Sunday, 4 August 2013

Looking at the Mad Max game with a different name - By Michael Westgarth

Beyond Nitendome

One glance at Outlander and the Mad Max inspiration is obvious.

The car, the endless stretch of road, the orange and brown colour scheme of the oh so familiar Australian post-apocalyptic wasteland. Our nameless hero is even rocking the leather jacket, jeans and sunglasses combo. It's more than likely that Outlander was a failed attempt by developer and publisher Mindscape to renew the Mad Max license following their official Mad Max NES game, but that's not important. What is important is that Outlander mixes two very common gameplay types and throws in a survival twist, resulting in a unique and challenging game often overlooked by even the greatest Super Nintendo enthusiasts.

As children growing up with the Sega Mega Drive, my younger brother and I would look forward to visits from our uncle who would reveal to us what we considered at the time to be truly exotic games on his SNES. Even though the likes of Super Mario World and Star Wing wowed us, there was something oddly attractive about Outlander. Funnily enough, I specifically remember asking my uncle what the game was about, only to get a reply along the lines of, “It's like Mad Max.”. Our blank faces, however, required a more detailed description.

Initially, Outlander looks like nothing more than a racing game. In fact, the game starts with no introduction, no story and no instructions – Just your car, the road, and the orange mountains on the horizon. Drive a small distance however and you'll soon be attacked by motorcycling bandits. That's right, it's boomstick time. Your car is equipped with a front mounted machine gun used for taking out oncoming bandits, however, when motorcyclists drive along side you a small screen will appear showing you a side-on view of the bandit in question, allowing you to line up and fire a shot from your shotgun. The assault continues as you wind around corners, dodging road blocks and trying to block off bandits chasing you from behind using your rear view mirror. It won't be long though until you run out of fuel, health or ammo, at which point you can park along side the road in order to scavenge for supplies on foot.

The ability to park the car at any time and start a 2D side-scrolling section amazed me as a child at a time where the games I was playing had clearly defined stages consisting of one type of gameplay. This didn't make Outlander any easier though. Each stretch of road is interspersed with towns in which food, ammo, armour, nitro and other bits and bobs can be found in relative abundance – just so long as you can take out the town's aggressive inhabitants with your shotgun, or failing that, your fist. Completing a town acts as the end of a stage, totting up your score and giving you a password. Stopping your car before a town will result in you walking along side the road itself, battling motorcyclists and dodging land mines – all for a fraction of the items found in a town.

Outlander is a game about survival, a fact that made it impossible for my younger brother and I to get very far when playing it. The game would always give you just a little less ammo than you really needed and just a little a less fuel than it took to get you to the next town. In addition to this, running over one too many road blocks or crashing into a bolder would quickly send you to the 'Game Over' screen. We'd often ask our uncle to play it so we could watch the game in action, begging him to run over sheep at the expense of his health, because running over sheep in Outlander was very funny.

Returning to the game in my adult years has opened my eyes to the addictive balance of 3rd person driving, 2D side scrolling and survival elements Outlander offers. Throw in a few cool and catchy tunes and some decent use of the SNES's ability to scale and you have yourself a rough diamond of a game that can be found for next-to-nothing prices. It's by no means a masterpiece – my nostalgic memories of the game helping to patch over some of its shortcomings – but this Mad Max wannabe is certainly worth checking out.

Thanks to Michael Westgarth for his review.

Michael Westgarth is a videogames writer and journalist whose works include articles for Sega Addicts and Geek Insider.

Links to his work:

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