At first glance, it looks like Outland, a downloadable title for the PS3, is yet another Metroidvania or Prince of Persia clone. And while it's easy to level such accusations, it thoroughly discounts how well the game takes the familiar and twists it in new and unique ways. In a fairly threadbare plot, you are informed that you're playing as a warrior looking to restore the balance of light and darkness to save the world from a horrible fate. The story is generic and quickly forgettable, but the game itself stands out from the crowd in a few ways.
Outland's visual design is most certainly unique. While its black foregrounds may seem reminiscent of Braid, the Native American-inspired motifs give Outland its own style. And the game's sense of scale is truly impressive. You often interact with massive constructions that hail from your warrior tribe's mythic past. And the bosses often dwarf even those, forcing you into multi-stage battles that recall the classic action/adventure games of the 8 and 16-bit eras.
The game does feature one novel game mechanic. As you progress, you gain access to new abilities, but the most important one is the ability to harness the powers of light and darkness. Throughout the game are fountains that spew elemental energy, aligned with either one pole or the other. If the energy is light and you align yourself to light (you can switch between the two on the fly using the bumpers on the controller), you are immune to the harmful energy and can access lifts of that persuasion. However, you can only fight enemies of the opposite energy signature, often causing you to make quick decisions about whether to stay and fight and gain currency for upgrades or rush past so as not to be harmed by the endless outpouring of energy. As the game progresses, you have to get better and better at switching polarities on the fly, as you race through levels showered with energy waves and lifts of different types.
Make no mistake, Outland is difficult, again much like the classic 16-bit games it's emulating. As you gain more abilities, the game throws more at you, forcing you to use every trick at your disposal. In addition, the boss fights become longer and more complex. Unfortunately, much like those older games, if you should die at any point in a boss fight, you get sent back to the beginning, no matter how far you've progressed. Given that some of these fights can take up to half an hour to complete, that kind of old school difficulty isn't easy to adjust to. On the other hand, it does feel like a true successor to those games.
Outland isn't for everyone. Its seemingly simple gameplay becomes surprisingly complex as you progress, and you'll need lightning reflexes to get through the later levels. But for those who like a challenge, Outland most ably provides one, and does so in a framework that is both beautiful and well constructed. It's not pefect, but Outland offers a very satisfying gaming experience for those who are willing to stick with it.