Other History Lessons posts can be found here. I’ve jumped straight in to talking about the game this time, but I’ve included notes about getting the game to run smoothly on modern machines at the end. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Outlaws was released in 1997. Back then, I only ever played the demo, bundled on a CD with a copy of PC Gamer magazine. I’m not certain, but I think I played the demo before the game was released, possibly a good while before. By 1997, Outlaws looked behind the times, using the aging Jedi Engine that had powered developers Lucasarts‘ 1995 Star Wars shooter Dark Forces. This engine simply couldn’t compete with the likes of Quake, which arrived in 1996 and sported impressive fully 3D environments and enemies. Outlaws fell into a category known today as “2.5D”, including games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, which featured 2D “sprite” enemies and all had various limitations on their third dimension.
But I don’t remember being bothered by that at all, which is why I think I may have played the demo early. Instead, I thought that a first-person shooter was a bad fit for a Western game. First-person shooter design had not yet reached the point where a game like Call of Juarez was possible. Games of the time, like Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3D, were about running around, exchanging gunfire with enemies, collecting ammo and health pickups, all in environments that bore little resemblance to real locations (Duke Nukem made some effort there, but I hadn’t played it back then). Playing the Outlaws demo, I found myself running around a Western town, shooting at bandits and collecting ammo and health pickups, and it just felt wrong. Westerns should be slower, more considered, shots should be deadlier.
So, when Outlaws was re-released on GOG, I was surprised to hear so much excitement. The game has some ardent fans, enough to make me think I judged its demo too quickly. But the real reason I decided to play it now was all the praise for its soundtrack. I’ve been on a cowboy music kick recently — it involves a lot of Calexico — so a soundtrack inspired by Ennio Morricone’s classic Western film scores appealed. Plus I’d get to check out the game itself again and see what all the praise is about. It was a win-win.