Reviewed: May 3, 2006
Released: March 14, 2006
Iím typically drawn to the more serious military games, usually the ones where Tom Clancy is somewhere in the name, but Iíve already been a fan of Relic and was a bit curious to see what they were going to do with their first Xbox 360 title.
The Outfit is an odd mix of ďArmy Men Meets Battlefield 1942Ē in that there is a lot of action and a lot of strategy, all set in some fairly entertaining levels that host some believable mission objectives. And much like the Relic RTS games that have come before this one, itís an experience that is best served up in its multiplayer offering.
The solo game just never grabbed me, so it wasnít long before I dove into the multiplayer pool where things are considerably more fun, but gameplay still suffers from some quirky console control issues, last-gen graphics, and a few outright technical bugs.
The first thing you might notice is the rather light-hearted approach to the storytelling. Each character comes with a decent backstory, but you never really get emotionally attached to any of the men. There are a few serious plot developments but most of the time the story is pretty much a Hollywood-style production.
The story isnít all that important since the solo game is only 12 linear missions that can be completed in just as many hours. Youíll start of with a bit of training to learn the commands and additional hints are provided (as options) beyond the tutorial, quite far into the campaign actually.
Control is a bit awkward and moving the men around can be problematic at times, but not nearly as bad as the horrible vehicle controls that will probably send you running straight into the comforting arms of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. Vehicles make this game borderline unplayable.
The Outfit is a WWII RTS whose single-player campaign spans numerous missions featuring three primary characters and a whole mess of subordinates. As you might guess, each character comes with their own set of special abilities and weaknesses, so you need to figure out the balance to make it all work.
Tommy Mac is your typical Rambo character. He totes around a massive machine gun that was probably mounted on a chopper at one time, and serves up the enemy extra-crispy with his flamethrower. J.D. Tyler provides recon as your scout, and Deuce Williams just loves to bust open tanks with his bazooka.
Each character has a unique personality and style of gameplay considering that you are locked into a fixed selection of weapons for each of these soldiers. There are three primary weapons and two secondary, one of which is usually a grenade or Molotov cocktail, and you are locked into those selections based on your character choice.
Being an RTS you have to have some sort of resource to manage and in this case itís the FU or ďfield unitsĒ, an arbitrary reward system you earn by killing soldiers, destroying enemy equipment, and taking over their bases. You then get to spend these FUís on new recruits, better equipment, and the occasional air strike. Itís an extremely well balanced system that keeps you from getting too powerful too early in the game, but it can also penalize you if you buy that fancy new tank then foolishly let it get blown up.
The solo game is terribly linear, to the point where even after the tutorial was over I still felt I was being held by the hand through most of the levels. The missions and objectives are presented in a linear fashion and you never have the freedom to decline a mission (not that you would) or mix up the order of the assignments. You end up falling into a repetitive pattern of going to the next objective, fighting for it, winning it, holding it, then moving on to the next. Occasionally, one of your previous conquests might return to enemy hands and youíll have to retake that outpost.
So while there is virtually no tactics required in how to plan the game, you are left with only the worries of how to best fight the enemy and how to effectively spend your FUís. Judging from the AI, I can only guess this was Relicís way to keep both you and the computer under control. By keeping you in narrow ďcorridorsĒ and presenting waypoint after waypoint, you never have a chance to head cross-country and thus the enemy AI doesnít have to think outside the confines of the scripted encounters.
Like Iíve found with most games in my preferred genre, the multiplayer is almost always better than the solo game and Relic doesnít disappoint. The Outfit has a very strong multiplayer component for split-screen, system link, and online modes that allow for up to eight players in versus modes and even some two-player co-op action locally and online. You can even play the entire campaign cooperatively, which is infinitely more fun, so you might want to do that rather than playing alone.
You have your standard multiplayer modes including Deathmatch where you all fight like insane soldiers for ultimate battlefield supremacy. Then you have Destruction, which is quite similar to Deathmatch only you are blowing up the enemyís ďstuffĒ rather than the enemy, but feel free to kill them too. The final mode is Strategic Victory, which is my personal favorite. This domination-style mode has you working to take over and hold as many objective points as you can within the time limit.
I have to admit, I wasnít blown away by the graphics in The Outfit. Everything seems a bit exaggerated, over saturated in color, and even a bit comical at times. The character designs are nice, at least for the main characters, but everyone else seems to fall into that Army Men mold, both in look and simple animation.
The levels are nicely designed and do their best to hide the linear nature of the game scripting, by providing natural boundaries to keep you from wandering too far off mission. There is a good level of destruction and texture deformation, and even some nice special effects in the form of fire, smoke, and dust clouds.
In all fairness, Relic is pushing a lot of information through the 360, especially in multiplayer modes where you can have a mix of human and AI soldiers that can total upwards of 200 men. With that much to deal with itís no wonder the graphics took a backseat.
THQ broke open their piggy bank to bring some top talent to this title. Ron Perlman (Hellboy) plays Tommy Mac, Robert Patrick (T2, X-Files, The Unit) plays Deuce Williams, and Terrance Carson, veteran of more than 30 video game voices including; Star Wars, God of War, and the upcoming Saints Row, plays J.D. Tyler. Each actor lends just the right touch to their respective characters.
Maybe Iím just used to the epic scoring in games like Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms, but I found just a bit too much rock and roll mixed up with my military score to keep me in the mood. Itís good music, just out of place. Maybe if they had gone all rock and left out the standard military stuff it would have worked better.
The solo campaign is a 10-12 deal and you can either play it alone or cooperatively. The online modes will keep you busy for weeks, possibly months to come, although I have started to see a dwindling in the number of people playing this game online lately.
There are also 41 achievements that will reward you with the standard 1,000 gamer points. Most of these are earned in online modes, thus reinforcing the focus on multiplayer. There are a few solo rewards and even a few secret ones I donít even know how to get just yet. Itís reasonable incentive to keep playing if you are trying to boost that gamer score.
I enjoyed my time with The Outfit, probably more than most of you will, simply because it deals with material I enjoy on a daily basis. There are dozens of games out there that look better and play better, offering a greater scope in story and gameplay.
But even so, there is a solid core gaming premise here and one that I hope is polished and refined in a future sequel. Until that day, your military service might better be served in any of the other battlefield-style games.