Mini-Review: Sublustrum / Outcry

Designed by Georgiy Beloglazov, Denis Tambotsev, Pavel Bogdanov, Alexey Efremov, Phantomery Interactive

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

(Note: Sublustrum is the original Russian title. The game appears as Outcry in the English-speaking world. Outcry is neither Fallout nor Far Cry. Please adjust your expectations.)

The "hallucinatory sequence of surreal subworlds" is not untrodden territory for adventure games. You've played them before. (Heck, I wrote one.) Nor will you be surprised, in such a game, when a grim backstory begins filling itself in from strange letters and diaries.

So Outcry gets no awards for blindingly original modes of storytelling. But so what? It plays its hand deftly. Its settings are whimsical, surprising, and evocative. Its artwork is gorgeous -- fantastic imagery layered with dynamic visual effects. (The first scene plays out as an ancient film, complete with sepia tones and flickering scratches. Subsequent scenes have their own distinctive styles.) I said "whoa" a lot. The puzzles are satisfying. I am happy that I played it.

I can quibble, but I quibble with love.

* The translation (from Russian) is bad. This is a pity, because the writing is decent, as far as I can tell, and the English voice actors do their best with what's put before them. But the actual text of the game -- spoken and written -- is barely grammatical; it's full of off-by-one synonym choices and opaque idioms.

This is only a quibble, because I never had any problem understanding what was meant. I just felt like everything had been written by a reclusive Russian professor with a thick accent. (In fact, it would have worked better if the English voice actors had had thick accents.)

* The visual focus was mostly good, but a couple of important objects were too small and brown to see easily.

* A lot of sound puzzles. If you have hearing trouble, don't even try Outcry. You need to spend a lot of time tweaking controls and listening to the results.

* The first sound puzzle was enjoyable. The second one was not; it made no sense to me even after I gave up and read a walkthrough. The third one -- I think the creators must have perfect pitch. I couldn't make a dent until I installed a piano app on my iPhone and started writing down pitches. (But I did solve it, and it was fun to solve.)

* I'm pretty sure one of the diagrams in the game had two labels swapped. This made its puzzle way too difficult.

* The game is small.

Short games are fine. Nothing says every game has to be a forty-hour monster. Outcry is the right length for its story. But I think it gives short shrift to its game mechanics. There are several nifty puzzle elements, but most of them are used just once each. A longer game would have had room to develop and vary these elements, which would have made for a much richer puzzle experience. (I'd even go for a short game which used fewer nifty elements, but did more with each one.)

But these are quibbles. Overall, Outcry is a tasty treat, and I hope the creators stay in the business.

(Hey, a mini-review that was actually short. Surprised?)

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