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Vol. 2, Issue 14
February 29, 2000

Pixel Obscura:

"Think Hard...Think Real Hard, You Poor Dope"

by Josh Vasquez


...or the attack of the square jawed he-men.

utter Slade, star and alpha male of Outcast, is another in that prestigious long line of wisecracking, tough talking, hairy knuckle type action heroes.  And what a bunch they are, the kind of guys who open beer bottles with their teeth and tell people annoying them to “skip it.”  These thick necked types are the life blood of the adventure genre, from megaplex blockbusters to comic books and to video games, which is not surprising when you consider that most storylines go for sensation rather than sincerity. 

This is not to say that “roguish charm” doesn’t have its place or that watching some hardbody’s smirking antics can’t be good escapist fun.  Even when clumsily handled, the monosyllabic cynicism of tough guys and their snorting contempt for “the rules” amounts to at least a few laughs for the audience, if only derisive ones themselves.

Cutter Slade, all around professional gruff talker, is Outcast’s resident bad boy, a smart-alecky military type who can be relied on to “do the job.” 

The game’s cinematics are broken into two sections, the prologue or the “so what’s this all about” material, and the introduction to the game play proper.  It’s all centered around Slade, our hero and surrogate body during the adventure.  When we first see him, he is lounging in a darkened, sleazy looking bar and is at least sober enough to make a few grumbling quips to the officer who comes to collect him (which is a shame if only because I would love to have seen him stumble around drunkenly while trying to be so hard bitten).  The problem is that, with their ‘round the clock five o’clock shadows and form fitting t-shirts, the goon squad of strong arm action heroes are, while often fun, also painfully ever present, especially in the video game world.  The type is so clichéd that the portrayal of Slade’s character is the most distractingly annoying thing about Outcast’s cinematics.

The piece opens with the sound of a radio news broadcast recapping the recent discovery of the existence of other dimensions and that travel between them may well be possible.  We watch a series of equations and spinning chains of molecules receding before us within a shimmering blue field.  The voices overlap excitedly and are even interwoven with the high pitched warble of AM radio interference, a wonderful touch.  We keep pulling back until it’s revealed that all the molecules are in fact the inner world of ice cubes resting in a glass full of Slade’s booze.  The commander is “asked” to come along and the top brass let’s him know that a probe sent into another dimension was destroyed by something on the other side, starting a chain reaction that threatens to destroy the Earth.  Cutter and three others are sent across to find the probe and repair it, hopefully repairing the dimensional tear as well.

Although pretty standard fair, a few things make this opening stand out. 

The animation is very nicely done, “life-like” without being cloyingly so. 

The movements of the characters are conservative and realistic, having an almost rotoscoped smoothness.  The voice characterizations come across as pleasantly grounded in their respective animated bodies, sounding surprisingly comfortable and informal as if these really were people acting in front of you.  The designs of the dimensional rip is also nicely imagined, sensational without being over the top.  The actual process of dimension jumping is refreshingly involved yet also B-movie vague, making a nice change from the simplified magical zippo-bang science of the average game.  As Slade gets into a machine that fills an entire room, we watch a multi-step process unfold that feels both satisfyingly complicated and comic bookishly exciting.  We watch our hero pulled off into the universe and then he’s gone.

The second section begins with Slade awaking to alien faces in a strange land.  Separated from his fellow earthlings, Slade is informed by his camel looking host that he is the “Ulukai” (forgive the phonetic spelling), the savior who the aliens have been waiting for; Slade is predictably unimpressed.  This intro proper is heavy on the information as, indeed, it must be.  Yet the creators take steps to not let the need for story set up bog the whole thing down.  Slade and “Alien” spend much of the piece looking at each other and talking, something the average film watcher is inclined to deride as “box office poison,” but the possibility of stagnation is circumvented by the use of subtle “camera” movements during the conversation.  The “camera” occasionally tracks toward and away from the two figures, even moving around them in arcs, all just enough that it feels deliberate but not intrusive.

What is intrusive is Slade.  The character is clichéd, but especially annoyingly so.  The vocal performance is quite good, not too flamboyantly husky, but the dialogue is rather tired.  It’s just the same old bit but for some reason in Outcast it really weighs everything else down.  This may be because the rest of the cinematics are so unobtrusively well crafted that to see something so cliché is to watch the illusion crumble.

Whatever the defects of the Slade character, the rest of the piece is quite good, particularly the prologue.  Solid design and animation coupled with a subtle touch makes for a quiet success.


- Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames. He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee Magazine

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 2000 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so don't do it, or we'll cut you in twain.