The original Outcast was way ahead of its time when it launched in 1999. It was an ambitious sci-fi title with dense lore, an orchestral soundtrack, and an open world before most of those features were common aspects of big-budget games. Of course, it feels dated nowadays (as seen with the lukewarm reception to its 2017 remake), but the ambition of the original Outcast certainly sets a high bar for any sequel to meets. Unfortunately, an early 2000s attempt at getting a sequel never materialized due to publisher Infogrames’ struggles.
Embracer Group bought the Outcast IP in 2019, so subsidiary THQ Nordic helped reform developer Appeal Studios with many of the original developers and tasked them with making a follow-up. Unlike the TimeSplitters devs at Free Radical Entertainment — who are being shut down by Embracer Group this month — the renewed version of Appeal Studios will be able to share their vision for a modern sequel next March with Outcast: A New Beginning.
I played an Outcast: A New Beginning pre-release build and spoke to its producers about the project. While I’m not sure this sequel will meet its predecessor’s lofty legacy, it’s certainly a blast to glide and jetpack around its big open-world.
When making Outcast: A New Beginning, Executive Producer Michael Paeck tells Digital Trends that the reformed Appeal Studio retained about “60 to 70%” of its original ideas for an Outcast sequel and even used some concept art from the early 2000s. The sequel once again stars Cutter Slade — a protagonist aptly named for a game from the 1990s — as he returns to the planet Adelpha and helps its people take on a new invading robot threat at the behest of its godlike “Yods.”
In practice, that means Outcast: A New Beginning is an open-world action-adventure game where players aim to gain favor with the villages of Adelpha by completing quests and getting the help needed to fight off the robotic threat. Paeck says the development team recognized that it had been over twenty years since the original, and many younger players have never tried the original, so it tried to make this belated follow-up more approachable and even dropped the “2” from its original title.
I’ll admit the narrative aspects of what I tried didn’t feel too welcoming. The jargon-filled script left me scratching my head more than it intrigued me. A Pentiment-like glossary feature is available during every conversation, but this feels like a game you’ll need to be heavily invested in the narrative from the beginning and read into its lore if you want to get much out of the story, which riffs on the sci-fi worlds of franchises like Star Wars and Stargate.
Although its narrative didn’t win me over during my playtime, Outcast: A New Beginning’s more creative gameplay ideas got my attention. Quests are presented in a more unique way than the traditional log; like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, they’re laid out as more of a series of interconnected tasks that Slade must complete to progress the story and gain new abilities, like one that allows him to summon a swarm of bugs or a flock of bomb-carrying birds to attack enemies during combat.
Speaking of combat, Outcast: A New Beginning is a third-person shooter that encourages players to keep moving as they fight enemies. In addition to abilities, players have guns that they can customize with unique modules to create devastating high-damage combinations. What I found most entertaining, both in and outside of battles, was simply moving around.
I’m a staunch believer that game feel and satisfying movement are two of the most critical aspects of open-world games. If a game gives the player an expansive area to explore, it better make getting around the world a fun experience. That’s part of why people adore the Marvel’s Spider-Man games from Insomniac and why I enjoyed Forspoken more than most others. In this regard, Outcast: A New Beginning is doing the genre right.
After just a few upgrades on their skill tree, players can hover, boost, and glide wherever they want around Aldepha, an open world that Paeck says is 8×8 kilometers in size. It’s a good thing that doing so feels exhilarating, then. After I took a little bit of time to get used to the controls for gliding and boosting around, I spent most of my preview playtime finding mountains and cliffs to dive off and then see how far I could glide and boost myself around the open world, which has the verticality to support this game system.
This extraordinarily satisfying game feel seems like the biggest draw, but Paeck explained that Outcast: A New Beginning didn’t always feel this good. The developers were initially afraid that being able to fly around so freely would trivialize combat but found themselves drawn to it whenever they removed most of the movement limits.
This caused a significant shift in direction about a year into development. “It changed fundamental things because if you can suddenly fly around like that, the size of the world also has to change, and we had to get a lot more vertical than we were before,” Paeck tells Digital Trends. He pointed out that the more low-level forested areas were made early on in development, while the high cliffs and mountaintops were made later.
This is an unabashedly weird and goofy game, but the inherent fun of flying around a sizeable alien world retained my attention. When the time comes to play through the whole thing, that satisfying game feel may be what gets me to learn this world’s jargon and see what a sequel to a game that was ahead of its time could feel like in 2024.
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