Outlaws: A Fanfare From A Fanfire Fan

By Tim Stone on August 16th, 2009 at 7:24 pm.

When Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood  swaggers, spurs jangling, into the Rambling Rose saloon, the only western FPS that doesn’t gulp or look up from his cards is Outlaws. A couple of years ago I wrote a little ode to this Colt classic for PC Gamer UK.

The year is 2070. In a room in Badgerlands, a Basingstoke care-home, shrivelled ex-games reviewer Tim Stone sits gazing out of the window at the plastic trees and robot rooks. Ask him what day it is or who’s on the throne, and he hasn’t a clue. Ask him to sketch a plan of Sanctuary – the second level in ancient Wild West shooter Outlaws – however, and his rheumy eyes light up, his withered hands fumble for electropencil and synthipaper.

Sanctuary was the level LucasArts chose for the Outlaws demo and I probably know it better than I know any other FPS level. For much of 1997 I was almost a resident. I scampered through its dusty streets, crept along its alleyways, leapt between its tar-paper roofs, blown away by the freedom and the atmosphere. Oh, and the shotguns.

In contrast to most of its contemporaries, Outlaws didn’t cattle-drive you from kill to kill. On maps like Sanctuary, there were no prescribed paths. If you wanted to begin by hopping over the wall beside the stable and making a dash for the chapel, you could (though you’d probably get grievously perforated in the process). If you preferred to clamber onto the roof of the store and start sniping the goons outside the saloon, that was ticketyboo too.

The open-plan levels were complimented by something I mentally christened ‘Fidget AI’. Put simply, alerted gunslingers were unpredictable gunslingers. Eight out of ten times you could dart around a particular corner and find Blue-Shirted Cowpoke With Winchester Rifle standing in his usual spot. On the other two occasions, he’d be nowhere to be seen. Where was he? If you were unlucky, or unwary, he was standing right behind you squeezing the trigger of his repeater.

Death can come quickly in Outlaws. On the ‘ugly’ difficulty setting (the connoisseur’s choice) a single bullet or blast of buckshot can banish you to Boot Hill. Aware of this, the sensible vengeance-seeking-ex-Marshal soon finds himself creeping around like a cattle thief, taking deep breaths before pushing doors open, and beating hasty retreats when things go prickly pear-shaped. Remember that bit in Pulp Fiction where the bloke charges into the room and empties a Magnum in the direction of Travolta and Jackson, missing with every shot? Outlaws’ sophisticated ballistics actually models freak happenings like that. Unusually for a mainstream shooter, the crosshairs are only the vaguest of guides – slugs and shotgun pellets (all individually tracked) rarely go exactly where intended. A scattergun might be the perfect weapon for train clearing, but use it up in the mountains or outdoors at Bob Graham’s ranch and you’ll have trouble hitting a barn let alone a barn door.

Counterpointing the unexpected realism of the gunslinging are corpse physics that owe much more to Yosemite Sam than Sam Peckinpah. Shotgun blasts regularly kick cowboys clean across streets. Dynamite detonations hurl hapless hostiles over multiple buildings. LucasArts obviously didn’t intend us to take their frontier fantasy too seriously.

The tongue-in-cheek tone really lets rip in the cartoon cutscenes and taunts. You can’t walk ten paces in Spittin’ Sanchez’s ruined fort or Dynamite Dan’s swanky cathouse without some hidden henchman bawling a confidence-corroding jibe: ‘You’re outnumbered.”, “You’ve lost your edge Marshal.”, “Hope you got a coffin picked out.” They want you to get mad… reckless. Naturally, the best put-down’s are reserved for the bosses. “Aw meester, I seen better shooting at the county fair.” still tickles me, as does the priceless “My horse pisses straighter than you shoot.”.

And no celebration of Outlaws would be complete without a mention of Clint Bajakian’s and Mark Christiansen’s stunning contributions. Clint’s Morricone-inspired score is up there with the best game music of all time and Mark’s animated credit sequence – all bold colours and galloping screen-print silhouettes – apes the opening titles in spaghetti Western classics like The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly quite brilliantly.

With so much on offer, how come Outlaws didn’t break the 80% barrier when assayed back in PCG43? I don’t have the review to hand, but suspect the game’s dated duds cost it points. Even by 1997 standards the cowboy sprites are poorly drawn and clumsily animated. The angular Dark Forces 3D engine copes well with building interiors and abandoned gold mines, but butchers rural locales. Mountain passes and canyons look like Death Star trenches.

There’s also the possibility that the reviewer sat down to write with level 5 – the sawmill – still fresh in his mind. Irksome key and switch hunting occurs throughout the game, but this chapter takes things to excruciating levels. If we ever see a sequel, I pray the puzzles are few, and the unscripted Sanctuary-style skirmishes many.

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46 Comments »

  1. zombiehunter says:

    oh my god… this game… outlaws… i wasted sooo many hours to it ^^ loved it!

  2. Oak says:

    Funny, this kept popping into my head last night while playing Juarez. I never did buy the whole game, for whatever reason, but went back to the demo many a time.

    “Where are you, marshal?”

  3. Vandelay says:

    I too have fond memories of the demo for this. For some reason I never picked it up though, perhaps as a result of the mediocre PCG review in fact. Any place you can get hold of this nowadays?

  4. RLacey says:

    Must reinstall this baby.

  5. Seth says:

    Lucasarts need to do some compatibility work and Steam this baby up STAT.

    Last time I tried to get it running there was no way to get the movies to work correctly.

  6. Andy says:

    “Colt classic” lol! thats actually the best pun I’ve ever read.

  7. Cigol says:

    I doubt it’s anywhere near as good as my memory seems to think it was… but the temptation after reading this is too strong… Must, play, outlaws.

  8. RLacey says:

    I can’t install this game because I’m running 64-bit Windows?

    Boo :(.

  9. RLacey says:

    Hehe. But I can play the game if I copy the files off the CD and just run them directly. Yay!

  10. Sajmn says:

    It would be nice if more games featured arena-style maps with a freedom of diffrent approaches. It’s what made Deus Ex great, for instance, and I can easily see how it would make games like Call of Duty way more appealing (this could co-exist with the scripted, set piece parts they love, just fine imo).

  11. Rinox says:

    Best wild-west MP shooter around, to this day. Not that there have been quite as many of those as there were WWII shooters, but y’know. Thanks for the article. :-)

  12. St4ud3 says:

    Ohh, I loved this game. It was probably one of the first FPSs that I played.
    I think I’ll look for the CDs and play the game sometime this week :)

  13. N-Al says:

    Damn you and the horse you rode in on!

  14. Petethegoat says:

    I’ve literally just installed it- and the intro seems to be running at quadruple speed or somesuch. Any tips?

  15. Panzeh says:

    They tried something like that in Medal of Honor Airborne, but it wasn’t well-received.

  16. Lars BR says:

    @Panzeh, That’s because they didn’t know they had a good thing going, and had to throw in machine gun wielding bullet proof super soldiers as well. I hate machine gun wielding bullet proof super soldiers. With a passion.

  17. Optimaximal says:

    I’ve still got it lying around somewhere in my parents house… Mint game, but my copy had a bug or a scratched CD, cos the intro would cut out halfway through. Watched the intro the other day during the build-up to the big LEC announcements and saw the whole thing.

    Just as good as I remember – John DeLancie was perfect for the psycho doctor!

  18. Jonas says:

    Outlaws will always have a special place in my heart. For some reason the main thing I remember about it was how right the reloading felt. That, and the pure brilliance of the fisherman’s wharf and civil war levels, which I think were some of the historical missions.

  19. Chiablo says:

    I freaking loved Outlaws!

    I used to go to my brother’s house and play it online because we didn’t have the internet at home at the time. It was simple deathmatch, but it was fun fun fun.

  20. Paul says:

    THIS GAME MUST COME ON GOG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ok, sorry for that bit of spam.But it is AWESOME and still the best western game ever.THAT SOUNDTRACK! And level design! I so badly want to play it…but sadly I have no idea where to get it and I refuse illegal sources…

  21. Smurfy says:

    The Outlaws demo is one of my earliest and most treasured gaming experiences. I was like five or something when my brother showed it to me, and every time we got a new computer I’d find myself reinstalling it somewhere down the line. I never got bored with that demo, that one level.

    I haven’t even played the full game – only now, with LucasArts hitting Steam, do I feel there’s a chance of that happening. Me and my brother pirated it years ago but it didn’t work, you’d get a few levels in and it would crash.

    My favourite part of that demo was the cheats. You could freeze time, you could fly, you could jetpack, you could do freakin’ anything. I used to love freezing time then laying a huge, huge path of dynamite around the entire level, into every room and under the feet of every enemy, and then unfreezing time and chucking a lit stick onto the end of the line. I can still hear the explosions trailing off into the town and around the buildings. B-B-B-b-b-b-b-b…..b-b-… b-b-b-b-b……boom!

    I love Outlaws so much. I think I’m gonna download the demo again right now.

  22. Smurfy says:

    I downloaded it. It seems like only yesterday I lasted played this. “Where are ya marshaaaal?” Awesome. I still remember the cheats. olshadows, olredlite, olwimpy…

  23. Ben says:

    The thing I remember best from the Outlaws demo was the music and cutscene when you quit it – spine chillingly awesome.

  24. Pijama says:

    BE DAMNED, TIM STONE. Now I am whistling the opening track and I have no bloody idea where to find it.

  25. int says:

    I loved that game, I used to play the demo for hours planting dynamites all over town and then blowing them up.

  26. Buemba says:

    Still my favorite western game ever. Granted, I bet it aged terribly, which is why I’d rather not touch it anymore and let my memories live on.

    Lucasarts in the 90′s is about as perfect as a developer will ever get in my mind. I even enjoyed the hell out of some of their less well-known games like Afterlife and Mortimer and the Riddles of the Medallion (Which my parents bought for my sister but I ended up playing more than her).

  27. Munin says:

    Nah, didn’t age terribly at all. It’s still a great game in my books. Of course the mechanics and AI are a bit simplistic, but it hasn’t aged any worse than a game like Dark Forces or Strife. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t do a lot of things, but the few things it does – it gets absolutely right.

  28. Metal_Circus says:

    I’d never played this before tonight. The demo is great fun but then again, i’m a sucker for these old time 2.5D shooters from the 90′s Anyone know any more (aside from the famous ones)?

  29. Guhndahb says:

    Every time new western-themed FPSes come out, I inevitably compare them to Outlaws. So far, they’ve all been found wanting. For me, Outlaws remains the pinnacle of the sub-genre.

  30. Michael A. B. says:

    I loved this game, but one of the things that I loved beyond the game itself was the fact that they made the music playable as an audio CD. I have the music on my blackberry and on my computer for when I am playing a game or feeling like I am in a “Draw, pardner!”

    BTW- I too loved the “Where are ya, Marshal?” quote. It made the atmosphere.

  31. Casimir's Blake says:

    Metal_Circus: Try “In Pursuit Of Greed”, or for something a little different “Realms Of The Haunting”.

    I’m a sucker for these old “2.5D” shooters, also, but I never played Outlaws, put off by the theme having never been a fan of westerns. But having read this, I’ll at least go and youtube it…

  32. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Totally goddamn forgot about this game. I played it for like a year straight.

    I have to find that CD.

  33. Kommissar Nicko says:

    Dark Forces engine? It’s really too bad I never played this in my youth. Truly, I have forgotten the face of my father…

  34. RogB says:

    ooh a sneak gunslinger/DT ref there nicko.

    chalk up another demo fan here, who never actually got round to buying the full game.. Im not entirely sure why. i dont think I ever remember seeing it on shelves though, which doesnt help.
    The demo was ace though. More games these days should have AI taunting and idle banter. Redneck Rampage had quite a bit of it too IIRC.

  35. N-Al says:

    On that note, Redneck Rampage had a couple of Western-themed levels; made me think of Outlaws straight away when I played them.

  36. Fenchurch says:

    Unfortunately, the earliest PCG I have is 54, otherwise I’d go rooting about in the attic to find the ne’er do well who reviewed it!

  37. torchedEARTH says:

    I thought it was just me who ever played this.

    Thank god for the internet.

  38. GJLARP says:

    Outlaws was amazing.

    It’s soundtrack was even more amazing.

    The introduction was brilliant, and I really dig the cel-shaded graphics. One of my favourite FPSes.

  39. Pemptus says:

    Just reinstalled it and played through two levels. I’m really blown away how FUN this still is. Hasn’t aged badly at all imho. Of course the enviroments are blocky and enemy sprites dodgy, but who cares?

    One thing I didn’t like though – in the second level the boss just spawned in front of me (I think he does that after killing a certain number of enemies) and forced me to kill him and end the mission before exploring it fully. It made me sad. ;(

    Oh, be sure to get the Direct3d patch, it makes the game considerably nicer and smoother. I also installed all the patches in order (1.1, 2.0 and finally 2.1) but I’m not sure what good that did.

  40. baf says:

    Re corpse physics: One of the nicest touches in the game, I thought, was the way that anyone who dies near a ledge or railing is guaranteed to fall off it dramatically, regardless of how they were moving and what direction the shot came from.

  41. drygear says:

    Oh yeah, I should add that I liked the article. I’m glad to see this game get some recognition. And I *hated* the sawmill level.

  42. Shadowcat says:

    Outlaws was and is brilliant. Except for the Sawmill level. I’m glad we all agree on that one :)

    I could never understand why other shooters let you reload your weapons so god-damned-fast when Outlaws proved how great a boost to the tension and atmosphere could be generated by forcing you to reload at a slower pace.

    Stepping out from cover, unloading both barrels of your shotgun, darting back to reload, and hoping that the bad guys who are still standing haven’t moved much. SO much better than just standing there spraying bullets.

    I can’t think of too many games whcih have taken this approach. Nosferatu is one (a flawed gem of a gothic vampire FPS), and the only other which springs to mind was never released, and has a title which eludes me, but video clips showed the longest reloading I’d ever seen (due to including animation of packing the power into a (very) old-style pistol. I wish I could remember what it was called.

    Anyhow, here are some links to Outlaws patches and Glide wrappers:
    http://ttlg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6075

    And don’t play this game on anything less than “Ugly”. It’s just not the same game on the lesser difficulty levels.

  43. Igor Hardy says:

    Sawmill was a bit frustrating to be sure, but what satisfaction once you finally beat it. :)

  44. Shadowcat says:

    “packing the power”

    That was, of course, intended to say “powder”.

  45. Flatline says:

    Outlaws was so awesome!