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Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Housemarque
Genre: Plat-former
Mode(s): Single-player, Multiplayer
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Launch Date: 27th April 2011

The Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace has seen many great hits, and also seen some disappointing entries. But every now and then it sees unique gems. Taking its design and story from a mixture of old and new ideas, Outland blends them into what you get. It's a story of creation, featuring the classic light and dark scenario, with a story of an ancient hero thrown in to bridge the gaps between game-play and story. It's a bright, vibrant game yet at the same time it is dark and challenging. Does Outland fall into being a disappointment, or is it a brilliant hit?

Game-play - 8/10

Outland begins with a short story set 30,000 years before the games present day. A Narrator tells us that two Sisters of Chaos used the power of creation to build the world and then sought to destroy it. One sister had the power of light from the sun; the other had the darkness of the moon. A hero stood against them and the power of creation fused with him to seal the Sisters away. After 30,000 years, the Sisters of Chaos began to awaken and sought to finish what they started. It's here when the player is introduced to a man, who experiences visions of the past. After seeking out a Shaman, the man understands he is the reincarnation of the hero, and that he must help the past repeat itself. All of this becomes clear from that one short cut-scene, which sets the overall objective in front of you.

When you begin to actually control the man, you begin off as black and gold, rushing forward over obstacles such as spike pits, gaps and enemies. You also don't begin with a weapon, but unlock a melee weapon shortly after starting, which is fine as the enemies come after obtaining this. As you continue the Origin part of the story, you see the character experiencing flashbacks. It's at the Crossroads where you first play as the Hero, 30,000 years ago. This is the first introduction to having both light (blue) and dark (red) powers. After returning to the present day, you continue playing as a normal person. Eventually you unlock the power of light, and the power of dark, as well as other moves littered through the entirety of the game. These include sliding, beam attack and shielding.

As briefly mentioned above, the game offers many obstacles, and as you progress through the story they get progressively harder. These tend to be a mixture of beams and streams of balls, which come in either red or blue, depending in the area you're playing in. As you begin the game with no power over light or dark, these obstacles start off easy and can be dodged with little effort. As you gain the powers and continue onward, they do prove more of a challenge. To help players out though, light can't hurt light, and the same is said for dark. Players can shift between light and dark to avoid taking damage, but in the later stages, even that can become a difficult task. Add into these challenges the colour specific enemies that attack at the same time, and you could find yourself having to put the controller down to calm down.





Outland does feature boss fights, of which there are five. These do get progressively harder, but it's only the last two which may cause players some issues. The boss fights for the most part are simple to understand, attack the enemy when you can, in the correct form, dodge their attacks, rinse and repeat. The third boss is slightly different, as the game forces you to use a beam cannon which is provided in the middle of the screen for you to aim and fire. These boss fights are also good to see how much you need to upgrade your character to be in with a fighting chance. Players can upgrade their amount of energy, as well as health. To do so it requires sacrificing a certain amount of coins, depending on the current level, at specific statues, these can be found throughout the game. The downside to this however is the cost. In some cases, the health statues are closer together than others. After a certain amount of health upgrades, the price is between 30,000 and 50,000 per upgrade. While coins can be earned by breaking vases and killing enemies, this amount can take awhile to achieve. Outland also has Marks of the Gods as hidden collectables. These unlock some art, as well as an achievement for collecting them all. When all of them are collected, the player is also awarded with a stronger melee attack.

Outland does feature co-operative play throughout the entire game, which makes fighting enemies and bosses slightly easier. Unlike a lot of games where the camera forces co-op players to stick together, Outland allows both players to go anywhere they want. The only time it forces players together is on switches or to change areas. To help find each other, the game provides an arrow, pointing in the general direction of your partner. There are also co-op challenges on some of the levels, which appear to be a case of collect as many coins as you can and make it to the exit in time. Another handy feature that co-op provides is that it allows players to be one colour each. Both players can switch between light and dark, and when you come across some obstacles, such as colour specific platforms, the game registers both your colours. In other words, instead of having to switch between red and blue to climb up to the top of an area, one player can be blue, the other red, allowing you both to go up as if it was a simple staircase.

Outland also features an Arcade mode, which is the whole game broken down into individual stages. Players are put against the clock to get as many points as they can and beat the level at the same time. This is quite a fun feature, as it provides a further challenge to what the game already offers. Players can earn multipliers for killing without taking damage, which boosts the overall score that you earn.

Graphics - 7/10

The graphics featured in Outland are a simple play on light and dark contrasts. For most of the game these contrasts look warm or cold, depending on the area. There are some areas however which can trick you and sometimes end up causing harm. Sometimes the background looks like the foreground, and others the ground is dark enough to hide a pitfall with spikes in them. Despite the occasional mishaps like that, the graphics are great for an arcade title and the blues and reds help light up the area. Unfortunately, to avoid falling into holes you would need to either put the brightness up to its highest or just keep jumping around.





Sound - 7/10

Outland features music in some areas to further help the mood of the level. For example, you are treated to nice relaxing music in the main menu, whereas in the lead up to the final fight sounds more destructive, fitting into the scenes in the background. When you take damage, you hear your character react to it. Spider enemies tend to sound like they are being squashed, while metal rings out lightly on impact with shields. All in all, the sound is spot on, but at times it is a bit too quiet, and music is missed.

Achievements - 8/10

Most arcade games come with either easy achievements or quite hard ones. Outland once again proves to mix the usual standards set by many others. You have the standard achievement of completing the game and collecting all the collectables, but also some more challenging ones, such as kill a boss without taking damage and killing 20 enemies in a row with only one heart left. Perhaps the most time consuming one is worth 30G and requires you to collect 1,000,000 Doubloons (coins). While the achievements are time consuming, they are fun to work towards.

Conclusion 8/10

Outland can at times be stressful with the difficulty of some of its challenges, but it makes up for it in the amount of fun it provides. Most arcade titles are short, and to get the full 200G I spent a total of 12 hours on it. This can be done quicker but I'm one of those who take their time to fully explore maps for hidden items. Outland receives 8/10, and at the price of 800MSP, is a recommended purchase for anyone who enjoys plat-former games.
 

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