OUTPOST from Sierra On-Line

Reviewed by Scott Sumner
See also the review by David Charles Reed

          Computer Graphics  Memory  Disk Space Required 
Minimum:  386SX    VGA       4 MB    5M 
Max/Rec:  486DX    SVGA      8 MB    55M 
Control:  Mouse, Keyboard 
Sound:    Music = SBPro, Roland LAPC-1/MT-32/CM-32
          Sound = SBPro, Roland LAPC-1/MT-32/CM-32 
Notes:    Runs under Windows 3.1 256 color mode, CD-ROM
          Disk based version available mid-August
          SVGA - 640 by 480 256 color 
Reviewed Version 1.0 on: 486/50, 16 MB, SoundBlaster Pro, Mouse
                         386/40, 8 MB, SoundBlaster Pro, Mouse

In issue #18, Ross Erickson previewed one of the premier software packages seen at Winter CES. Combining solid simulation-type strategy and 3-D Studio rendered graphics, Sierra's Bruce Balfour (author of Wasteland and Dagger of Amon-Ra) draws upon his experience with NASA to create a simulation worthy of the accolade "Best of Show". In the year 2045, NASA detects headed for Earth and the resulting impact will eliminate life as we know it. An attempt to divert the comet with a nuclear weapon causes it to split; both pieces are expected to collide with Earth. Since the impact is inevitable, mankind's sole option is to save a representative sample of Earth's life in a fusion-powered starship. Since the governments don't have the flexibility to formulate and execute such a plan, a international conglomerate commits to building the ark and places you in complete control of the project.

You are provided a skeleton ship which is assembled and outfitted during the first phase of Outpost. Since the payload of this 43 million ton ship is only 100,000 tons you must be conscious of every component, probe, factory, lander,life support system and necessity required for our colonists to survive in the harsh climate of the new colony. You are limited by both weight and cost of each item, and you are limited to a maximum of 200 colonists. Since you really need to know where you going, you have the option to launch several types of interstellar probes to help you make an informed guess about which planet should be your new home.

Once you arrive, you enter a stable orbit around your new home and commence launching probes in order to gather data. This will help you to make an intelligent decision on where to land your initial seed factory. A seed factory is an automated, self replicating unit which sends out robots to explore and clear terrain. It also provides a temporary haven for the landing colonist. You then land your human cargo and equipment.

The third phase is where the user interface really shines; a three dimensional map with several different icons allows you to move both above and below the surface, select which kind of structure you wish to construct or request help from your Artificial Intelligence (your AI).

Structures start with Agricultural Domes and Residental Units, eventually leading to Space Station and Satellites. The structures all have unique characteristics, changing morale, productivity and providing specific services to the colony. Adding to your difficulties is the possibility of meteor impact, earthquakes and alien virus. And if that isn't enough, a rebel leader gathers up to half your resources and colonists.

Balfour uses his research to his full advantage, introducing cutting edge technology being explored now as hard technology to use as your tools for survival. Hibernation, nanotechnology, robot remote manipulation and interstellar travel are representative of these new sciences.

Installation is fairly straight-foward, although time consuming. The disk space requirements vary, since your can chose a minimal install (about 2M of hard disk storage) or a full install which takes more than 50 Megabytes. The full install uses only the WAV and animation files on the CD, where the minimal runs primarily off the CD. A variety of sound cards are supported, which is good because the musical score and sound effects are phenomenal. In order to test for compatibility, the game was run on several machines, including a 386DX 40Mhz machine. It ran fairly well, especially when you consider the SVGA 256 color animations.

The only significant problems was in the playback of the computer voice, and even this can be resolved. Incidentally, I did a full install on my hard drive, and turned off the animations and the game ran without the CD.

The SVGA FLC animations run whenever a significant event occurs, such as a probe launch or a natural disaster. The initial introductory animation takes over 10 minutes to run. Considering the richness of the superb animations, the simulation ran remarkably well. The musical score was excellent, which is on par with Sierra's other software. The hypertext voice help was terrific, I've never heard anything even remotely like this. Even the packaging was excellent, with a well written manual and a handsome CD-jewel case.

The only problem with OUTPOST is that some features in the manual were left out, due to the pressure to put the product out on the market. Specifically, the monorail, the macro-management feature and roads were omitted. However, some features were added. The changes are all covered in the README file on the included floppy disk.

Released several months before the actual release of the game, was "Outpost: The Official Strategy Guide". Microprose's SEAWOLF required the strategy guide because the included documentation was so sparse. This is not the case here: not only is the manual comprehensive, but the on-line help is excellent. The strategy guide fleshes thie game out with strategies, background, and some really incredible spoilers. It also contains a tentative future project list, any of which I am definitely looking foward to.

In summary, I have never played a game of this overall quality as OUTPOST. For once, I am glad to fork over $45 for this piece of software, especially since I have been disappointed repeatedly by games in the past. OUTPOST is anything but a disappointment.

This review is Copyright(C) 1994 by Scott Sumner for Game Bytes Magazine. All Rights Reserved.