I brought my friend over to play The Outfit the other day as I really wanted a second opinion. I thought maybe I had been missing something; maybe there was much more to this game; maybe the clumsy controls, current-gen graphics and yawn inducing single-player mode were just a lofty production of my imagination. After all, I wanted to like The Outfit. It sounds great on paper, and it's a nice change of pace from the handful of World War II games that arrive on store shelves each month. Sadly, it turns out my mind wasn't playing tricks on me at all.
It's not that The Outfit is a complete disaster, or as bad as my opening paragraph might suggest, but it's incredibly disappointing. It's got some great ideas, but for every great idea there's about four or five bad ones. For every minute of fun you have playing the game, you'll spend a few dozen minutes wondering why it couldn't have been better, or, if you're anything like me, you'll spend that time wondering why you have to press a button in order to make your character run, or why he can only run for a few seconds before his stamina completely drains. It all depends on how much you're willing to put up with, and whether or not you're looking for a single or multiplayer experience, because if you're looking for the former, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Vancouver-based Relic, best known for its real-time strategy games, pits players against an endless onslaught of Nazi solders as one of three unique army commandos, each with his own strengths and weaknesses. Tommy Mac, voiced by the excellent Ron Perlman, lugs around a devastating flamethrower - great for close range encounters, but needs to be reloaded almost constantly - as well as a machine gun for heavy assaults. Deuce Williams, on the other hand, sports a magnum as well as a bazooka for taking down German tanks with little-to-no effort. Finally, players can choose to be the well-balanced J.D. Tyler, who wields a long-range sniper rifle for, as you might have already concluded, long range sniping, and his trusty ol' shotgun for any close encounters.
Why those three joined forces to rid the Earth of the evil Nazis isn't necessarily important. The games does sport a story and it's probably better than half of the scripts Hollywood pumps out these days, but all you really need to know is that you have unlimited ammo and that Nazis are bad.
The single-player mode takes players through twelve generic missions in equally generic environments. You'll begin with a standard training mission that walks you through the various nooks and crannies of the game, and introduces players to the Field Units system. By pumping your enemies full of lead and generally causing a ruckus, players earn Field Units which can then be spent on anti-aircraft artillery, vehicles, mounted machine guns, and even more troops. Spend the points and your weapon of destruction will quite literally drop right out of the sky.
I've seen this kind of mechanic done before, but even so, there really is nothing like having a squad of seemingly invincible Germans surround you, only to find themselves outnumbered seconds later by a tank, two mounted machine guns, a cannon, and a dozen troops. The system does pose a bit of a problem though: The time it takes to actually cycle through the list of available goodies for purchase, make your selection, and then position it strategically on the battlefield, makes your character a sitting duck - though, even on the harder difficulty levels, your character seems to have godlike healing powers and can withstand an assortment of bullets, shells, and splash damage. Unfortunately your enemies can too.
The reticule will turn red and you might think that means a guaranteed hit if you take the shot, but you'd be foolish to think so - at least while playing The Outfit that is. You'll find yourself reloading half a dozen times before the enemy can't take anymore and finally falls to the ground, possibly out of boredom. Meanwhile, another three replace him and the process repeats itself. Sound fun? Didn't think so.
Since the game is linear as well, you're pretty much forced to go where the game asks you to. There's usually no option to flank around the enemy, or enter the battlefield from a different position to gain a positional advantage. Instead, you're forced to follow the same path from one objective to the next as the game guides you around the battlefield until the mission is complete.
Adding salt to the wound is the horrible driving mechanic. Don't get me wrong, the vehicles themselves are very cool indeed - The Calliope is especially fun to take out troops with - but the driving controls are so cumbersome it got to the point where I stopped ordering vehicles all together. Of course, seeing that your character can only sprint for a short period of time, getting from place to place can take a while without using vehicles. It's been a while since I've been to the gym, but if I remember correctly, I can bust out a light jog for more than ten seconds at a time.
Luckily, The Outfit does redeem itself somewhat with the inclusion of an online multiplayer mode with a hefty amount of customisation options. You can play around with the re-spawn times, locations, weapon preferences and so forth. Up to eight players can join a game and while this seems like a rather small number, it really isn't - at least it doesn't feel that way. Take into account that each human player can command a number of AI controlled troops, now multiple those troop numbers by say, eight, and you'll see what I mean. Some of the games I played had far more than 50 characters on screen at once without a hiccup. If you can get past some of the game's pitfalls, there's actually a pretty fun multiplayer mode, and even some solid co-op play, to be found here.
Online play might be the game's only saving grace as the visuals are in keeping with the generally disappointing game as a whole. Even in high definition the game reeks of the previous generation, with unimpressive character models and wonky animations. The environments are equally poor and mostly consist of a hill, followed by a hill, followed by a road, followed by another hill, with maybe one or two buildings added to the mix. With so many gorgeous games coming out these days, The Outfit stands out like a sore thumb.
I tried hard to like The Outfit. I mean I really tried hard. If it weren't for the addition of online multiplayer and a co-op mode, The Outfit would barely be worth playing - there's just far too much here that could have been done ten times better. If you absolutely must own a new game, and you've bought Oblivion, GRAW, Burnout Revenge, a few of the launch titles, and some of the backwards compatible games like Half-Life 2, Ninja Gaiden and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, then by all means go get yourself a copy. For anyone else, it's a rental at best, and a huge missed opportunity for everyone involved.