game   The meanest first person shooter on the range.    

The location: a small dusty town somewhere in the Old West. The situation: a gang of desperado's, rough-riders and varmints all want to plant you six feet under. The game: Lucasart's Outlaws.

a man walks into a bar... Outlaws takes most of it's considerable inspiration from Sergio Leone's "spaghetti" westerns, namely "A Fistful of Dollars," "A Few Dollars More," "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," all starring Clint Eastwood, and "Once Upon a Time in the West" with Charles Bronson. In these movies life is hard, fast, cheap, dirty and guided by an inspiring Ennio Morricone musical score. This is all carried into the video game, which features, among many other little touches that really bring the game to life, a wonderful original Morricone-inspired score and three difficulty levels : Good, Bad, and Ugly.

Yeah, I've played Doom, Duke Nukem, Quake and Jedi Knight.
None of them have what Outlaws has, that little something that keeps me coming back again and again and that makes each new game session seem fresh and unique. Yeah, Outlaws has an old, ugly game engine based on the venerable Dark Forces model. Sure, it runs kinda slow even on a fast computer unless you set the resolution down to superchunky 320x200 (or have a 3dfx card because it doesn't support Direct 3D, arrgh). But you know what? That doesn't matter, because the game is fun. Fun. How about that? Can't quantify that in "Frames per Second" or "Dynamic Lightsources." It's a feeling. If you've read this far you probably know what I'm talking about.

You MUST have quick reflexes to survive; grabbing a big shotgun and hiding in a corner will get you killed before you know what has happened.

Part of it must come from nostalgia. Dusty towns, six shooters and saloons. What a setting. Misfired shots kick up little clouds of dirt in the road and leave holes in the wall. Cowboys and indians scrap it out. Bullets whiz right and left, shattering windows and bottles, rebounding with that perfect "KAPWING" off of spittoons and metal skillets. A gunfight between three or more people sounds like the thunder at the end of the world (a good subwoofer does wonders).

The game has features no other shooter has managed to incorporate successfully. For one, there are six different characters to pick from in multiplayer, each with unique strengths and weaknesses. The differences in the characters add a tremendous replayability to multiplayer. Think you've mastered the game? Try using this other character who sacrifices your character's endurance for speed. Think you kick ass with your sawed-off shotgun? Watch out because that marksman on the roof's got a bead on you with his Winchester. After playing Outlaws I find it almost impossible to get excited playing a multiplayer shooter where every person has exactly the same character abilities.

Second and third, you have to reload and you get tired if you run too far. This gives the game a unique rhythm. Spooky silences come between frenetic shootouts, stillnesses where if you listen carefully you may catch the sound of your opponent slipping two more shells into his shotgun as he circles around behind you while you curse your heavy, ragged breathing that may give away YOUR position.

Three different kinds of shotgun!
Fourth, the realistically handled weapons all carry distinct advantages and disadvantages. The game carefully models differences in range, damage, spread, accuracy, firing and reloading speed. For instance, in the hands of an experienced player a single barrel shotgun becomes considerably more effective than a double barreled shotgun in a prolonged gun-duel due to its faster reload rate. Additionally, different characters have advantages with different weapons. Think no pistol can stand up to your shotgun? Then how did that little guy just pump you fulla lead with his 'lil six-shooter?

Finally, I should mention that the game has the most responsive keyboard controls of any 3D shooter I've played. A fight between two veteran players is a battle between two lightning bolts punctuated with rapid-fire thunderclaps. You MUST have quick reflexes to survive; grabbing a big shotgun and hiding in a corner will get you killed before you know what has happened.

But th' thing that really puts Outlaws over th' top has got ta be th' multiplayer method it uses. In most multiplayer first-person-shooters, YOUR computer checks ta see if someone hit you. This seems pretty straightforward. BUT if there's lag in th' game, and in most internet games there is at least a little lag, this starts ta cause problems. The good part of this method is that if it looks like someone hit you on your screen then your computer will treat that as a hit. Thus you can always try to dodge attacks.

Fighting lag with marksmanship.
The bad part comes from the attacker's point of view. Because your computer will be the one checking for damage, whether or not you get hit depends on what information gets through to your computer from the attacker. All well and good. But for the attacker, any lag in the equation will make his target very hard to hit, because they are not necessarily where they appear to be on his screen! Example: say he has a bead on you, but you move. Before the packet telling his computer that you moved gets through, he fires at where he thinks you are. That firing packet travels to your computer which checks to see if in fact you are in the path of his weapon. But you've moved by this time, so you're in the clear. Even though it looked to your attacker like you were right in his crosshairs when he pulled the trigger, you escape without a scratch.

This means that, in these other first-person-shooters, marksmanship goes out the window in multiplayer internet games. Attackers have to hose down an area with weapons in the hopes of scoring a hit.

Fortunately, the nature of the weapons in Outlaws allowed the designers to implement a different multiplayer method. Because the guns in Outlaws imitate traditional firearms where you can't see the path of the bullet in flight, the designers didn't have to worry about the defender being able to dodge visible weapon fire. So instead of the defender's computer checking for hits, the ATTACKER's computer does the hit checking. This means that whatever you can see on your screen, you can shoot. The hit may take a while to get through to your victim and register as a hit, but it WILL get there if you had them dead to rights on your screen.

Games like Quake and Jedi Knight HAVE to use the first method discussed because their weapons manifest themselves visibly. Lasers shoot visible beams, missles cruise along, and so forth. If they had used Outlaws' method, shots that appeared to the victim to miss them might later register as hits which would be extremely frustrating. But in Outlaws since, as would be the case in real life, you don't see the attacking bullet, you won't have that problem. In cases of extreme lag you may appear to get shot by someone who has left the room or even died already, but the fact is they did indeed shoot you. Outlaws' method rewards marksmanship, making it, in my opinion, the best multiplayer first-person-shooter out there.

Of course, knives and sticks of dynamite DO manifest their attacks visually. So a knifer that appears to stand 30 feet away or an explosion from a stick of dynamite 50 feet away may, in very lagged games, end up killing you. This is why they are generally known as "lagger weapons." Mebbe that's why I like 'em so much. ;)

Yeah, I like this game. I like it a lot. If yer tired of yer shiny new game with the cutting-edge game engine and repetitive gameplay, pick up a copy of Outlaws and come join in the fun. I'll be around here for a while.


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 game   The meanest first person shooter on the range.