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By J.L. Kohli
10.10.01


he more games I play, especially first-person-shooters, I get sick of the same old plot used ad' nauseum that involves aliens versus humans. Doom (kinda) has it, Quake has it, Quake 2 has it, Half Life has it (yet they did it very well). Does any game developer out there have a mind capable of stepping out of the alien versus human genre and creating a believable plot? Fortunately, the guys at Lucas Arts do, and fortunately for us they gave us Outlaws.

To me, Outlaws isn't "just another first person shooter". I think it's a breakthrough in the often repeated invasion-of-the-aliens story line. In Outlaws, you play the role as retired Marshal James Anderson. Some crooks decided to check out your ranch while you're away doing errands for your wife, and they eventually attack your wife whilst kidnapping your daughter as your ranch burns to the ground. Upon arriving back home, you see the flames and your eyes widen. Your wife's last words - "they've taken Sarah... I love you", foreshadow your mission. Now you must safely retrieve your daughter, avenge your wife's death, and deliver justice with a bullet or two.

The graphics aren't the best. The engine is similar to Duke Nukem's BUILD engine. It's kind of 3D, but not entirely. You cannot look completely straight up or down. Characters and most items are simply sprites that pixelate right before your eyes when too close to you. This is a small complaint, because the gameplay makes up for the outdated INSANE® (Dark Forces) engine. The sound is well done - from the taunts heard throughout your missions, to the chickens clucking when you shoot them. The soundtrack is very well done, but I guess that's expected from a team under the George Lucas name - creator of Star Wars - which had an excellent music score.

The levels are tied together with hand drawn animated cut scenes. These are pretty well done, as they make the story much more believable, drawing from emotions. Level progression is pretty much "find the key, kill the boss" with a few switches or puzzles thrown in sometimes. Though many players may disagree with this, what livens the progression is simply the abounding gameplay. You have nine weapons to choose from (sometimes not all at once), and however you want to use them is up to you. You can enter a room and go all out, or take your time and dispense enemies one by one.

Your weapons vary from three types of shotguns, a knife, dynamite, a .45 pistol and more (I don't want to ruin any surprises for you if you've never played the game). Each weapon has its advantages and disadvantages. The shotguns are powerful, but they cannot reach longer distances. A really cool (and often seen nowadays) feature is that each weapon has an alternate or more powerful firing mode. Another rewarding feature is the rifle scope. Using this, you can snipe your enemy, which is alot of fun - at least for me. A great thing about Outlaws is that it has a few really nice features unseen in other first-person-shooters at the time. For example, you have to re-load your weapon. When you're in a battle, the last thing you want to hear from your pistol is a "click". Make sure you re-load!

Other very admirable features of the game include playing Historical Missions. In version 2.0 of Outlaws, these missions include a Civil War level, a New Orleans Wharf Town, a Spanish Villa, and others. These missions allow you to set aside the main game and branch out a bit. What's really fun is if you choose Marshal Training, you can go Bounty Hunting! You choose a criminal by shooting at their poster. Once the level loads, your mission is to pick up gold and get a big score by wiping out the opposition. You get more points if you knock them out using your fist or knife. So once you pass all these bounty hunting missions, you can try to beat your original score.

Apparently, Outlaws is the first Lucas Arts game to feature multiplayer capabilities. You can play on a Local Area Network (LAN), over the internet, via NULL modem cable (serial), or modem to modem. Site such as Microsoft's Gaming Zone (http://zone.msn.com) allow you to play for free. The different game variations available are Capture the Flag, Kill the Fool With the Chicken, Cooperative, or Deathmatch. Kill the Fool With the Chicken goes like this: a player finds the chicken. He may shoot anyone he wants to, and he will glow so that the players know he has the chicken. The goal for the other players is to, well, kill the fool with the chicken. They cannot kill anyone else.

Lucas Arts has put a variety of features that will keep you coming back... but not for too long. The replayability isn't real high, but you can alter that by downloading a level editor and designing your own western hideouts and towns, if you have the patience. Overall, the game is great. I consider it a classic, a breakthrough. I'm surprised nothing has followed in it's footsteps. Perhaps Lucas Arts will consider a sequel using a true 3D graphics engine. If not, that's ok with me. I like it enough already.

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