While almost completely unoriginal in premise, the squad-based Outwars is a surprisingly good jump into science fiction. After a mysterious alien force destroys the base you’re stationed at, you’re chosen to train for admittance into the Marine Jump Corps, a hard-as-nails group of armored space combatants who use jetpacks for personal airborne assaults. After training you head into the reaches of space to take it to the spidery aliens themselves in environments both odd and mundane, encountering many plot twists and poorly-acted video clips along the way.
Outwars is well-paced, with a just-one-more-mission quality and enough warped innovation in its level design to keep things interesting. You have to rescue teammates, protect damaged dropships (you begin and end most missions by jumping out of or getting picked up by them, like in MechWarrior 2) and infiltrate eerie alien bases. To this end you’re usually in charge of a group of two or three other marines whom you command with a series of simple keypresses; the interface as a whole, in fact, is excellent. The widely-varying weapon and armor configurations can be altered with availability before the start of every mission.
Gamers thinking of X-COM or Jagged Alliance will be disappointed, however. While you can alter the roster for every mission, your “wingmen” don’t vary in terms of abilities or behavior in the fieldâ€”the only notable difference between them is their in-mission speech. Ordering your team to their demise results in no penalty, while the online encyclopedia of weapons and personnel doesn’t register minor changes (like, oh, death) to their service record. While squad mates are reasonably effective, they’ve also apparently been accorded unlimited ammo and jetpack fuel to keep them from falling to their deaths or ending up helpless.
Enemy AI, incidentally, is also glitchyâ€”aliens try to run away when badly wounded but also sometimes fail to register the player’s presence (even after you’ve announced yourself with a couple of fragmentation grenades). They also have limited detection rangeâ€”open fire on one standing a couple hundred yards away, and they’ll sometimes just stand there dumbly and let themselves be killed.
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Far more serious problems are the lack of an in-mission save feature and a troubled graphics engine. Some of the missions are quite long and quite difficult, and the inability to save-in-progress means several frustrating tries to figure out the proper sequence of events needed for completion. Also, replaying a mission for the fifth time and knowing exactly when and where every scripted attack will occur kills the suspension of disbelief.
A variety of features like Capture the Flag, Assassin (where you can only kill one other player) and teamplay deathmatches make Outwars an attractive multiplayer game as well. Again, the jetpacks and intricate levels make for some impressive carnage. But ultimately, Outwars fails to develop its potential well enough to push it beyond action-game competence. While a fun shoot-em-up with some interesting twists, Terra Nova it’s not.
System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win98
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