“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this instalment: Outlaws, a tale of the Old West published in 1997 by LucasArts Entertainment, created by an experienced programming team, with the lead design by Stephen R. Shaw (who was also the lead programmer for Full Throttle) and Daron Stinnett (who also was the project leader for Star Wars: Dark Forces).
The background story in Outlaws revolved around retired U.S. Marshal James Anderson, who lives an idyllic life with his beautiful wife and only child. Idyllic, that is, until his opposition to selling his land to a nasty railroad baron (weren’t they all nasty?) brings about the death of his beloved wife Anna and the abduction of his daughter, Sarah. The adventure began with Anderson burying his wife, digging up his shotgun, and heading off to find his daughter and take his revenge. “Dyin’s too good for ‘em,” the game’s tagline said, and after watching the introduction, you’re rooting for ex-Marshall Anderson to show them all what that means.
Outlaws was a first-person shooter style game using a modified version of the Dark Forces game engine, and although the game’s storyline was focused on single-player gameplay, the game also featured a robust multiplayer mode. Players could choose to play up to six of the main characters within the game: ex-Marshall Anderson, Matt “Dr. Death” Jackson (who killed the Marshall’s wife), “Bloody” Mary Nash, “Gentleman” Bob Graham (the railroad baron), “Spittin” Jack Sanchez, and Chief Two-Feathers, with advantages and disadvantages for each. For single-player gameplay, there were three options: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (Come on, who doesn’t like Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns?) The differences between the options were in how much damage Anderson could take from gunshot wounds; in Good mode, the player could walk Anderson into a spray of bullets with only minor consequences, in Ugly mode the ex-Marshall might be able to withstand one or two shots, but certainly no more than that – so no wading into a gunfight firing at will.
The graphics for Outlaws were the standard 800×600 mode, which by today’s standard would be bulky, but were more than adequate in 1997. LucasArts also added Glide and Direct3D support on a later patch, which helped extend the game’s shelf life as better technology was released. The animated cutscenes were quite unique, as they were run through a special filter to make them appear to be hand-drawn, which really helped add to the game’s atmosphere.
In addition to the main game, LucasArts included a set of five single-player missions that led the player through the early career of the ex-Marshall. Each mission’s goal was the capture (preferred) or execution of a wanted outlaw on the run. With each successful completion, Anderson is promoted, eventually earning his Deputy, Sheriff, and Marshall badges. LucasArts also released a set of four missions on their website which they called, a “Handful of Missions,” in keeping with the spaghetti western motif. These missions are stand alone gameplay, unconnected to the original storyline. (Game companies that give you free extras are always tops in my books).
Unfortunately, despite the great gameplay, Outlaws did not perform well commercially. It is forever a niche product (similar to Grim Fandango), which holds a special place in the hearts of those who played it. Outlaws is another forgotten classic that deserves to be dusted off and enjoyed by retrogamers everywhere!