Review by Retro
Reviewed: 04/16/01 | Updated: 03/29/03
A ricocheting good time
Outlaw is one of the many prototype-looking early titles for the Atari 2600. It has graphics that look like something a 5-year-old would draw for an art class, but underneath the troubling looks is a game that can provide a great deal of entertainment.
Outlaw employs a country-western look and feel by featuring blocky cowboys that are outside amongst the cacti and covered wagons (where is the tumbleweed?!) to try and see who has the quicker draw. You have the honorable honor of getting to control a cowboy and walking around the screen while trying to add some artwork in the form of bullet holes to your identical-looking opponent.
Though these pixilated cowboys are hungry for some vengeance against each other, they walk around fairly slowly. At the start of each bout, one cowboy will be on the left side of the screen facing the right, while the other is on the right side facing the left. Even when they're within spitting range, the two will never turn their backs to one another. Therefore, if you're losing to your opponent, calling him/her a backstabber would be a false accusation.
At the very start, there is always one of three items that will be separating the two of you in the middle of the screen: a cactus that is absent of spikes, a basic wagon without horses, or a solid vertical wall. No matter what the foreign obstacle happens to be, your goal is to use your shotgun to shoot down your enemy ten times to win the game.
To boost the replay value up tremendously, there are 16 variations to choose from in Outlaw. All of the ones with two cowboys in them (the majority of them) are for two players only. In some of the variations, the cactus or wagons will be invincible. No matter how many times you shoot them, they won't be scarred a bit. Seeing that you have no bombs included in your weapon supply, you'll just have to deal with it. Also, the playing field is always enclosed in the shape of a box; there's never any scrolling or changing of rooms involved, but you do have a decent amount of room in which to move around.
In other variations, the cactus and the wagon can be shot all to pieces up until there is nothing but a wide open space between the two combative humans. In one or two of the available games, the wagons choose to scroll, leaving only a small space between them in which a bullet can creep by.
The variations that have a solid wall in the middle of your television screen can all be broken through. Whether it's a lazy wall or a continuous scrolling barrier, you can choose to time your shots like a sure shot or shoot away at it as if you're a vicious vampire that will die in a few seconds if you don't obtain your blood right away.
In a chosen few of the games, both shooters will have the dubious task of managing a bar that represents the shots they fire. With each shot that is fired, a small block of the bar will be chipped away (six shots make up the bar). Once your limited bar runs out, you must wait for the other player to use up all of their shots before you can fire away again. This is like a penalty shot in a way. One player gets a free shot while the other player just tries to dodge the damaging, oncoming projectiles.
Finally, for players who choose to go solo, there are a few one-player variations available. All of these feature an energetically bouncing target complete with a bull's eye. Whether scrolling wagons or a sturdy cactus impedes your bullets' paths to the target, your objective is the same: shoot the target ten times before 99 seconds tick away. If a full 99 seconds goes extinct before ten bullets come in contact with the hyper target, the game will just end. Shooting the target ten times like you're supposed to do will have the same result.
While the lack of weapons might bite at you a little bit, you can at least shoot in three different directions. At all times, you can aim your gun in a straight path, point it up, or down. Anytime you fire a bullet either up or down, it always flies in a diagonal fashion while it also glides further away from you and hopefully closer to your enemy. When a diagonal-moving bullet comes in contact with the floor or ceiling that encloses the playing field, the bullet will ricochet and then continue its diagonal journey until it runs into a firm object.
In the two-player games, there is never a time limit. Each time a bullet hits a cowboy, whether the bullet hits him in the heart, on the hat, the foot, or any other place, he will fall flat on his ass for a second or two before getting up with even more revenge in mind. This is because this wounded animal is one step closer to a loss. Each time he is hit, his opponent will score a point, and vice versa. The first player to reach the pinnacle of ten points has the right to hail himself as the winner.
Outlaw's visuals weren't exceptionally good or bad for the time. The cowboys and the cacti are simplistic stick figures (though the cowboys have a decent amount of detail....for a stick figure), and everything else such as the wagons and the target aren't eye-popping, but you can at least tell what they are. For most Atari 2600 games, that's about all you can expect.
Another drawback about the graphics is that there could've been some better colors. The cowboys look like dark shadows walking around. There are not many frames of animation either, but again, it's not terrible. One thing I have always liked about the graphics is how a bullet will stop in midair when the game ends. Let's say you just shot your enemy and scored your tenth point to win the game (which causes the screen to freeze in place), and that your opponent shot a bullet at you before your bullet hit them. Their bullet will freeze in midair even if it's right in front of your eye when the game ends (neat!).
At the time when Outlaw was released, there were very few, if any games that included music, so don't expect to hear any. There are not many sound effects in Outlaw, but the ones that are here to be heard are well done and memorable. I like how the target produces a different sound effect based on where you hit it at and how far away you're standing from it. Hit the bouncy target's bull's eye and no sound plays. Shoot it at a fairly close distance and at the top of the target, and a short bleep will be produced. Hit it from a far distance, but not on the bull's eye, and it makes the same sound effect that is heard each time you pump your enemy cowboy full of lead.
Outlaw utilizes the joystick controllers. All you have to do is move the joystick in the direction you want to move, and press the button when you want to unleash a hungry bullet. If you want to aim your shot, just stand in place, hold the button, move the joystick up or down to aim your shot, and let go of the button to let the bullet fly. The controls are right on target; they're not touchy or sluggish. The characters aren't either fast or slow, they're just right (though it would've been nice to be able to move faster at times). The bullets also fly through the air at a constant speed.
Being a game that was made in 1978, Outlaw is old and may not appeal to those who aren't open-minded about enjoying games that are older than them or those who didn't grow up with the system. But those who do give the game a fair shot will find out that it can be a lot of fun. Me and my older brothers played it all the time when we were kids and even now as grown-ups, we like to play it at times to have a good nostalgic laugh at being two blocky cowboys who walk around the screen testing their aim. If you purchase Outlaw for one-player reasons, you won't like it much since there is no computer-controller adversary; only the target games are one-player. But if you have someone around that you enjoy playing video games with, then you'll be doing more harm than good by not buying the game.
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