgeous soundtrack
- A macho man protagonist with a personality
- Engaging world and story
- Does little to address the dated mechanics
- Low-quality audio
- Underwhelming options menu
- Overpriced if you consider it's an 18-year-old game with last-gen graphics