I'm going back to finish videogames I started in the past but, for whatever the reason, didn't finished and feel should have. Some of them are classics, others more recent. In any case, I wanted to write today about Outcast, a 1999 PC videogame that I both had on CD-ROM and then grabbed digital (also to experience the nicely welcome 1.1 patch for modern PCs).
Outcast was a technical marvel when came out. You surely needed a beefed up PC, but videogames were one of my main drives back then so that wasn't an issue. The combination of voxel-based terrain, polygons for entities and buildings, the smooth particles and the great effects (the water ripples and effects were amazing compared to the likes of Quake or Unreal) made for a really nice looking title. But what really stood out was the setting and the attention to detail.
Stargate is one of my favourite films, and Outcast is "similar, but not the same": Military people visiting an alien planet, "gates", a quest to find a way back home, oppressors and oppressed and you, the hero, in the middle... The cool thing about a videogame is that it can provide the (usually illusory) feeling of freedom; sure quests, lack of key items and other techniques will stop you from really doing whatever you like, but in this title you really can go to any of the 6 islands (regions) if you dare. You have probably hundreds of NPCs to talk about dozens of quests per region (plus a few cross-region ones), primary quests, secondary quests, optional quests (at first I wasn't sure, but at the end of the game you even get some % completion scores)...
But the way the world is built is simply awesome. Even today, when some parts of the game engine are clearly outdated and feel even buggy, watching the talan (alien race workers, the good guys) go work, get scared and run if you shoot, call you out and many other behaviours, make everything look really alive. Some NPCs stay put, others do rounds, and others have more complex paths, so you can for example ask for where to locate a certain talan, and they will reply you sentences like "I saw him by the water near the crops far to the northwest of here a while ago". Sure, the voice acting varies a lot, and sometimes is quite terrible, but still to see so much dialogue is great.
The controls are terrible, you can get stuck in the scenery at a few places (saving is your best ally) and sometimes it is not totally clear what you have to do (hint: when in doubt, search for items like "keys" in the floor of relevant areas), but still I had a blast playing and finishing the game. I even drew island maps to mark the daookas (gates) and where they went.
While Outcast it is not advertised as an RPG, it might not have player stats/levelling, but to me it felt way more akin to role-playing than many other titles that do so.