Outland came out in 2011 and didn’t receive much attention despite critical praise from all corners. Developed by Housemarque and published by Ubisoft, Outland was one of the games in the recent resurgence of the Metroidvania subgenre.
In Outland, two Goddesses – one light, one dark – created the world long ago. Circumstances drove them to wish to see it remade but a hero intervened, stopping them and imprisoning them within their temple. Many years have passed, their ire for the world has grown in their captivity… and now they seek to break free of their temple so they can once again unmake the world.
A man, ill and weary, seeks help from an elder and begins a quest that leads him to stumble upon the remnants of the ancient hero’s spirit. The spirit then merges with his body and he is empowered and his quest changes from one of self-preservation to an attempt to save the world.
The key mechanic of Outland is the dichotomy of light and dark. Fairly early in the game you get the ability to change between light (represented by blue) and dark (represented by red). When you are empowered with light energy, your attacks hurt dark creatures and you are immune to light projectiles. When empowered with darkness, the opposite is the case – you’re immune to dark projectiles, but can hurt light creatures.
This is a fairly simple mechanic, but when you see some of the game’s bosses and platforming sequences, it becomes somewhat ridiculous. In fact, I think that this game – in the hands of an expert – would be utterly astounding to watch, simply because of the dynamic switching needed. But it creates a lot of high stress situations that are incredibly satisfying when you succeed.
And with the game’s difficulty, it may take you some time to succeed. That isn’t to say the game is extraordinarily hard, but there are a lot of things to pay attention to which can make mistakes incredibly punishing. This is mostly evident within the game’s boss battles, although it does also feature some rather complex platforming sequences and the high pace, while satisfying, can make you overshoot complex jumps rather easily.
Story is not typically a key feature of games in this genre, and Outland isn’t much of an exception. Outland features a bit of story development as you get little short stories detailing the history of each of the bosses when you defeat them, but not much more than that. Also worth noting is that the ending is one of the greatest anticlimaxes I’ve ever seen, although the final boss fight is incredibly epic.
It is also worth noting that this game’s art style is simply phenomenal, with a very minimalistic design that emphasizes the game’s light/dark dichotomy in a very unique and spectacular way. The enemies are never hard to spot but always fit in with the environment and the protagonist’s special attacks are animated in such a way that, with one exception, they are all incredibly satisfying to use.
Altogether this is one of the best entries in the genre since its inception and, despite a few flaws, is a game that will likely stand the test of time and become a classic in time. It is simply elegant, in every way, offering simple yet effective graphics, gameplay, and animations.