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Review by: Jordan Thomas
Published: April 19, 1998
“So, you all decided to join the corps. Hell, considering those podunk little towns you came from, I don’t blame you. That’s my way of saying welcome to the team! Now get your butts in gear! Snap to attention! That’s right.
“Well! You’re the most slovenly bunch of recruits I’ve seen in a while. You think you’re ready for this? You’re going to be walking around in an 800-pound metal business suit with the attitude and fortitude of the average tank. You’ve access to an arsenal that many small countries would be envious of, and years of training will harden you, or you’ll die in the process. I’ll transform you into versatile killing machines, and I’ll be damned if any of my regiment is going down easy.
“About a week ago, I received transfer orders to an off-route base on Mikhal’s World. You’ve all been invited to test for the Dreadnaughts, the elite group of marines who are presently being pitted against the Hydran armies. Your psychological profiles matched up, so they’re pretty sure you won’t soil your shorts when you go face to face with the Skulls. The Dreadnaughts utilize experimental armor, fitted with jumpjets for the ultimate advantage of motion. They are the elite — make no mistake. Looking at you now, I’m not so sure you’re up to it. Hell, I wonder if you’d even stick to it if you stayed here under Jackson! That’s all right though…some of you doughboys make the best marines, once you’ve been nicely baked under fire.”
– Captain Matthew Broheim, addressing the prospective Dreadnaught recruits from Regiment 1134
Welcome to the Outwars, possibly the most grim struggle humankind will ever face. The setting is a dark one indeed. The human race has long since colonized the solar system and far beyond. Hyperlight technology has given us vastly unprecedented explorative potential. But then, in 2283, everything went to hell. The little LED dots of about seventeen separate colonies just went dead black on the Population Board at command HQ. The last remote transmissions were of a few scattered colonists being grotesquely eviscerated by streaks of motion. The final signal the comm department noted was of a hideous insectoid visage scowling at the camera, then static.
Microsoft’s Outwars is a truly gripping experience. I say this not as merely a cliché space filler, but an honest declaration about a work of creativity that gives you, the player, a sense of something epic. You take on the role of a hardcore astro marine, about to enter the most refined ranks of the human defenses. You will move from training and acceptance into the Dreadnaught corps, to intense, desperate combat against the Hydran forces, on the grandest scale I’ve ever seen in an action title.
Multiple camera angles let you take on different views of your marine and his or her swarming foes, an interface element which gives this title a real edge in many ways. You’re able to move from first-person for sniping and delicate landing procedures all the way to a zoomed-out helicopter camera that gives you an all-encompassing sweep of the battlefield, while your miniature soldier hustles across the astral plain. The level design is simply brilliant, not due to twisting corridors or devious traps per se, but more as a result of the simple feel of open air that you are granted. Outwars is composed of brutal, war-like combat across very expansive environments. Using the innovative and quite authentic jump-jet physics, you can lift yourself far above the terrain below, and engage in savage dogfighting with some of the flying Skulls. And all the delicate environments are presented in crisp Direct3D splendor, which lends that final element of realism so necessary to impart flesh upon such outlandish surroundings.
The single player campaign takes you from an aborted training mission, wherein you are attacked mid-sequence by the actual enemy itself, to the thick of combat on three very distinctly separate worlds. You face the full brunt of the Hydran armies, a hive-minded race of vicious exoskeletal creatures which crawl, fly, swarm, and kill without pause. The enemies themselves are quite diverse and convincing; I found them to be extremely engaging, especially in large numbers. They range from normal scurrying scouts and soldiers to rolling potato bugs from hell and huge, Alien-esque royal guards.
There are two areas in which I felt the opponents could be improved. First, they appear to be 3D animated sprites…as if they were rendered and animated polygonally and then mapped to sprites so that more of them could be featured at once. The effect of the massive legions closing in on you is absolutely vital to the game, but the sacrifice makes the edges of the bugs appear slightly pixelated, even in Direct3D. The other variation that would have complemented insectoid creatures is their speed — many of the creatures sort of trudge toward you. This is fine, but have you ever seen an ant move at a slow pace, even given the scaling difference? That was part of the terror of Aliens and Starship Troopers — the bloody things move faster than your eyes do. Not that the creatures in Outwars are sluggish, I just would have preferred a few of them that could outrun you.
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