Designed and developed by the Russian studio Phantomery Interactive, and originally released in that country under the name Sublustrum, Outcry is an original project adventure game based on an eerie premise -- that it is possible to enter other dimensions by separating body and mind. An atmospheric game, Outcry begins with an invitation -- an invitation to you from your brother, whom you haven't seen in years. Yet he suddenly disappears, leaving you with a machine that he has been building and experimenting with, and which he claims can separate a man's consciousness from his physical being, allowing him to travel to other time-space continua. With a desire to explore these boundaries between dream and reality, as well as determine what happened to your brother, you must reach deeply into your own subconscious and confront fears that you thought were long buried.
So begins the adventure. And what an unusual adventure it is. Combining both inventory and logic puzzles, surrealistic artwork, graphics special effects, a haunting soundtrack, and many challenges, Outcry provides something for every adventure gamer.
The interface for Outcry is a fairly standard first-person point-and-click interface, using the mouse to move from scene to scene (as well as panning within scenes), select objects, and interact with active spots on the screen. All scenes (other than a few close-ups) provide full 360-degree horizontal panning, and a wide range of vertical movement, as well. The game is played in four main stages, or sections. Finishing one section and moving on to the next is one-directional; once completed, you cannot go back to an earlier part of the game.
The artwork in the game is quite novel. Given the unusual (and, in some cases, unearthly) situation, the graphic designers did an excellent job in creating some very "unreal" environments. The game begins in a fairly traditional -- and familiar -- landscape: your brother's office. There you discover the machine that he has created for this body-soul separation. You also determine that it is no longer working, which presents you with your first challenge -- fixing the machine, so that you can follow your brother... wherever it is that he went.
From the moment the game begins, the scenery is stunning. The artwork is photorealistic, down to the rusting textures of metal objects, the disarray of elements within each scene, and the details of each background. At the same time, the artists have done some very creative work with colors, with the intent of emphasizing the overall drabness of this particular setting. As the game progresses into successvie stages, that artwork becomes more surrealistic -- as would be expected. To me, the result of this surrealism seemed like a drop in quality in the later segments of the game. The scenes get simpler, the level of detail seen in the earlier parts of the game is no longer apparent, graphical objects get more "boxy," and there's almost a feeling that the graphic design became more hurried.
The puzzles in the game also change in style and scope, when moving through the sections of the game. In the opening segments, the game employs a series of primarily inventory-based puzzles. To a great degree, the process is "figure out what you need to do, determine what things you need to have, find those things, bring them all together, and perform the task." As the game develops, however, the puzzles turn much more to logic puzzles -- solving more tactical, "in your face" puzzles that require more thinking than collecting and using items. While perhaps only coincidental, it also seemed that as the puzzles moved from inventory to logic puzzles, the story also became more detached. There was less and less emphasis on your hunt for your brother, and more on simply solving "brain teasers" that popped up along the way -- with little or no correlation to the development of the story. By the final segment, there was almost no relationship at all between the puzzles and the original story line. (However, I should also point out that -- being a person who enjoys logic puzzles -- these puzzles in the final section of the game were some of the most enjoyable for me. They were challenging, yet satisfying, with no air of "Huh?!?!?" after I had solved them.)
Since the game does progress from segment to segment, there is a certain degree of linearity in the game play. However, within each segment, exploration and activity is typically quite random, and open to the player. Documents, letters, notes, and other writings that you encounter during the course of game play contribute to the fleshing out of what little story there is (beyond just the basic premise of the "out of body" experiences). Unfortunately, even by the end of the game there are some things that are never explained. I cannot provide more details without causing major spoilers at this point. Suffice it to say that when I finished the game, I still had unanswered questions about major pieces of the story.
The game is rated "E" (Everyone), although the theme at times was a bit bizarre, and even disturbing. The ESRB rating indicates "Mild Language" and "Mild Violence," yet I cannot say that I noticed either -- and I am typically offended by both.
The game is actually fairly short, although it must be kept in mind that this is a "first offering" from Phantomery Interaction. And as such, I believe it was a great success. Though I was able to complete the game in about 10 or 12 hours, I saw a lot of things in this game that hold great promise for future offerings from Phantometry. In this case, perhaps they tried to do too much, but with too little story, for a first game. (That could also provide some explanation for the apparently unrelated puzzles near the end -- i.e., as an attempt to lengthen the game, without actually having the content to base that extension on.) Overlooking that, however, I found Outcry to be more enjoyable than I would have initially thought; and I can recommend it to adventure gamers, particularly those who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
-- Frank D. Nicodem, Jr.