Adventure games have undergone a renaissance in the past few years. Between the Nintendo DS' Ace Attorney and Professor Layton series, and Telltale Games with Puzzle Agent and the newer Monkey Island titles, the genre has returned from being largely dormant to being one of the hotter genres for gamers. During the genre's downtime, the charge to revive it was led by The Adventure Company. Unfortunately, a lot of output that The Adventure Company published on behalf of many developers didn't help bring back the genre. Obtuse puzzles, odd styles and unusual experiments with the genre's nature kept missing the mark. Outcry, from August 2008, may represent one of the more extreme examples of why The Adventure Company lost a lot of relevance in the genre.
Outcry casts you as a writer whose university professor of a brother sends you a strange letter about some wonderful discoveries, insisting he'll explain them to you when you reach his house. When you get the key from his landlady, you find that he has disappeared without a trace. Soon after entering his house, a gramophone explains that he has "left this world," and for once, that does not seem like a euphemism for his being dead. While going over his notes, you realize that he discovered an odd place known as the "Shimmering World," and he talks about seeing things — like his mother — not as if they were memories, but as if he were experiencing them again.
After the first few puzzles involve rigging an organ to play a tone that is described as being fatal to humans, using a powerfully hallucinogenic plant, and reading up on dolmens, Outcry begins to feel like a nightmarish version of a drug trip. After you huff said hallucinogenic plant and set a code wheel to an unexplained number without any hints, you reach … the exact same room you were in, but the walls have partially disappeared, and the space outside is creepy. After you huff the plant, you also wobble whenever you stop moving.
This bad acid trip's controls are simple enough. You look around, walk along specific rails, and pick up and combining objects. Everything is controlled with the mouse, and the inventory and menu lever appear or disappear with the right mouse button. In this, there are pretty much no complaints. There are a few odd cases where you have to walk completely around something to get past it, so you have to take 10 steps where one should have sufficed.
Unfortunately, there are issues with the game's graphics. The backgrounds consist of beautiful panoramic stills, made to look vaguely animate via the addition of a rather heavy film-grain effect. This gets stranger when one gets into the Shimmering World, where the film grain is replaced by a constant glow and the aforementioned wobbling, along with backgrounds moving in an intentionally disorienting fashion. The results are lacking even by the standards of the original Myst, let alone what could've been done by 2008 (and was by Sam and Max).
The puzzles get very obtuse very quickly. While most of the puzzles are explained, they are only explained in books, and you can't tell which book is which in the inventory without setting your pointer on the book for so long that it's faster to click in and then back out. Be careful to not skip a key book because it doesn't seem related, and you must realize that pages from multiple diaries are sometimes needed to solve a puzzle, such as one of the many sets of valves and switches. If you incorrectly set the valves, there's no quick way to reset them, so you must resort to an online guide to find out how to switch them back to the zero position so you can do it right this time. Additionally, the zero position is often inconsistent from valve to valve.
This is better than some puzzles, which have no explanation whatsoever. You use scissors to cut the hose from an unused device, but anyone who has worked in a basic science lab would know that you could just pull off the hose. You also pull off a damaged hose to swap for the one you just sliced, so it's not even consistent. This is after you realize that the hose, not the device it's on, is the part to focus on, because the game's graphical style doesn't highlight objects with which you can interact.
Outcry starts to improve once you get into the Shimmering World and start piecing together the game's psychological concepts. Unfortunately, once you piece together the mystery, the Shimmering World concept comes across as pretentious, losing the creepy-drug-trip vibe and most of what makes it so disturbing. The translation occasionally has significant failures, such as a newspaper in the very first room that you just know carried a hint but wasn't translated at all. The wooden voice acting occasionally fails to match with what's on the page that you're reading. This doesn't even account for a few rooms that seem to break the game engine, slowing it to a crawl without a visible special effect to explain why this would be the case.
At least one thing is stable for the game as you progress: its soundscape. It's intentionally tinny and subtle, but it manages to consistently evoke the clearly intended vibe, layering hauntingly simple music on and off in a distinctively creepy fashion. The audio also is often the key to many puzzles, representing the cue that you have the correct solution. Those who aren't used to this audio cue can become very frustrated, and I can't imagine that this is a particularly accessible method for those who are hard of hearing.
Overall, Outcry does not hold up well to the microscope. Obtuse puzzles, graphics that fail to uphold the gameplay, and concepts that turn from creepy to pretentious cause the game to drop in quality. Gamers who want a good soundscape would have to be willing to forgive a lot and use a walkthrough guide.
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