Preview: Outland 17

I first discovered Outland 17 while trying to contribute to the NeoGAF indie thread; a monthly discussion about indie games. Over the course of the month we try our best to collate as many interesting and upcoming indie games and spread them around the community. Two months ago I contributed Outland 17 from Grenade Tree Games and that, I thought, would be that.

The game wasn't in a playable state and only existed as a pitch on the Square Enix Collective; a Kickstarter type website that judges how popular each project is based on likes, retweets and shares and, should the project prove to be popular enough, Square Enix might back it when it hits a crowd funding website. It's a strange system, but one that has already born fruits.

I rediscovered Outland 17 a few shorts weeks ago via a retweet; a demo was available. I knew roughly what the game was from reading the pitch on the Square Enix Collective but for those of you that don't know, here it is;

"Outland 17: Void of Liberty is a turn-based tactical RPG designed to be accessible for casual gamers but enjoyable for the hardcore community. With an enticing story and the ability to engage in combat the way you want to play, there's something to offer for all in the universe of Outland 17. "

The demo itself caters more towards the casual end of that spectrum; offering tutorials and a few easier levels to work your way through. Going into the game I was expecting a gameplay style somewhere along the lines of the excellent XCOM reboot, with a grid based map allowing myriad options and possibilities. In fact, Outland 17 plays like nothing I've played to date. The game takes place in a straight line; separated into various sections. Certain weapons are effective only from the same section, like shotguns, while sniper rifles are effective across multiple. Certain sections have cover in, which moving both in and out of consumes that characters turn.

It sounds more simplistic than other turn based strategy games and in some respects it is; losing that freeform movement does limit the dynamism of the maps, but by segregating the map and stripping back options your forcing the player to work with the tools and options available, making each level play out like puzzle rather than a shit-hits-the-fan round of XCOM.

Outland 17's lore provides some interesting back story to the game, but also dictates a lot of the art style. Rather than the armour wearing commandos of XCOM, Outland 17 adopts a strong Civil War theme (even adopting red and blue coats) that feeds nicely into the imagery.

It's between bouts, however, that Outland 17 shows even more promise. The game's stage select screen is beautiful; choosing your next planetary destination could, with a little tweaking, recall Mass Effect's galactic overworld. During this phase you can also outfit and level up your characters. While the UI here is a little basic the stat changes area nice touch. Gone is the incremental 1% increase to speed or 3% to your attack damage; the changes here are tangible. An extra movement slot, let AP spent moving into cover etc if this kind of thing can translate into the full game, allowing for more customisation and specific role creation. then Grenade Tree Games could be on to a winner.

Where people will fall down here, and what I hope sees the most attention, is the gameplay. Such has been the concern leveled at it Grenade Tree Games have posted an update about the possibilities for tactics within the limited movement on offer. It's encouraging, but I need to see a little more before I can recommend Outland 17 without reservation. That, coupled with a little more freedom of movement in the camera, like in the screenshots I've posted (and a Vita version) might see me drop money on a Kickstarter.

You can download the demo for Outland 17 and check it out here.