Weren't so long ago that the Spirit of Digital Western Gaming roamed these plains, moanin' and cussin' something fierce about getting no respect. Mayhap he didn't rightly deserve much - you might remember Sunset Riders or maybe Mad Dog McCree - mere tinkles in the comprehensive wind of the Western genre - and what else comes to mind? Dust, maybe (a fine game, but a little too Nice, and you can guess what happens to "Nice" out these ways). Still, the lack of true Western computer games was a crime, a terrible crime.
Now comes Outlaws, and there just ain't room enough in this town for anybody else.
In Outlaws, you don the duds and irons of the archetypal Avenging Loner who rides into town seeking to redress the wrongs committed by a railroad tycoon and his renegade thugs. Using both the 3D engine from the popular Dark Forces and Rebel Assualt II's INSANE engine, Outlaws combines all the elements of classic 1960s Leone-esque Westerns in a first-person shooter that is probably the first point-of-view crawler since Marathon with an actual, articulated plot.
You take the role of ex-marshal James Anderson, whose life is shattered by vicious desperados who murder his wife and kidnap his daughter, leading the determined hero on an avenging, unshaven kill spree through a prairie stronghold, a lethal sun-battered township with the unlikely name of Sanctuary, a clattering, swaying-car passenger train, and more. Inspired by such films as A Fistful of Dollars and other spaghetti westerns, Outlaws is a respectable step forward in the first-person shooter genre; even the gorgeous and gloomy Quake had only the lamest excuse for a plot. Not so with Outlaws, where in the middle of a tense back-room shoot-out the game will suddenly cut to an animated cinematic sequence which moves the story, and the motivations of the player, along.
From the opening level, you'll know you're in for a movie-worthy experience. The Western alone (with the possible exception of the noir gumshoe film) is a genre which not only embraces cliches but actually seems to improve with them, and they are all, every one of them, here: The greedy, amoral railroad baron makes his debut within the opening movie; the chugging, desolate Western music (which seems at times to have been lifted whole-cloth from Ennio Morricone's soundtracks) gives an unmistakable Leone-esque tang to the wide-open skies, dusty streets and grungy buildings of some skanky desert way station crawling with gunslingers of low moral character; bartop bottles and expensive plate glass windows don't fare well in the vicinity of saloons or anywhere else, and inventory icons take the form of the fanned playing cards one might find in such dens of sin; every counting-house, feed store, and livery stable has a back door, a hidden room, or a secret rifleman's niche, ideally suited for the dirty-dealing desperado who wants a clean view of Main Street in case the hero decides to walk down it (the rifle-scope, a nifty and dirty little piece of coding, affords the player a small, magnified patch of distant, crosshaired scenery through which to deal his brand of frontier justice); even the boiler-plate trick perpetrated by Clint the Great and Squinty-Eyed is here (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, stop reading my review this instant).
LucasArts knew that if it didn't make this one multiplayer (some fans still say Dark Forces with an inflection of resentment), it would get fire-bombed. Well, it's multiplayer - up to eight over modem, network, or Internet to be precise. There's something mighty fine, special, and personal about loading your six-shooter two shells at a time with your own fingers, ka-chik ka-chick ka-chik, before gunning down your friends through a barred jail window at two hundred paces.
To reiterate: The buffet at the Badass Western Computer Gaming table is slim pickins 'ceptin one game. Outlaws is it, pardner - the main stick, the top gun, the most complete and faithful Old West shooter in the industry to date. The bad guys in western cliches are always givin' you 'til sundown, but don't be surprised if you find yourself playing this one 'til sunrise.