Before the time where LucasArts were desperately trying to shove Starkiller down everybody’s throats, they used to be a developer who made genre-defining games of unquestionable quality. Your Monkey Islands, your Grim Fandangos, your Tie Fighters, and your Jedi Knights get a fair bit of recognition even to this day, but one title still stands up as one of the finest First Person Shooters ever made, and that is Outlaws.
Sure, I’m something of a sucker for anything of Wild West inspiration, but Outlaws was something special that captured my attention when I first played its demo. Featuring a charming hand-drawn art style in both its animated cutscenes and in-game engine (the same one used for Dark Forces), Outlaws told the story of former US Marshall James Anderson as he rides across the Old West on a quest to save his daughter from an the clutches of villainous railroad tycoon. Fighting his way through huge numbers of outlaws and taking down a cast of devious henchmen (one of which was played by John De Lancie, I learned recently) it was one of the first games to use the Wild West as a setting, and is arguably still one of the best uses to this day.
Its array of weaponry, from a traditional pistol to lobbing dynamite, gave me a feeling of immense power back when I played it in 1997. The shotgun in particular felt and sounded heavy in action, but it was the sniper rifle that is arguably the most important weapon to emerge from the game, as Outlaws was one of the first games to utilise a sniper zoom. The stylised nature of the graphics really immersed me back in the day, and while the animations played into the over-acting stereotype of the Spaghetti Western genre, it fit into place alongside a top-notch audio design. From the weaponry, to the cries from the enemies as they were hit, everything was spot on in terms of aesthetics. Even the soundtrack, composed by industry mainstay Clint Bajakian, was able to capture the essence of the game perfectly thank to its full orchestral recording (I still hear the whistling of the main theme in my head to this day.)
The level design was up to the usual high standard that LucasArts were producing at the time, with enemies waiting where you least expected them, and hidden items were to be discovered by those who wished to explore every nook and cranny. controlled the action with the then-emerging free-look mouse controls, something which had only recently started to rock my world having previously had my FPS controls consigned to the arrow and Home / Page Up / End / etc. keys (dark days, indeed.) Of course, the new range of motion didn’t automatically make taking on the gunslingers in Anderson’s way an easy affair, as Outlaws was particularly relentless even on normal difficulty. I gave its highest difficulty setting, ‘Ugly’ a singular go at the time, and its two-hit kill approach had me running to the hills within minutes.
It wasn’t just the single player story that made Outlaws a great game, as it came with “Historical Missions”, which was essentially an arcade challenge mode, which charted Anderson’s rise to the rank of US Marshall. Awarding players points for killing outlaws, wasting the main objective (or bringing them in alive) and picking up stolen gold, it provided players with replayability to beat your previous best score (or in my case, trying to top my friend’s score.) Beyond this, its multiplayer allowed players to assume the role of one of the main characters from the story, although with it being around the early days of the internet, I sadly never got to experience it.
LucasArts would later release some additional missions along with a graphical update, but as it never attained the popularity of other games in its portfolio, their support for the title ultimately dried up as they moved on to other projects. However, by that point the title had created a die-hard community of fans who would end up supporting it for over a decade, producing new maps for its multiplayer (allegedly ranging up to 1,500 in total.) This just goes to show that I wasn’t the only one affected by the magic and charm that Outlaws exuded. It may not regularly come up in conversations about the FPS heavyweights of yesterday, with the likes of Quake, Doom, Dark Forces and Half-Life automatically filling the spots, but I will always consider Outlaws to be one of my favourite, and most memorable, FPS experiences to date.