I think I might have a new favourite Megadrive game – and an almost topical one too, considering how excited everyone was getting about Mad Max recently.
Released in 1992, Outlander is, quite literally, Road Warrior: the video game. It has Mad Max in it, it has Mad Max’s car in it AND it even has a load of twats on motorbikes. The only thing it doesn’t have is the official license – but that’s only because developers Mindscape managing to lose it shortly before the game’s release, the crazed fools.
So what does a 90’s take on a Mad Max game look like? Well, the theory is actually remarkably similar to the vaguely-ropey Technocop. Starting behind the wheel of the Max mobile, the player cruises over remote wasteland roads, taking care of various vehicular baddies and searching for settlements to raid.
Once the player either runs out of gas or stops at a settlement, the game morphs into a third person shooter, with the player tasked with restocking as much stuff as they can (ammo, fuel, health) while fighting off hoards of angry and heavily armed locals. Suitably replenished, it’s then time to get back on the road to deal with the next batch of joyriding goons.
As structures go, it’s definitely a simple and remarkably repetitive one, but given the subject matter it works quite well. The main focus of the game is clearly on the vehicular combat side of things (expect to spend around 66% of your time blowing up motorbikes and around 33% kicking skinheads in the balls) but this isn’t a bad thing by any means.
You see, the driving portions are exceptionally well executed. Keeping the car on the road is more challenging than in your average arcadey wall-runner, but it’s not so challenging that it detracts from the martial aspects of the game.
The combat too, manages to be madcap without being especially unbalanced. At any one time you’ll be dealing with a heady cocktail of explosive-dropping gyrocopters, malevolent jeeps and motorcycle riding-punks rudely trying to perforate you via the car window. ooh eck.
Fortunately, the game gives you enough tools to comfortably dispatch these foes. the forward-facing machine guns are relatively straightforward to aim, and a handy pop-up window alerts you to when a parallel motorcyclist is ready for a jolly good shotgunning.
If you make a mistake, you’re not going to be blown up by a single explosive or murdered by a single crossbow bolt, so just like the car control the game manages to provide a challenge without being frustrating and unfair.
On top of this, the game is full of a myriad of nice touches. Not only is the cockpit nicely detailed, but you can also expect to see lots of escapee wheels bouncing over your bonnet and riders being thrown clear from their bikes. Indeed, considering the post-apocalyptic wasteland setting, Mindscape even went overboard with the road-side scenery. There’s an impressive variety of telegraph polls and burned out hulks to be seen.
Of course, you’ll eventually run low on ammo and fuel and have to pull over in the nearest town – and this is the area that lets the package down a little. Now, I love the idea of punching complete strangers as much as the next man, but everything in the on-foot sections feels a little off. Much like Technocop, the animation feels stiff and the collision detection (both fists and shotgun blasts) doesn’t feel quite right.
It’s also a lot harder too: Not only can explosives remove half your health with a single blast, but until you pick up a Geiger counter even some of the life-restoring food can do you further harm (if it’s radioactive.) Tough gig. Not that the enemies are especially tough, mind you. Whether you’re dealing with the burly skinhead, shotgun-wielding woman or bike-riding goon, all three can basically be defeated by ducking.
With that said, Max..er…the Outlander doesn’t have to spend too long outside of the car (which, interestingly, manages to teleport itself from the beginning to the end of the stage,) so the negative aspects of the foot-bound sections aren’t anywhere near as damaging or as frustrating as those found in Technocop. Hurrah!
Overall then, Outlander is a fun (if slightly repetitive) title that would have easily found a home in the European console market. After all, it’s definitely better than a fair few games that did manage to find a home here.
The only clue I could to find for why it remained state side-only was developer Mindscape’s contemporary releases. Outlander represented one of the last entries in a glut of licensed titles for Mindscape (other examples include NES releases based on both the original Mad Max, Dirty Harry and Days Of Thunder.) It’s thus quite possible that their licenses for these included North America only, so they didn’t look into international publishing options.
Either way, I’d say there’s a big Outlander shaped hole in the European Megadrive market. If you’re looking to add a Genesis import to your collection, you could definitely do a lot worse.