Remember Those Telly Ads For Lynx aftershave? The one that sticks in my mind was set on a bus, in the glaring heat of a foreign country which seemed to be in the middle of an armed insurrection. Onboard are loads of ugly civilians (most of them wrinkly old ladies), and a Sultry Latin-American Chick (who looks like she'd be - you know - a bit mucky given half a chance).
But of course the ad wouldn't be complete without one particular passenger - Lynx Bloke. The atmosphere is hot, stuffy and cramped - all blistered breath and body odour - not to mention unbearably tense. Suddenly, the bus jolts. Everybody looks uncomfortable. Then, rolling down the centre aisle, we see what appears to be a grenade. Gasps of horror. All the passengers paint their pants brown. Except, of course, for Lynx Bloke, who strolls over, picks it up, smiles smugly and pops it back in his pocket. Because it wasn't a grenade after all, silly- it was a can of Lynx. Sultry Latin-American Chick pouts admiringly at Lynx Bloke, and up comes the slogan: "Lynx - because first impressions lost"
Fine - except, of course, it's total bollocks. For starters, only a complete geek would drop his toiletries on a crowded bus and then fail to apologise after inadvertently scaring the shit out of everybody. And anyway - first impressions don't always last. You want proof? Just ask any married couple. Or play Outlaws. Because when you start playing Outlaws, it feels downright cruddy.
How the West won me over
Outlaws is a Doom-style 3D shoot 'em up... as opposed to a Quoke-style shoot 'em up. The engine, it has to be said, is a bit too 1995 (and two years is a long time in videogame technology). Okay, it can run at an 800x600 resolution -but fundamentally it's just an enhanced version of the Dark Forces engine (which wasn't all that amazing when it first appeared). Furthermore, the frame rate is a touch slow (it chugs on a P90), and while the cut-scenes are superb, the in-game cartoon graphics look clumsy (with some unforgivably rough-looking barnyard animals marring the first level completely).
In fact, my first impression of Outlaws was so negative I was all set to write a piece of venomous, scowling sarcasm, during which I'd chastise LucasArts for blotting their relatively unblemished copybook. But now, having spent a downright embarrassing amount of time playing the damn thing, I've been forced to re-evaluate my position. Which, currently, is this: despite the off-putting engine, Outlaws rocks.
Yeah, it's unusual to find an unfolding storyline behind games of this type (especially one with entertaining cutscenes), but I won't harp on because it's perfunctory stuff, really ('ex-bounty hunter returns to avenge his wife's murder blah blah blah'), and besides, I found the 'secondary' mode of play - which has no storyline - more absorbing.
The gameplay is the thing. Outlaws succeeds because it's unlike any other Doom clone you care to mention. In fact, it's a bit like a bizarre marriage between Doom and Virtuo Cop. It's far more realistic: one or two shots will kill you, your weapons require constant (manual) reloading, and nailing the bad guys often requires pinpoint accuracy. You can't just wade into a location firing willy-nilly and hope for the best, because a) your bullets will miss most of their targets, and b) someone will shoot you in the face and you'll die. The enemy snipes at you from windows, darts out from behind a wall with a pair of blazing six-shooters, ducks for cover and hurls dynamite at you. It's dangerous out there.
Death comes so rapidly, and so repeatedly, you're forced to rethink all the gung-ho, fire-and-forget tactics that games like Duke Nukem hammered into your impressionable head and concentrate on improving your stealth and exactitude instead. All of which serves to make it doubly satisfying when you do well. And draws you back time and again for more of the same.
There's no justice - just us
It's only when you're suitably addicted to the gameplay that you start to notice all the other good points about the package as a whole. The authentic Spaghetti Western ambience (the Morricone-inspired accompanying score is terrific), the faultless presentation, the entertaining level design (generally a little 'boxy', but darned fine nonetheless), the weird 'undocumented features' (if anyone at LucasArts can explain the poodle sporting sunglasses that showed up unexpectedly on one of the levels, I'd be most grateful), and the fact that it represents good value for money (big levels, and loads of'em). If you were to cast a cursory glance at Outlaws it would be all too easy to snort with derision. Believe me -all you have to do is play it for a while and you'll find it hard to tear yourself away. Check it out.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode