Outcry (Sublustrum)



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   ND Games

Publisher:    The Adventure Company (NA), Mamba Games (UK)

Released:  September 2008

PC Requirements:    Windows® XP/Vista, 1.5 GHz Pentium 4 or Similar Athlon XP, 256 MB RAM, 1.5 GB Disk Space, 3D Video Card with 128 MB Onboard Video, DirectX® 9.0c Compatible with 2.0 Shaders Support (GeForce® FX 5200 or Radeon® 9600)


Additional Screenshots





by flotsam


Where to start? At the end perhaps, as you (or not-you) sink into the dark and quiet water. Or at the beginning, which would seem sensible, but which only hints at what is to come. Or somewhere in-between, except that “in-between” is a relative concept when time and reality are constantly distorted.

So let’s start with the music, or better yet, the sound.

“It is known that the original destination of Music is to create grounds for Ritual, grounds which may be supplemented by visual & audial forms. Journey, illusory as a dream & real as a tale — it is one of those numerous perceptions which a ritual can bring forth to you”.

So says Anthesteria, the audio-visual project from St. Petersburg that created the music for this particular journey. Though not referring specifically to Outcry, it very well could be.

So too this:

I offer you a journey. It has no exact route 'cause it lays through Past & Dream, through Monuments of archetypes, through routine everyday surroundings (how fascinating can it be!) & non-existing Towns. The journey may either leave you indifferent or touch your deepest feelings thus awakening a hunger for new places — the result is still unknown...

That is as good a summary of Outcry as you will get anywhere.

Except you probably won’t be indifferent.

I loved this game, or rather, this whole experience. Yes, the plot was bewildering, perhaps even nonsensical. Yes, it could be ponderous, and at times even pompous. I agree some of the imagery was a little “tricked up”. And no, I don’t usually like sound puzzles. As for the characters…what characters?

But I didn’t care. Peel the layers if you will, try and force the thing into a cohesive whole if you must. Or just go with the flow.

Outcry1 - a strong reaction or expression

I reckon there is a little bit (or in my case a lot) of obsessive-compulsive in all adventure gamers. We like the fact that we can impose order on an environment that no one but us can disturb. Fiddle here, poke there, put it back the way it was. Leave and come back and it’s exactly as we left it.

You can do that in Outcry, but you won’t get order. Not in the sense that it will make sense. There are too many ideas and thoughts, all a bit messed up. So focus on those things that you can bring order to – the puzzles – and simply revel in the sights and the sounds around you.

The plot is the least impressive part of the game. You are a middle-aged writer, responding to a letter from your estranged professorial brother. Drawn perhaps by the lure of new material for a book, or simply intrigued by the claim that your brother has discovered new horizons of human cognition, you arrive to find him not there and a strange machine occupying the lounge room. His diaries and notes and perhaps a glimpse of him here and there propel you inevitably towards the Shimmering World that the machine will unlock.

So far so good, but it becomes overwhelmed by philosophical musings, metaphysical ramblings, and (believe it or not) dolmens. In there somewhere is probably an interesting treatise on the conscious as opposed to the physical self, but it was overdone and got lost. I stopped trying to find it, and it didn’t really matter.

I was tempted, given that getting the machine started depends upon concocting and inhaling a plant extract, to think of the whole thing as one big drug-induced piece of psychosis. Perhaps it was. It doesn’t really matter.

There was also an undercurrent of things not being what they seemed, of guilt and sadness and a fractured mind. There was tenderness leaking through in parts, but mostly it was cold and melancholic. The final scene is suggestive of a lot of things - a closed loop maybe, or a Gordian twist. Or maybe by that stage I was just trying too hard to find meaning. But in the end that didn’t matter either.

Outcry2 – a crying out

Most notes and journals will be read to you rather excellently by a gravel-voiced actor who suited my idea of the missing professor. He sounded like I imagined he should. There are limited other voices, none of them nearly as good.

The musical score is stunning. Sombre, haunting, moody. It’s a pastiche of strings and other instruments and accompaniments, didgeridoos and Tibetan throat singing included. Turn it down only when you get to the Harp Tower, the penultimate realm that is one big sound puzzle. Otherwise, bask in its auditory lushness.

The puzzles are like those in games such as Rhem or Sentinel. Find things, push things, pull things, see what happens. Do it again, watch the cause and effect, listen. How the puzzle works is often part of the puzzle. There are more clues in the first part of the game than later on. In a few, the cause and effect became irritatingly dislocated (flip a switch, go see what happened, come back and flip another, take another look etc., etc.). They are also self-contained to each particular location, which doesn’t make them any less challenging but does confine the solution.

Two in particular stood out for me. Getting the tram started in the Desert was the most multifaceted puzzle in the game, and for me combined some good old-fashioned trial and error with some much underutilised brain power. Its completion is rewarded by a lute-fueled cutscene that is just about the high point of the game. Then you get to the Harp Tower, from which you must coax life with sound. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I confess that when I stepped outside the first time to find I had got the first flower bud to open, I was genuinely thrilled. Deconstructed, it isn’t as bad as it seems, at least in retrospect. But there will be a lot of pulling and turning and striking to understand the puzzle, at least there was for me, and remember to turn the music off – your hearing will be far less distracted.

Some puzzles had interesting dimensions, literally and figuratively. Once you build the time key, you can jump back and change things for the better in your current time. Need more time? Do it again. Then power up the right machine, and flip the world 90 degrees.

Outcry3 – a loud clamour

Then we get to the look. Outcry is visually striking, there is no denying that.

Some of the locations are almost surreal; the first look at the Shimmering World is almost Escher-esque -- a fragmented environment with pieces floating past at different orientations. The Desert is one big battery, with cables snaking across and throughout the starkness to link hovering power cells. It too shimmers, each scene swirling and floating at the edges of the screen.

Then the Harp, with the metallic flower buds almost languidly draping the sky.

Other environments are less elaborate, but the “tricks” I referred to earlier give them a different look. The professor’s house flickers like an image from an old projector, complete with blotchiness and picture flaws. Move from one location to another and the transition happens as if you are looking through the shutter of a snapping camera. And even standing still, your viewpoint wanders and sways ever so slightly.

Call it gimmicky if you like, but it sure adds something to the mix.

You can turn off some of these visual settings if you don’t want them. The transitions can occur normally, and your viewpoint can be set to indeed be still. I turned them on and off as the mood took me.

You can play with your inventory items and reference material (the diaries, notes, letters, etc.) and have them permanently displayed or hidden away. A right mouse click brings them up, another one puts them away. A door handle will also be available, which is the access to the menu screen. 

I was confused a few times as to whether or not I had taken a book or note with me. Sometimes the books remain visible in the game world, but have in fact been added to your collection. The close-up view of certain puzzles also reveals details which are not apparent from the normal view. For example, you might have laid an object on a table in close-up view, but when you withdraw from the close-up, the table is there but you can’t see the object.

The game world rotates 360 degrees as well as up and down by moving the mouse to the edges of the screen. You can slow the mouse sensitivity, and you can make the rotation faster by clicking and holding the mouse and then dragging the rotation.

There is one short glimpse into the past of the professor (I think that’s who it was) that involves an act of cruelty that some players may find disturbing, and which wasn’t at all necessary.

I have already confessed my admiration for Outcry. It will likely be a matter of taste, and even if you find it flavoursome, there will likely be some sourness. But it’s a fair while since I played a game of this type that I enjoyed quite so much.

P.S. According to an on-line translator, “sublustrum” means “faintly glimmering”.


September 2008

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