|August 17, 2004|
|Outpost Open Beta Preview|
The potential is there
Written By Nathan Swyers
Role playing meets Action, we've heard this before. From the ground breaking Diablo to the popular PlanetSide, there really hasn't been a lack of this type of hybrid game. So, my lack of excitement when hearing about Outpost, a new Action RPG in open beta, should be understandable. Here we have a cross between a military action shooter and a massively multiplayer role playing game, mixed in with player versus player combat. Sounds good from here, build up a character and then go out and fight against live opponents. But do the two genres mix well; are they mixed at all?
Right away, the graphics reminded me of 3D Asian produced RPGs. Smooth, cartoon-like character models with the familiar exaggerated facial features-nothing new so far. However, as I played I noticed some pretty strange things with the game's graphics. Trees and other shrubby things seemed to need a serious anti-aliasing dosage. The edges of leaves were outlined in a very odd jagged white line that flickered in and out as I moved. Hopefully this is due to an incompatibility with my video card (ATI Radeon) so I won't judge the game on that. Since the game is still in Beta, a little incompatibility is understandable.
I was given a few choices to customize my new character and was then thrust into a large courtyard full of other players. There is a tutorial available for new players, but some bugs need to be worked out that kept me from progressing through the steps. I decided to venture forth on my own. I began the game in what I later learned to be my faction's headquarters and found several merchant NPCs and bought myself some clothes and ammunition for my pistol. I then did what any sensible new recruit would do, go out and shoot up some stuff! This was fairly easy to figure out, simply go out and point and click. Littering the outskirts of this area are Extremists, low-level mobs that stay in one spot and shoot you. Being a clever recruit, I knew to shoot back. This was what I did for an hour or so before heading back into the courtyard.
The goal here is to level up your character to purchase new armor, weapons, and other types of equipment. As you kill enemies, you automatically receive money and random item drops. Mostly you will find stamina or health potions, but sometimes boots or other things will appear, which you can wear or sell later. As you gain levels you are awarded points to increase your attributes and a point to progress your skills. For instance, you will need a Shooting skill of 5 to use the M14 rifle. You'll find you will spend most of your time simply grinding your character up to use the next nifty gadget. Once Extremists become too easy for you, you can travel to another area and fight Leftists, slightly more difficult mobs. Every enemy I saw was almost identical to the last, even as you go from one type to the next. This became repetitive very quickly and gave me a rather poor impression of the game's "RPG" aspect. Keep in mind, the game is still in development and will hopefully improve in this respect.
So, what about the "Action" half? In Outpost, you are on one of three factions. Each faction is, of course, warring against each other. You can speak to an NPC at your headquarters and be brought to various battlegrounds, where you can fight opposing players. You start off in a small base guarded by computer-controlled officers. Here, you can try your skill against some live opponents. Well, there really isn't any real "skill" involved in the action department of Outpost. Running up to your enemy and clicking to shoot is what you will find yourself doing most of the time. The way combat works is semi-turn based. Your weapon has a fairly long pause until you can shoot again, so you will be clicking away at your target over and over again. I was pretty disappointed by this. From screenshots, I envisioned a fast-paced and fluent combat zone where you run jump and dodge behind obstacles, throw grenades, fire your rifle etc. Unfortunately, the action aspect is nothing like a traditional first-person shooter and more along the lines of an RPG with ranged weapon-like Asheron's Call.
The controls are adequate, but nothing superb. A nice touch is the ability to duck or go into the prone position. However, movement is slow and blocky and there is no way to jump. For some reason, a game like this just doesn't seem right unless you can jump over things. Having to run alongside a curb for two blocks to find an entrance through it is just sad. Hopefully this feature will be implemented before the game goes live as it will greatly improve the game's action side. The camera isn't too great either. At various times I found my view blocked off by trees that were behind the camera, suddenly clipping into my view. Shooting enemies from behind obstacles often resulted in shooting the obstacle instead, because of the quirky camera movements. To add insult the injury, the obstacles didn't seem to offer cover anyway. Again, this is something that will need to be looked at by the developers before the game goes live.
To be honest, I expected Outpost to be a lot better. From the screenshots, it looks great and the premise is interesting. However, the execution is poorly done. The whole engine is awkward and slow, which totally cripples the game when it tries to be an action shooter. It's neat to be able to buy gear and weapons and then fight against other opponents, but when this slow and wrist-numbing combat is what you are dealt, why bother? The role playing element is barely there. You simply run out and kill the same mobs over and over again. These mobs also respawn at an alarming rate, which means you will likely find yourself just lying in one spot and killing two or three things as they spawn time and time again as it would be less efficient to run around all over the map. When it comes down to it, you're just performing boring and mindless busy work to gain levels to be stronger in battles against other factions, which aren't even that great to begin with. If you want an action shooter with progression elements give Planet Side a try. Outpost has a long way to go before it wins any serious playtime in my books. However, with a few major tweaks, the game could stand to become a lot better and finally put a new name on the market for those looking for a fun Shooter/RPG title.
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