Outcast's HD Remake Was a Mistake

By Luke Plunkett on at

Playing Outcast in 1999 was a revelation. Playing Outcast in 2017 makes me think it should have stayed there.

An absolute cult classic, revered for its pioneering work in the field of open world adventures, Outcast was a game that dropped you on a vast alien world and left you to your own devices. You were free to run around and follow the game’s story, or you could just wander its mountains and rivers, chatting with villagers and fighting bad guys.

For the time, it was revolutionary, one of the first 3D games to let the player roam an area of its size. You can see its legacy in everything from Skyrim to Far Cry, and when news first broke that the game was being remade as Outcast: Second Contact, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for a generation that missed this trail-blazing video game to experience its brilliance.

I was wrong.

Now out on Steam, Second Contact starts in about the worst way imaginable. The original game had a pre-rendered cinematic intro that looks pretty gross by modern standards, but for the time it did the job and was fine. It’s gone now, replaced by some crude 2D animation that’s entirely out of place with the rest of the game’s art. It also serves as your reminder that Outcast, for all its size and beauty, was a game with terrible voice-acting.

Once you hit the actual game, you quickly find that this isn’t a complete remake. Outcast: Second Contact may look new, but most of the changes and improvements have been made on the visual side of things; it handles just like the 1999 version, which these days is a problem. This isn’t Mario 64 we’re talking about, where the platforming joy will live forever even as the graphics date. This is a slow, sluggish PC game from 1999 with stodgy controls that sometimes make even basic navigation a hassle.

I guess back in the 20th century we were so overawed by the scope and technology here that the game’s shortcomings—of which there are many—were kind of glossed over. That’s understandable! A game looking that good while being that big was unheralded for the time, so you can forgive fans and critics for not being able to soak it all in, and for cherishing the advances it made over the things it didn’t get right.

In 2017, though, Outcast doesn’t have that impact to rely on. In 2017, it’s a clunky-ass action adventure game with an abrasive lead character and primitive combat and some of the worst sound you’ll ever encounter in a video game.

Oh, the sound. The visuals in Outcast: Second Contact have been redone to 21st century standards, but the sound has not, and the second it kicks in it will stop you dead in your tracks. It’s shocking. The game has been forced to rely on the 1999 version’s sound files, but imagine those files being played in 1999, stored on a zip disk for 18 years, transferred onto cassette tape, recorded on a phone mic then played back through a gramophone.

It’s not all bad, of course. The core of a good old game is still here, and the visual improvements made mean that clambering up a mountain to watch the sun set is still a beautiful diversion. The aliens are kinda lovable after a while, I guess, and some changes have been made to the UI and combat controls to make some things a bit more modern.

But for the most part, I played Second Contact wishing I could have been experiencing the game as it had been in 1999, not as the hobbled remaster its 2017 edition has proven to be.

If you’ve read all this and still want to play the game, you should maybe try Outcast 1.1 instead, a 2014 re-release of the game on PC that doesn’t look as good, but which at least functions as a means to experience the game as it was originally created.