FBT did not know Lucasarts did a western shooter. And has the rootinest, tootinest, yeehaw, honkey tonk time.
I love a good western shooter – Call of Juarez, Gun … Dead Man’s Hand … erm ... Sod consoles and their Red Dead Redemptions. But Outlaws I completely missed at the time. Even when I saw it in a GoG sale I mistook it for an adventure game. Then I spotted a revolver - a western shooter created by Lucasarts on the Dark Forces engine with the same cartoon-style as Broken Sword? How did I miss this first time around?
A retired U.S. Marshal refuses to sell his land to a railroad baron. The Baron’s psycho enforcer, Dr Death (like he was going to take no for an answer) tries to reason with the Marshal’s wife but things … escalate. Death takes the Marshal’s daughter hostage in the hopes that’ll ensure the Marshal doesn’t come after them, and signs over the land. Naturally, the Marshal comes after them and doesn’t sign over the land.
Oulaws is everything you’d expect from a 90s shooter - it might even have looked dated back then, a Doom-game in a Quake-world; we’re dealing with sprites that just march towards you in flat photo-capture levels reminding you of Rise of the Triad, yet Outlaws feels ahead of its time, a mix of classic Lucasarts adventure and Doom era shoot-em-ups.
Set in frontier towns and farms, you’re bolting in and out of shops, banks and stables, finding secrets and taking out varmits at every turn. There’s nice interactivity, we’re triggering things, the outlaws are always shouting which makes the fights seem lively and shooting one who’s on a roof triggers a great, if over-dramatic head-over-heels fall (all that’s missing is a Wilhelm scream) and it feels open. When it does go linear, such as a level set on a train, it’s like an old-school rail shooter with villains popping up. One level has us fighting through Badlands to track a rogue Indian, the one sympathetic villain, and the final showdown at a stronghold really is great OK Corral stuff.
It’s also a lot more dependant on stealth, or at least tactical approaches – you never sneaked about in Quake or had much of a plan except shoot but in Outlaws you can, thanks to the layouts; avoid certain areas, sneak around, under or over the bad guys. There’s a subtle ‘how do I do this’ feel to Outlaws that you didn’t usually get back then. Playing now it’s no big thing, but it’s really refreshing to play a game from that era that lets you get the jump on the bad-guys; Oulaws had the jump on where shooters were going to go.
The Marshall is equipped with classic western (and FPS) weaponry – a revolver, rifles, a shotgun and dynamite. We also have a lantern the marshal holds up for light which must have been amazing back then, and we have to find oil to keep it lit. The lantern is one of several in-game elements that make you realise you’re playing way more than a Doom-clone; there’s even a few logic puzzles – one requiring an understanding of wind shear and lift; who knew Marshals were amateur aerodynamics fans?
Each mission sees the Marshal hunt down a Villain hoping to find out where the railroad boss is hiding out. It’s interesting that rather than 10 or so missions that lead to an episode’s mini-boss before restarting a new episode like most games of the era, this has one extended area we clear out before taking down the baddie, who via a lovely Don Bluth style cut-scene, reveals the next location we shot our way through. It gives Outlaws a real story driven edge and you get into it.
That immersion extends to the characters; in the cut-scenes we see Dr Death creepily excited at the mayhem he’s caused, the Rail boss nervous about the Marshal’s approach while Marshal himself is a great character; nowadays we’d say he’s John Wick-like, a man who turned his back on what he did best, and is back doing it better than ever but really he’s a classic Clint character; we are Pale Rider. He’s silent during the game and growling little more than ‘where’s my daughter’ in the cutscenes but the bravado of the bad guys and the way it turns to fear when he has them cornered works really well. You get that they regret messing with him.
By the time Marshal and the Rail Road boss face off I’m completely caught up in it, yelling for my daughter. A lot of that investment comes from the beautiful animated cut-scenes which evoke classic westerns – it might not be the most original story but it draws you in and the final shot of the sunset is well worth it.
This is doing everything it can to make you the man with no name (Marshal has a name but it’s cooler to just call him the Marshal). While there are some western tropes missing like quick-draw, we’re always accompanied by our trusty horse and a lovely Ennio Morricone style score, and the cinematics, art design and levels put us as close to being in a Sergio Leone movie as we’ll get. And, it’s a good shooter; the baddies aren’t easy, they’re varied if basic and you need to keep your wits about you. Cowboys are sneaky.
There’s a little Add-On as well, A Handful of Missions, where the Marshal hunts some dastardly villains in self-contained, point-scoring levels as Marshal rises up the lawgiver ranks. While they feel like missions cut from the main game they’re fun and if you manage to get a villain alive not dead they hang out in the Marshal’s office cells.
Although it’s a serious game there’s some fun and Lucasarts in-jokes; picking up armour triggers a Star Wars blaster sound, I spotted an Indy ref and Sam & Max are likely knocking about somewhere.
Very little could stand in Quake’s way, and the key thing about Quake, besides it’s 3D world, was the relentless march into deadly situations. This is much slower, as much a story and environment driven experience as a shooter. Maybe that’s why it passed me by; back then I’d rather be playing shooters inspired by Evil Dead, The Thing or Aliens, which is where id and the others were coming from. But nowadays I’d kill for another Lucasarts game instead of the guff id churn out those days. And I just found one. Outlaws is great.
1997 | Developer/Publisher Lucasarts
Platforms; Win (Steam/GOG.com)