FPS games have covered a wide variety of settings before. Gamers have looked down the barrel of a gun everywhere, from the golden age of piracy to Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom, but it seems like one of the most obvious locales is often overlooked. Of course, I am talking about the Wild West, the age of saloon rumbles, sundown duels, and wild train robberies. Yet despite all the locations, weapons, and set pieces of western iconography just ripe for the taking, very few shooters ever do.
Outlaws is one of those few.
Released in 1997, Outlaws was a LucasArts-developed FPS running in the Jedi Engine. While the Jedi Engine never got any use besides this title and the phenomenal Star Wars: Dark Forces, it’s quite the marvel. Maps are expansive, covered in all sorts of moving parts and clever item placements. On top of this, there are quite a bit of noteworthy little tricks, such as the genre’s first actual sniper rifle.
But the technicalities aren’t what makes the game great. It’s the gameplay. Like many shooters of the era, Outlaws is all about mowing down any baddie dumb enough to get in your way. As per usual, our hero James Anderson can practically glide across levels, rapidly firing off enough bullets to turn even the beefiest desperado into Swiss cheese in seconds. Sadly, this applies to James as well, and some of the later missions on the game’s dreaded “Ugly” difficulty might be some of the most teeth-grinding experiences I’ve ever had in a game.
The levels in question are fantastic, ranging from gunfights in a train to exploring an old ice cavern up north. Despite the Jedi engine’s age, the game still looks amazing, with some genuinely stunning settings and impressive lighting effects. However, some of the levels can suffer from the old FPS trapping of poor key placements, and sometimes I’d just be aimlessly scouring empty levels just to find a way to unlock that saloon door.
However, no matter the issue, I found it hard to ever really be mad at Outlaws. Maybe it’s the catchy, over-the-top Morricone style soundtrack, or maybe it’s the gorgeously animated cutscenes in between every level, but the game practically oozes charm, screaming its love for the Spaghetti Western from the rooftops. If the normal game isn’t enough for you, there’s even more Outlaws. The “Handful of Missions” added all sorts of extra maps and challenges, such as a standout bounty hunting mode or historical levels set in some of the key events of the 1800s.
Yet, despite everything it had going for it, Outlaws never got the recognition it so desperately deserved. It performed rather poorly back in the day, and was being released in a post-Quake world, one where sprite based shooters were quickly going the way of the dinosaur. LucasArts had already finished work on Star Wars: Dark Forces II, a much more technically impressive shooter in the brand new Sith engine. It seemed that if sprite-based FPS games were the old west, Outlaws had released at its twilight.
While Outlaws may have faded over the past nineteen years, it’s not forgotten. The game has become something of a cult classic among hardcore shooter fans. Just last year, Disney Interactive re-released the shooter on GOG, showing that at least someone there still cares. Considering that someone in question happens to be the owner of the IP, then there’s still a fair chance that maybe one of these days Marshal James Anderson will draw his six gun once again.