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Sierra Online's OUTPOST

Sim City meets Civilization, sort of..

"Build Mankind's Future in Space" is the daunting challenge thrown at you by the folks at Sierra Online, the computer gaming company that brought us such perennial allstars as the "King's Quest," "Space Quest," "Leisure Suit Larry" and other game series.

With "Outpost," you're given charge of the remaining dregs, er prime examples, of humanity and faced with the opportunity of getting them safely off Earth before the planet is destroyed. To do this, you must send out probes and choose a new world for your colony from among several star systems throughout the galaxy.

Throughout this "preamble" process of choosing a planet (which involves selecting your population and supplies) you're warned by the irritatingly sweet-voiced computer that any mistakes will doom your colony to certain death, followed with "Have a nice day." And the computer's right, though you may not find out for many, many turns that all your hard work and planning has been for naught.

Anyway, once you've chosen a planet and deployed your various probes and satellites, you pick a landing site and begin your colony. From this point on, the game sort of becomes a science fiction version of "SimCity 2000," which is not necessarily a bad thing. You must dig mines and build a living, expanding colony before your supplies or your colonists run out.

Along the way, you'll lose colonists due to accidents, old age, or even defections (there's a rebel colony building hundreds of kilometres away from yours and if you're not smart your people will move there. Conversely, if you're the greatest leader since Margaret Thatcher - or whoever your particular brand of politics likes - the rebel colonists will eventually beg to join yours.) but your population will also grow thanks to that old standby wonder of biology and human reproduction. Unfortunately, these ankle-biters have to grow up before they become productive members of your colony; in the meantime, they take up space and supplies.

Growing Pains…

As your people age and drop off, you have to educate the younger generation to take their place. This all happens underground, where you build your residences, universities, recreation areas, laboratories, etc. On the surface you stick to things like factories, smelters, warehouses, and the like. Quality of life is definitely determined by the "underground economy" in Outpost. Sounds more like today's reality than science fiction, doesn't it?

The object is to build your colony, all while rediscovering Humanity's knowledge that was lost with the destruction of the Earth (Which happens on your way to your new home). You do this through scientific research on everything from fine arts to Nanotechnology.

As your new civilization advances, you gain new capabilities (or improvements on existing capabilities) until you're ready to build a new starship and sally forth back into the galaxy to found yet another colony. At that point, when you launch your starship, the game is over and you've ensured humanity's future (presumably until a new leader screws things up on the next planet!).

You can continue playing past this point, however, merely by not launching your starship. That way you can terraform your planet, giving it a breatheable atmosphere to let you go outdoors. We never actually figured out a way to get your people outdoors, though.

"Outpost" is pretty addictive, once you get past the rather tedious opening sequence of choosing your planet and actually getting to it. Periodically during the game you get interrupted by animated sequences denoting events happening in your colony. These sequences are very well rendered, though they slow down an already leisurely game. Fortunately, you can go in to the "Preferences" menu and shut them off, along with the music and sound (like that damn computer voice).

"TechnoFILE" tested the multimedia CD-ROM version of "Outpost," designed to run under Microsoft Windows. A floppy disk version is also available but, as with anything else, if you have a CD-ROM drive you'd have to be some kind of nut to opt for using scarce hard drive space for a game.

On the whole, "Outpost" is very interesting (being supposedly based on current scientific research and prognostication) and fun if you like the simulation type of game. It takes a long time for anything to happen, though, so patience is most definitely a virtue. To say this game is leisurely is an understatement. Fortunately, you can run multiple turns if you want and this will help speed things up, though you may miss some interesting event along the way and, if you run too many turns, you may find yourself face to face with a dead, empty colony when the waiting ends.

Actually, there is one instance when the game seems to speed by at warp speed. That's when you're busily working to ensure humanity's survival and future, but suddenly discover that it's all for naught when "Outpost" announces everyone is dead and you get a terrifically rendered (and extremely frustrating) 3D dead guy in a space suit staring out at you.

If you manage to avoid such pitfalls, however, there's an entertaining time in store for you as you rebuild human civilization and terraform the planet to create a breatheable atmosphere.

Oh, and if you get bored with the game, you can always take the CD ROM and put it into your audio CD player, where you'll be treated to a rendition of the "Mars" suite from Holst's "The Planets."

"Outpost" isn't a razzle dazzle space shoot-'em-up and so will probably not appeal to the arcade game crowd, but as a simulation it's pretty neat, as long as you don't mind the leisurely pace.


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May 14, 2006