( Sublustrum )

Reviewed by  Mark Hasley

In 1993, a good many of us were introduced to adventure gaming for the first time.  We became addicted to it.  It is now fifteen years later, and many of us tend to forget that before websites or walkthroughs, indeed before we knew what to call this new type of game, we found MYST.  There was little discernable plot to the first game.  We as players wandered all over this weird island and pushed buttons and pulled levers until we cluelessly made something happen.  We loved the strangeness and the graphics.  We thrilled to the 'aloneness' and the lack of violence even though we werenít exactly sure what was going on.  If you are a gamer who is old enough to remember those feelings, or you are young enough to want to go through the process for the first time, I have a new and entertaining game for you.  OUTCRY is a significant new game that will take a player to places he hasnít been to in a long time.  It is not a perfect game, but it is quite wonderful.

The game is based on an extremely vague story.  The player, in this first person game, plays the role of a nameless middle-aged writer who receives a mysterious note from his brother, who is a professor of something or other.  The letter states, "Dear Brother, We haven't seen each other in ages.  I hope that you have not forgotten about me yet.  In these decisive days, I am writing to you, for you are more than my brother, you are also a friend and the person I can confide in.  You must visit me and see with your own eyes the things that no one has ever seen...."  The writer goes to the brotherís apartment, learns that the professor has died, decides to look around in the apartment, and the 'finding and seeking' part of the game begins.  The tale is very bare-boned and, perhaps, weak.  In fact the only reason that the player knows that he is either middle-aged or a writer is that the gameís manual says so.  The game itself offers virtually no information.  The game simply begins.  The gamer must figure out how to operate the large contraption that is the focus of the first part of the game.  He can then proceed from spot to spot, following the path of his deceased (!?) brother from place to place while attempting to find...  something.  If you have read this and found yourself thinking that this is a really vague plot, you are quite correct.  I can only assure you that as you begin to move through the game, you wonít care about a lack of plot.  Youíll be too interested in the incredible scenery and the complicated puzzles to worry about why youíre doing what youíre doing.  Later on, as the game concludes so effectively, you will realize that there was a plot...  you just didnít get it.

The interface is as simple as it is tried and true.  The entire game is first person, point & click.  It is also an extremely linear game.  A gamer, playing as the brother, generally must do specific things in a specific order and the game allows for virtually no deviation from that particular path.  As a result, the fact that there are only six slots for saved games doesnít really matter.  Six is more than sufficient for this type of game structure.  It is also true that the player can never be killed or knocked unconscious.  As a result he can not and will not ever lose any of his progress, unless he forgets to save before he exits.

The game is completely controlled with the mouse.  Most importantly, the game operated very smoothly, and I never had a crash or even a minor difficulty.  There is full 360 degrees movement at each spot the gamer stops, but his movements are limited in that there is almost a slideshow sort of moving process available.  The game has the usual changing cursor, but there are limited changes.  When simply being a function indicator, the cursor is a small, and sometimes difficult to see, circle.  It changes to a spoked-wheel-like shape to indicate something can be used or acquired.  But this change is not time related, so that even if the cursor changes shape and the player is aware that he can use or pick up a certain thing, he canít necessarily do it at that point.  The converse is also true.  Itís possible that an item that cannot be used at one point in the game, might be usable at a later point.  The only other cursor change is that it might grow into an arrow to indicate that a gamer can move forward or backward.

The inventory is conveniently and readily available with a simple right click.  It quietly slides onto the top and the bottom of the playing screen and then stays out of the way.  The upper part of the inventory consists of all the papers and documents that the player finds lying around as he moves from area to area.  There are lots of books and notes as well as an on-going compilation of pages from the brotherís diary.  Each document is easily accessed and read.  This ability becomes quite important as the game goes on.  At the bottom of the screen is the constantly changing collection of 'stuff ' that the player acquires as he journeys.  Each item is clearly but unobtrusively shown and labeled.  Also at the bottom, on the right, is a rather cute little door handle that, when clicked, sends the player back to the Startup Page.  Please note that there is little here that is new or unique.  However, the entire system is efficient, visually effective while not interfering with the game, and simply well done.

The Startup Page again offers little uniqueness, but it is clear, clever, and efficient.  There are the usual new game, save, load, continue, credits, and exit options.  There is also a settings section that offers both music and general sound volumes, as well as on/off buttons for 'simple effects', 'disable intro video', 'disable transition' (This was a strange, telescoping kind of movement that I disliked a lot.  It was nice to be able to turn it off.), 'disable camera swing', 'invert mouse', and 'left-handed mouse'.  All in all, there were more than enough variables for me to customize the game to my exact wishes.  There was no setting for subtitles, but there is very little need for them since there is little speaking in the game.  When someone does talk, or read an item, nicely printed subtitles appear and are much appreciated.

There are very few characters in this game.  It could even be argued that a few of the people in the game arenít really in the game, but thatís a website argument.  The point is that there is rather little to discuss about voice acting.  There is one lady who appears very early and briefly in the game who isnít very pleasant to see and is even less interesting to hear.  There are a couple other beings who appear at various times but their voices are like their characters.  They are unworldly and rather non-human sounding.  Itís notable that these voices are fine in that they sound like what they are.  However, the single most important voice is that of the long-lost brother.  This voice is simply excellent.  It is a crystal clear, masculine voice that actually carries the story along and provides many clues for the player.  Virtually all of the documents, including the explanatory letter in the opening sequence, are read aloud in the voice of the brother after they have been discovered and picked up by the gamer.  Somehow this voice manages to carry, focus, and alter the emotions in the game while simply reading a particular page for the professorís diary.  The voice itself becomes an integral part of, and a very special addition to, the game.  It is used throughout the game, and greatly helps to make the gameís ending what it is.  It is a truly impressive accomplishment.

There are very few ambient sounds in the game.  There are a few weather noises that add a bit, but they arenít particularity important or relevant.  However, there is a hauntingly melancholy music score that permeates the game and adds greatly to the atmosphere.  It consists mostly of various piano solos that blend from one section to another, making the several different gaming areas one that is well connected, somehow sad and even gloomy without ever being grim or dire.  With the use of that singularly effective voice, and the constant background of fine music, the game is simply pleasant to hear.

But it is the graphics that put OUTCRY in a very special league.  The entire game is done in such a way that it looks like an old movie film from the 1920ís or 1930ís.  It flickers and clicks.  There are lines and dots and out-of-focus spots.  There is a brownish cast to the entire game that helps establish a wonderfully old-fashioned atmosphere.  And there is a long, explanatory opening cut scene that fits in perfectly.  So by the time the player can take control, he knows exactly what heís supposed to do, and can then get on with the task of doing it.

There are really only five gaming areas (in another game, Iíd call them Ages), but each is stunning and unique unto itself.  The brotherís apartment is strikingly well executed, and is full of those weird mechanical details that most adventure gamers love.  That apartment and the other areas are full of old, rusty, and rather neglected machinery that must be dealt with and operated to move through the game.  One world is a desert so hot that everything shimmers with the heat.  One world is totally disconnected (I mean that things are coming apart!) and completely surreal.  Another world is simply a winter place, complete with lots of soft looking ice and snow.  All of these places are beautifully drawn, amazingly detailed, and each contains some oddity that keeps it from being normal.  At one point there is an old broken down streetcar that is on a track to an unclear somewhere.  There's a good deal of this oddly aged but still functional machinery lying all over.  In a winter scene, the snow gently and beautifully falls up.  There are phantom characters that appear throughout the game.  No matter where the player is, there are clear indications that, while everything appears sort of normal, he is not in Kansas anymore.  And this game looks even better than it sounds.

I found the puzzles to be on the difficult side.  There are traditional adventure game-type clues lying around, but if theyíre not found, the linearity of the game means that the player must go back and find what heís missed.  There are several inventory puzzles and there are a number of the 'I-must-get-the-old-machinery-to-work' puzzles.  There are a goodly number of keys to find and locks to open.  There is even a special 'time key' to be made and utilized.  There are a few of these puzzles where the clues are at best sketchy and the gamer must do a lot of trial and error.  There was one puzzle that simply could not be solved using the clues as they were presented.  I eventually got it completed by using a "by guess and by gosh" approach, and later discovered that other players had also noticed that it was not clued correctly.  Other than that, all of the puzzles were fair, but sometimes a bit vague and therefore time-consuming.  I donít mind a lot of running back and forth if I like the area in which Iím running, but a few people will be put off by the need for so such trial and error.  Since there are no mazes and the gamer canít die or be killed, there was nothing I found particularly offensive.  There are a couple of timed puzzles, but they should really be referred to as timed sequences.  If the player canít get the tasks completed, he can easily whisk back to where he was and complete a step with no loss of time or temper.

As I reach the end of this review, I must mention the one final and most effective part of the game.  It has the most surprising ending that Iíve come across in a long time (maybe ever!).  At the end, the player learns that this game, and the journey required by it, are actually about something.  The ending is not shocking, frightening, or horrible.  It is something that Iíve not come across before.  It was so effective that I found myself thinking about what I saw for several days.  Someone put a great deal of thought and care into the final moments of this game.  It was worth the game to feel what I felt at the end.

Is OUTCRY another one of those types of games that we all used to refer to as a 'Myst Clone'?   I donít know about the use of the word Ďcloneí, but there are significant similarities in the two games.  They both have effectively surreal scenery.  The games contain lots of pages, books, and documents to find and read.  There are several mechanical puzzles that must be solved, and there are, at times, a very limited collection of clues to help solve them.  Also being a great deal like MYST has some clear advantages for a new game.  The person who plays this game will view wonders unlike any he has seen before.  He will have a smoothly operating game that will allow him to be totally immersed in the land in which he is playing.  The graphics are better because technology is better.  And the end is better because there is one...  and it is amazingly effective.  In a year that has brought us a goodly number of excellent adventure games, this is still a game that stands out for me.  With its unique visuals, oddly compelling sounds, and a conclusion that the person playing will ponder for quite some time, OUTCRY is one of the most impressive games that I have played in a long time.

©  December 2008  Mark Hasley

Full View Screenshot

Developed (2008) by Phantomery Interactive and published by The Adventure Company.

Rated:   E   for Everyone  (mild language, mild violence)

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

Where To Buy This Game:

Walkthroughs or Hints:

"MaGtRo's Walkthrough" available here!

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