With the dark silhouette world, acrobatic leaps, unlockable abilities and a vast map to explore, you’ll be forgiven for thinking Outland is a combination of Limbo, Prince of Persia and Metroid, with no originality. On one hand you wouldn’t be wrong, but on the other, there’s a poetic design lurking in the shadows of Outcast that carves out a wonderful puzzle platforming experience that takes the benefits of all the aforementioned titles and makes their strengths it own. It’s not the most original and on the surface it lacks personality, but underneath it’s a technical masterpiece.
Outland delivers a poetic narrative about the balance between light and dark, natural harmony and gods and goddesses. It’s purely a driving force to give you the excuse to leap around the huge environment, fight beasts and solve simple platforming puzzles – and that’s exactly what you do. Traversing the environment requires certain abilities to overcome the obstacles, which are unlocked gradually as you explore the dark yet beautiful world. A bright glow pulsates through the silhouette backdrop of vegetation, ancient industry and caves, creating just enough character to each area to make them unique, whilst the power of light and dark – or, as they’re depicted, blue and red – hinder your progress with energy and creatures for you to overcome.
It starts off as a simple platforming title but soon shifts to puzzle platforming once you gain the blue and red powers. You can change your alignment to either at will allowing you to, for example; absorb the waves and bullets of blue energy whilst being able to damage the red energy creatures in combat whilst aligned with blue, and vice versa for red. This is where the design shines. Puzzles are simple but require swift actions and a keen eye as you shift alignments to overcome interlaces waves of red and blue energy as well as a whole host of other obstacles. And it gets more involved the further you progress with platforms only materialising when you’re aligned to the correct energy, forcing you to juggle between them as you jump from one aligned platform to another with a different alignment. It’s just taxing enough to give you pause to think but seldom becomes frustrating.
The many creature of the world also have their energy alignments, as do several of the bosses. It’ a matter of wielding their opposite, learning their attack patterns and hacking them to pieces but this simple task is complicated by the puzzles and enemies placement. Such examples include red enemies lying in wait beyond red energy barriers, or spikes and walls that only disappear and manifest respectively when you’re aligned with blue whilst blue creature attack you. You’re challenged to juggle the multiple threats against progress and it’s wonderfully engaging.
That’s Outland’s main strength; creating an engaging puzzle platformer that generates personality purely from its mechanics and level design. You’ll be tempted back to overcome that section you struggled with or to explore the world further, or just to the see the next boss fight. There’s beauty in the shadows that draws you in. Additionally, online coop and challenges will tempt you and friend to return and share in the splendour.
Outland’s story is shallow, although the poetic narration that breaks up the platforming is well told, and the Metroid, Limbo, Prince of Persia influence is obvious, but Outland’s excellent design warrants your attention and will consume your time.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: XBLA/PSN Release Date: 27/04/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a digital copy of Outland for review purposes by the publisher. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.