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Bringing in a new generation with Outcast; Flemming Emil Hansen reviews an all-new PC game that breaks the mould.

Role play, action, adventure or strategy? Hard to tell. Outcast, the new PC game from French giant Infogrames, is quite impossible to put a label on.

One label that has been used is the first in a new generation of computer games.

You take an overwhelming task - say, save the world and overthrow an evil dictator on an alien planet - add artificial intelligence and make the success of the quest dependent on the attitude and communications skills of the player.

Mix that with a good deal of action and set it in a visually stunning virtual environment - and you have Outcast.

It has been four years in the making, and on June 25 it finally hits the shops, offering a brand new gaming experience, using a wide range of technology and features never before explored to this extent and some never seen prior to this release.

The story is set in the year 2007. The US government sends a probe through a portal to a parallel universe, where it encounters an intelligent alien life form, damaging the probe so it gets stuck. In the course of which, an energy backlash opens up a black hole, threatening to suck in the Earth!

Captain Cutter Slade, Navy Seals, is sent through the portal with a team of scientists to clean up the mess and close the black hole, thus saving the world. In the parallel dimension, Cutter is asked by an alien tribe of peace-loving thinkers and farmers to help free them from the oppression of a cruel dictator.

Cutter now has the fate of an alien tribe as well as that of planet Earth resting on his shoulders!

Even though the story isn't very original - suspiciously similar to that of Stargate, the Hollywood film starring James Spader and Kurt Russell - and though the plot may be found a bit daft from time to time, it still is, for a PC game, extremely elaborate and well thought through.

It is laid out in a lavish 15 minutes intro using every trick in the book and then some, with interesting story telling and strong characters. It does get a bit too long though - the average attention span will only take you about two thirds through.

The game, once under way, seems to have immense proportions. You really get a feel of being in a parallel on-screen universe, not a limited game play with preset options and interaction patterns. This is mainly down to two aspects of the game. Firstly, Appeal, the producer of the game, has exchanged the pixels graphics with a new technology -voxels. Voxels gives more depth to the game environment and a more natural 3D feeling which accompanies the ambitious outdoor imagery brilliantly.

The downside of the use of voxels is that close-up shots become somewhat grained and clumsy compared to the best pixel graphics.

Secondly, the game simply has immense proportions. And when you subtract all the new high-tech details and take a look at what it comes down to in the end, it is the sheer scale of the story that stands out - after a while it simply sucks you in.

Moving freely in a virtual world of that magnitude, and with a quest of that magnitude and complexity leaves you feeling that this is something you have to see through, may it take days or weeks.

Also impressive is the original soundtrack by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra - the first time an original music soundtrack appears on a computer game and the first time classical music appears in a computer game.

Lara Croft has hit the shelves again with a third safe bet blockbuster edition of Tomb Raider, but that might very well be the last we hear of her and her contemporaries when the new generation moves in.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 13, 1999
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