Release Date: March 2006
When The Outfit is released, many may take a quick glance and say, "Oh, just another WWII shooter. I guess this one was late to the big dance." Although Relic and THQ may be following some big names in a theme that's been nearly played out, there is something special in The Outfit that's bound to get it noticed. Yes, there already is a great WWII shooter available for the X360, but although Call of Duty 2 and The Outfit are set in the same era, the similarities end right there. CoD2 is a first-person shooter, while The Outfit conveys the action from a much-needed third-person perspective, allowing you to see more of the world around you and command units in a very intimate RTS style. The Outfit also requires a degree of strategy not seen in CoD2 — not one single strategy will win the day, so you must think on your feet and change tactics on the fly in order to achieve victory.
The major thing in The Outfit that will slap you in the face like a slack-jawed oaf is the absolute level of destruction. Relic calls it "Destruction on Demand," but the environment of The Outfit is more like total annihilation. The environment is a world where everything can be blown to bits: every building turned to rubble, every tank and half-track disassembled into a charred mass of bolts and scrap steel, and no man left standing.
Surely, The Outfit isn't the first video game to boast an environment where everything on top of the ground could be reduced to nearly nothing, but of recent offerings in the genre, The Outfit stands out. When it comes to destruction, The Outfit is shaping up to be best of breed, satisfying even those obsessed with destroying everything in their path. This title brings a very interactive multiplayer environment – if there is an object in the game, odds are you can either destroy it or ride around in it. No joke. On several instances, I saw a few in-game characters riding around in a tractor or wheelbarrow. While there isn't any tactical advantage to doing so, it's just another cool feature that is rarely ever attempted, much less achieved.
Many were concerned that the graphics looked like those of an Xbox title that were ported over to the X360, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Outfit was displayed on a 40" HDTV set, and it looked sharp. Not only does the game play very well at 720p, but there was also never a dip below Microsoft's demanded 30 frames per second. We were shown a few missions from single-player mode, and then we were given free reign of multiplayer in our very own gaming tournament. There was a lot of fast, intense action on screen (with a large number of AI reinforcements, vehicles, and artillery) and the game played very well, with no noticeable drops in framerate.
As to the visuals themselves, this title was made to be played on a very large HD set. Even at a distance, the graphics are clear and crisp with heavy use of normal maps on highly detailed textures. Don't expect Gears of War level graphics here, as that was never the point of gameplay. With up to eight-man games via Xbox Live and more than 20 AI squad mates on screen, this game was built for intense multiplayer combat. The graphics could be pushed up a notch, but not without sacrificing the gameplay. Bear in mind that the environments are designed for complete destructibility and not for just looks.
The Outfit is similar to other squad-based third-person shooters with its focus on achieving specific tactical objectives throughout the game, but it makes its mark with style. The ultimate goal is to retake occupied France from the Nazi regime, only in this game, you're going to do it Jerry Bruckheimer style. Although it is a tactically focused military game, it obviously yearns to be described as an action-adventure thriller where the tides turn quickly to always keep you on your feet. Will it live up to Relic's desire to make the latecomer an innovator instead of a copycat?
Let's begin with the inclusion of iconic playable squad leaders: Tommy Mac, the all-American soldier with a flame thrower; Deuce Williams is the tough-as-nails Captain with a special love for his bazooka; and J.D. Tyler, the hardened rifleman with enough speed and stamina get him labeled as the fearless soldier with lady luck always on his side. The Outfit characterizes itself as something a little different than your average WWII game. With nearly everything in The Outfit destructible, it really allows for the player to take the enemy head on, regardless of what protections initially exist. From barrels to trucks to cathedrals, players will be able to take out anything in their paths to chase down the enemy.
In single-player action, that enemy is pretty ripe for you to exercise total annihilation upon. In completing the first main mission to find the church, it is going up in flames as you arrive to watch it collapse to the ground. Inside, all the women and children of the area were burned alive, at the orders of the Nazi General in charge of the campaign on this battlefront.
The odds are difficult as your missions continue into enemy territory, driving deep into rival terrain with only a squad of four supporting soldiers. This would be seemingly impossible, but there are some elements to level the playing field. The first way The Outfit levels the playing field is to provide nearly limitless ammunition for each of the three characters. This doesn't mean players can just run around like insane madmen holding down the trigger, but it does mean the action can be a little fast and loose.
Guns do overheat, need to reload, and weapons that are more powerful cycle slowly. Expect a lot of over-the-top combat with a huge arsenal of weapons at your disposal. Another major help in The Outfit is the slow regeneration of health. It's different from some games, where not taking damage for five seconds will allow full generation in an instant – it's more gradual – but it's also not one where the player needs to run away from the action and hide for a long time to regain stamina after taking a hard hit.
The final support mechanism to keep the action going is the Field Unit system. As you complete mission objectives, the game awards FUs, which can be redeemed for anything from replacing fallen squad members to airdrops of machine gun sentinels or tanks. Yes, the Allies have put nearly everything at the player's fingertips in The Outfit, as long as progress is being made. At first, it might seem that a point system is an arbitrary means to gain new weapons and reinforcements, but it actually plays into a lot of the strategy in multiplayer. For instance, some players will immediately opt to use their FUs to call in the Calliope, a top-of-the-line tank, but that move would use up almost all FUs. How you use your FUs at the start will determine your strategy (offensive or defensive) and how the subsequent battle plays out.
With all of these tools at the ready, it's no wonder that Relic chose to thrust the missions deep into enemy territory, where our heroes are constantly flanked, surprised by large pockets of resistance, and ambushed by paratroopers with no notice. It looks like the only rest any player will ever have is to pause the game or wait for the storyline cinematics between missions.
As an action shooter, The Outfit bears the unwanted label of "been there, done that," but to say that it is a Mercenaries clone is a not doing Relic's title any justice. For one thing, there is actual Havok 2.0 physics at work here, meaning you actually see the buildings break apart and topple, crates burst apart on impact, bridges collapse under artillery fire … and all of it looks convincing. Mercenaries would hide things behind dust and smoke in order to create a false sense of destruction.
One thing that seemed a little too over-the-top with Mercenaries was the ability to take an outrageous amount of damage before dying, but in The Outfit, you have regenerative health, like Call of Duty 2. When you get close to dying, the world around you takes on a bluish tint, and in the middle of an intense firefight, this is a great visual cue to let you know that it's time to find cover.
With only 12 single-player missions, there is concern that The Outfit is going to be a short game, but each mission is fairly intense so it's unlikely that you will sit through a number of these missions without taking a break from time to time. Additionally, Relic has informed us that each mission will take between 45 minutes to an hour, which would put expected total game time in the ballpark of 10 hours. In all fairness to the developers, this is the length of many games currently on the market.
In addition to split-screen and co-op capabilities, The Outfit also has 12 multiplayer missions, which add a great amount of replay value to the single-player experience. Just like Halo, expect to play The Outfit a few times over with friends. Completing the single-player campaign is a vital warm-up for mastering the tactics and "Destruction on Demand" skills needed for multiplayer. One-on-one action brought some serious difficulties, as there is not just the challenge of taking out an opponent in a third-person shooter, but also tactical objectives in placing and maintaining NPC forces to win the battle. With two-player teams, head-to-head action is highly strategic and destructive, and the pace of the game is quick, sometimes feeling frantic as the tide can quickly turn against the leader.
Most importantly, with a fun single-player experience and the possibility of massive battles over Xbox Live, The Outfit may just be the next big WWII bonanza. Although you are limited to eight-man MP games, each player can command at least four troops, and taking into account the artillery and emplacements which can be called in, we are talking around 32 soldiers running around in fast and intense combat.
The Outfit is one of the few games out there that has good visuals without sacrificing the core gameplay. There's something about blowing stuff up that never gets old, so the completely destructible environments are another bonus. With co-op mode, it will have more going for it than most titles already on the market for the X360. Although it's not laden with the feel of a History Channel reenactment, The Outfit will engage gamers at so many levels. For those looking for eye candy or another twitch-based shooter, play something else; but for the rest, The Outfit will challenge you in an extremely frenetic and compelling manner.
Paul Reith also contributed to this preview.
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