New Amstrad game Outlaws comes from Retrobytes. It may have won first place at #CPCRetroDev 2016, but Dave Edwards isn't impressed at all...
Reviewed By Dave E In Micro Mart #1441Outlaws
Don't you just love those revenge movies where the hero must kill at least 14,000 people before the credits roll? Outlaws is the game of that sort of movie and the hero in question is Daniel Colt. As you might expect from its title, it's set in the U.S. Wild West era.
According to the backstory, when he was a little boy, Colt was kidnapped by outlaws who flooded "Cowntury County". Some years later, he managed to steal one of their guns and escape from them - but, as the game begins, he has returned to a very different town than that which he was taken away from. Cowntury County now sports more outlaws than a game of Operation Wolf. The manual seems to infer that Colt now wants "revenge" because his kidnappers forced him to kill people which he knew to be wrong. That doesn't make a lot of sense though, because the Colt of the game seems less than ambivalent about killing anyone and everyone he sees.
Fortunately, everyone Colt does see feels exactly the same way about him. Cue thunderous roar of gunfire from both hero and enemies throughout each level. There are nine in total plus a practice level and two bonus ones.
The game plays in full-colour with the action taking up the top two-thirds of the screen and a large status field occupying the rest. This shows your current supply of ammunition, the "Outlaws" logo, your lives (represented as large "sheriff-style" badges) and a wanted poster. You can imagine the action area as four rows: Colt runs left and right along the bottom one, one or more enemies do likewise on the other three, shooting down towards him.
To pick off enemies you move a gun sight around the entire area and try to accurately position it to take out each enemy with a single shot. Some enemies are more dangerous to Colt than others - those on the row directly above him, for example, because their bullets have much less distance to cover. At the other end of the spectrum are the enemies on the top row, because they shoot really rarely and, when they do, you can see their bullets coming toward you for much longer.
Each level features the same "four row" style, but the backdrops change, as do the "foreground" items. These include barrels, cacti and stones - all items which you can choose to shoot if you wish (Most of them will explode into nothingness after three direct hits). Occasionally, they can grant the enemies some cover, and so you're recommended to take them out to make killing the enemies themselves easier. However, I didn't find this necessarily helped, as I'll explain.
The first thing to mention about Outlaws is that it's a game of total pandemonium. Firstly, there can be up to eight bad guys running back and forth, loosing off bullets towards the bottom of the screen. You need to strike a balance between getting Colt out of the way of these whilst also lining up the crosshair with any enemy you want to kill. An enemy stands still to fire at you but doesn't remain that way for very long - hence, for the vast majority of the time he's a moving target. Whether standing or moving, he is still difficult to hit because the crosshair doesn't move particularly smoothly. Instead it sort of jerks around, frequently going one place too far than you would like.
Control of the crosshair also requires quite a bit of practice. Essentially, if you hold down the fire key and move in any direction, the sight alone moves, and Colt remains where he is. But if you do not hold down fire, Colt runs left or right and the crosshair moves with him.
This therefore means that by far the most effective strategy to clear a level is to forget moving the crosshair back and forth and forget blasting away the bad guys' hiding places. You don't need that aggravation when you can simply position the crosshair in the dead-centre of the playing area and then tap the fire button when a running bad guy gets about eight pixels away from it. The trouble is that this is not a strategy the authors intended you to pursue.
There are other criticisms to be made too. For instance, there are "window baddies" which, as the name implies, are bad guys who sit in the windows of buildings firing at you. These are the one type of bad guy that you must move over to, and the ones that are much more likely to lead to your demise - not because they will shoot you themselves but because in concentrating so hard in getting the crosshair perfectly aligned with their position, your eye won't see other bullets streaking towards Colt at the bottom of the playing area!
The pandemonium of Outlaws itself results from this general failing - i.e. that there's just too much going on on-screen for the human eye to keep track of - combined with the cramped, small action area at the top of the screen. And if you thought this combination resulted in a tough level one and two, level three is just a horrifying mess of blocks which, were it not for the symmetry, might actually lead some players to believe the game had crashed! In picking out your circular orange crosshair against a stony orange backdrop, it's tantamount to walking through a raging battlefield whilst playing Spot The Ball. Needless to say, I've never got any further than this. Considering when you die you get sent all the way back to the beginning, I doubt many players will.
Outlaws starts with a practice level, in which there are no bad guys but only five bottles on each of the three rows. Aim and fire at them to proceed to the first level. This gives you a bit of a feel for the control keys, which is no bad thing the first time you play but becomes a bit tiresome when you get more accomplished at the game.
Is there anything good about Outlaws then? Well, yes, it's superbly presented with a big, bold loading screen, and good graphics - although you will have to pause the game to stand much chance of actually appreciating them. The changing backdrops do introduce variety (although the levels themselves do seem to go on for a long time) and, if you persevere with it, the instructions indicate there are bonus levels to look forward to.
My own opinion is that there's a point at which healthy frustration over a game bubbles over into downright contempt for it. Outlaws has the right ingredients for a masterful shooter but it's too chaotic for me personally to persevere with.