Monday, March 16, 2009

Review: OutTrigger (Dreamcast)

Developed by Sega for the arcades OutTrigger is an interesting take on the FPS genre. Styled after the likes of Quake 3 and other "easy to pick up/difficult to master" shooters OutTrigger involves an anti-terrorist organization and killing many people in a row for tons of points. 

After deciding on a control scheme(of which there are several, even mouse & keyboard!) the player can choose a character and outfit them with three different kinds of weapons. Though there are a handful of exceptions the player's three weapons will always include a machinegun-type, a grenade-type, and a rocket launcher-type. 

The Dreamcast port splits the game into three modes of play. The Arcade mode has the player choose from four levels of difficulty(from prepatory to advanced) where the bulk of the missions consist of killing a certain number of enemies within the time limit. The focus of this mode serves as both practice for the VS mode(the meat of the game like most FPS) and as a challenge for scoring. Each stage usually consists of a small arena(since this game is only 4 players the levels are designed so that you're bound to run into others at all times) and there are times when you have a partner(who you can kill if you're not careful, which is bad news)

The VS mode as stated before is where the bulk of one's playtime is likely to be(provided one has friends that are interested in this game and/or can still find a way to play online). The thing about OutTrigger is that there's really only one mode of VS play(though you can play free-for-all or teams). Each match consists of a point limit or a time limit. Obviously killing foes will gain points but every time somebody dies they drop a medal(which can be worth 1 or more points depending on certain conditions). So not only must one be able to kill their enemies but they must also be in the position to collect the medal. This leads to a lot of unique situations and an overall more frantic style of gameplay(since people who never land a single kill could very well win the round if they steal enough medals).  Splitscreen and online play is supported in this game, though that's kind of irrelevant these days.

The Mission Mode is pretty standard for most Sega arcade-ports. There are 45 missions in all and they deal with all aspects of the game. Completing these(which for the most part are actually fairly easy) nets the player a number of new characters, weapons, and arenas. It's pretty standard but having the unlockables all tied to one mode is kind of nice(though these days it's arguably preferable to have a second method of unlocking tied to time spent in VS mode).

With all of that out of the way I want to go ahead and discuss the game itself. OutTrigger borrows some aspects of earlier FPS titles yet it also a does a number of things that are or were unique at the time. Like the more recent Call of Duty's, OutTrigger allows the player to choose their weapons before heading into the match and they're always available provided they don't run out of ammo(which is usually difficult since there's ammo scattered everywhere along with medkits and other items). Not only does this add variety(especially since there are a very large number of weapons, including some very unique ones like decoy items that work as mines) but it also allows the player to tailor their avatar to their strengths. Also unique at the time is that whenever you get killed a small window pops up showing who got you and what they're currently doing. This is sort of like how the Call of Duty Killcam works, which shows a short replay of who killed you and how they did it. Also interesting is the inclusion of rocket-jumping. While it's not as deep and functional as in other games that support it it's still worthwhile in certain instances. A feature that is as far as I know exclusive to OutTrigger is the ability to destroy other player's rockets. With some fine aiming or perhaps another rocket the player can even get the enemy's rockets to blow up in their face. Needless to say this a tremendous way to keep things balanced since that despite everyone having access to a rocket launcher there's always a way to defeat it.

The biggest question however is OutTrigger really worth playing today? I'll go ahead and say no because let's face it: The game is outdated. Even with everything this title brings to the table one can find similar games that are more accessible and have a greater level of support. These days you can play Quake 3 Arena for free and there's always no shortage of players. You just can't get that from OutTrigger. Sure it looks good, plays better, and has a lot of merit it's just not worth getting into when one has so many better options available.

With all of that in mind however Sega could and should bring it back. With the upcoming release of Virtual On: Oratario Tangram on XBLA Sega has shown they are not afraid to update DC ports for today's audience. Why not do the same for OutTrigger?

-Online play would of course be a necessity.

-Capture the flag mode. This really couldn't work all that well in OutTrigger's small arenas so to counter this Sega would have to develop expansions to the current maps(or some entirely new ones) as well as up the player-count from four to eight. However I think CTF is the perfect mode to accentuate the frantic arcade-style gameplay OutTrigger goes for and with the way the levels could be designed it should be quite interesting. Also this is just my opinion but I think scoring should work as even if the team B has team A's flag, team A can still score(just as team B can do the same). OutTrigger just isn't designed for defending really(or camping for that matter) since everyone is constantly moving and there's so many useful powerups strewn everywhere. One could still kill the flag-holder and return their flag to base instantly by touching it so much of the same appeal of CTF will remain.

-Leaderboards. Even taking out the VS mode the arcade mode still has quite a bit of gameplay to it. Scoring is pretty simple in that if somebody kills lots of enemies in a short span of time while taking as little damage as possible they're bound to score a ton of points. Why not give an incentive to have players try arcade mode? 

Some things I wouldn't change or "improve" upon.

-Adding the ability to crouch. This simply isn't the kind of game where you need to duck. It's not like people are going to be aiming rockets at your head instead of your feet and the last thing the stages need is to be revamped entirely with sandbags or crates everywhere for players to crouch behind. OutTrigger is a game of constant movement and there is nothing to be gained from sitting around behind stuff. 

-A doublejump and/or the ability to wall-jump. In keeping with OutTrigger's identity it has little to gain from borrowing elements off of Unreal Tournament. Besides that since OutTrigger has fall-damage the player has more to lose when they double-jump off a ledge.

-Melee attacks. If the player wants to focus on close-range there are weapons available for that. The weapon limit is there for a reason as it requires players to specialize in what they're best at, not to always have something for every situation.

With that in mind it should be easy for an OutTrigger update to maintain its identity while attracting new players. I really think more people should get the chance to play this game even if I don't recommend picking it up today.

Next up I'll probably look at Capcom's arena brawler/shooter Spawn: In The Demon's Hand.

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