Outcast: A New Beginning Review – Stranger in a Strange Land

Outcast: A New Beginning Review

Let’s start with a bit of video game history. The original Outcast was released in 1999. It was an action adventure game and featured one of the first freely explorable open worlds. For that element alone, it garnered a lot of respect and a cult status that continues to this day. Side note: the game’s amazing musical score was one of the first to be recorded by an orchestra, and released as a stand-alone album. Outcast was followed by a muddy string of remasters, abandoned sequels and re-releases. Now we have Outcast: A New Beginning, which is a reboot, sequel and update all in one. It’s largely a product of the original creative team as well.

It’s tempting to see Outcast: A New Beginning as a soup put together with ingredients from other action adventure games. There’s a wisecracking unwilling hero like Nathan Drake, a clash of exotic cultures that recalls Horizon: Zero Dawn, and an energy shield seemingly borrowed from Halo. Add in a wingsuit and climbable towers, and Outcast starts to sound unoriginal. Then you realize that a lot of these elements were in the 1999 game. Suddenly, everything that came after feels derivative.

Tale as Old as Time (or 1999 at least)

Outcast: A New Beginning pulls its fish-out-of-water/unlikely hero narrative from the classics. Cutter Slade is an ex-Navy Seal who finds himself transported (again) to Adelpha, a verdant planet in another dimension. It turns out that Slade has been abducted by Adelpha’s Yods (i.e. gods) to help save the Talans from human-controlled robot invaders. While the Talans are a generally peaceful race, they do have inter-tribal conflicts and alliances. Cutter’s task is to bring the tribes together and find a MacGuffin that will defeat the invaders and, most importantly, return him to his own time and family.

A lot of A New Beginning’s lore and history are reprised from the original game. There’s a bit more touchy-feely, save-the-planet from ecological extinction this time around. The Talans are a race with complex cultural and sacred traditions. The game does a remarkable job of making the Talans feel authentic, consistent and interesting. In large part, this comes through via the script and voice acting. Many AA games skimp in this area. A New Beginning features a lot of voiced dialogue, and most of it is very well done.

Outcast: A New Beginning is full of Talan jargon. The game does something very smart. An optional pop-up glossary highlights words and phrases during dialogue. It’s an obtrusive way of explaining what can feel at times like a stream of arbitrary terms.

A Pretty, Open World

Once past the tutorial missions, the world of Adelpha becomes Slade’s playground. In addition to freely exploring and collecting resources, Slade takes on main and side missions for the tribal leaders and others. The missions are garden variety open world tasks: collect this, deliver that. Slade takes on some combat-focused missions, too, as he liberates some important military installations. While out exploring, Slade encounters a range of flora and fauna, and not all of it is benign.

Some of the side missions are pretty unrewarding. Early on, Slade has to visit and reopen a series of temples. Doing so means following a time-restricted path of light…right back to the start. Thanks to some imprecise movement — we’ll get to that later — these can be annoying and without any real, tangible point. While the locations and characters are often very interesting, the missions taking Slade there often aren’t.

The quest and map system is not the most cogent I’ve seen. I sometimes found myself confused by where the main story was directing me. And A New Beginning is one of those games that doesn’t move on until you’ve exhausted all the dialogue options. Meaning, it isn’t optional at all. All the negatives aside, the overarching narrative is an engaging one. I wanted to learn about the Talan and some very interesting characters.

Flail State

Movement and combat are the two areas where Outcast: A New Beginning can’t conceal the constraints of its budget. Slade has a limited arsenal of weapons but a large number of modules that he can add to them, turning a rifle into a machine gun, for example. The problem is that the gun-based combat never felt rewarding, precise or fun. The lack of a lock-on mechanic and some floaty aiming made hitting a target — at any distance — literally hit and miss. Melee combat didn’t fare much better, but at least there was a bit more impact.

Likewise, Slade’s contact with the world felt floaty, janky and a bit disconnected. Whether using his jetpack for sprinting and dodging or just running through the world, movement animations always felt a few frames away from smooth, and quite hard to control with precision. It was far too easy to slide off of branches or jetpack into the geometry. A New Beginning isn’t as combat-heavy as some action adventures, but I wish it had been something to look forward to when it came.

Pretty Pictures

Sometimes a game’s art direction does a lot of heavy lifting. This is true for Outcast: A New Beginning, where a clear, consistent and detailed vision for Adelpha takes the place of bleeding-edge graphics. That said, the game’s environments, lighting, character designs and enemies are generally good. I never felt like a design motif or object was out of place. The plants and animals fit into a well-designed ecology. The human military outposts were interchangeably generic, but I guess that was the point.

Composer Lennie Moore scored the original Outcast, and he returns for A New Beginning with a rich, varied and near-constant musical background to the game. Overall, environmental sound design is good, if not remarkable. As noted already, the game’s voice acting is much better than I expected.

On my now modest PC, there were a few framerate dips and some collision detection issues but no outright crashes. Framerate at 4K remained a pretty steady 30fps.

A Throwback in Many Ways

There are lots of ways in which Outcast: A New Beginning punches way, way up. The world is elaborate and thoroughly imagined. Characters are interesting. Some of the game’s mechanics and elements will seem familiar, but in this case Outcast: A New Beginning can claim it was there first. Unrewarding combat and some bland mission design aside, Outcast: A New Beginning reminds me of many AA games that I loved despite their flaws.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***


The Good

  • Richly imagined world and lore
  • Engaging narrative and characters
  • Interesting exploration

The Bad

  • Imprecise combat
  • Floaty movement
  • Some pointless missions