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Outpost 13 (PC) artwork

Outpost 13 (PC) review

"The scam’s The Thing"

If you were to look up the definition of ‘squandered potential’ in the dictionary, you would find a brief series of words that, when applied contextually, would adequately describe obscure indie horror game Outpost 13. Except, let’s throw a few more words onto the funeral pyre. Words like ‘broken’ ‘unnecessarily confusing’ ‘infuriating’ and ‘borderline scam’.

Now I’ve sufficiently put the boot in, let’s talk about the game Outpost 13 should have been. It’s also the sort of game Outpost 13 initially is, but we’ll get to the mounting sense of crushing disappointment soon enough. Openly inspired by the John Carpenter classic, The Thing, you take control of a dog living in an arctic science station. It’s your classic tale of a dog meets a symbiotic alien then goes on a stealthy homicidal rampage, killing all the humans before they’re able to figure out what’s wrong. On the surface, this is a wonderful idea; Fenrir the dog is a beloved part of the base’s family and, as such, is initially free to trot around the encampment as he pleases. He uses this trust and freedom to figure out new and exciting ways to kill all the humans as inconspicuously as possible.

Here’s an example. There’s a man in the garage working under a suspended bit of heavy machinery, and the release lever is just the right height for a canine assassin to manipulate. But just scampering over and flipping the switch is a bad idea. There’s another guy just chilling in the workshop who will not only casually saunter over to reverse your work and save his colleague but will notice that you, the adorable fuzzy-faced pet, might be harbouring some murderous intentions. A lot of Outpost 13 revolves around not blowing your cover. Each occupied room of the station has a suspicion gauge attached, which you will damage by undertaking decidedly un-dog like behaviour. Like trying to crush someone to death. As such, you need to plan further ahead. You need to find a way to distract the pesky onlooker. Fatally, ideally.

To begin with, exploring the station and slowly building plans to kill everyone within it while jealously guarding your true intentions is a lot of fun. There’s various stages of the day you can cycle through, including a night cycle where you can skitter through the air vents and spy on the staff in their sleeping quarters. With a bit lot of trial and error, and a bit of cautious planning, you’ll slowly find ways to eliminate your targets in a number of gruesome ways. The problem is, one way or another, you’re going to hit a wall.

It doesn’t matter how clever or sneaky you are. In what initially felt like a massively laudable feature, you could bring around the demise of various humans in differing circumstances. The problem here is that Outpost 13 very secretly subscribes to the one true path doctrine, and any deviation from this will result in a dead end. Of itself, this is a shitty mechanic, but the game never lets you know this is the case. Fail to do something in a specific order, or a specific way, and circumstances required to advance are simply never triggered. To this end, you’re left wandering the base for an eternity, trying to figure out what to do next without ever truly knowing that you’ve already lost.

In one case, I caused a chemical explosion and knocked a scientist out rather than caused a chemical explosion that killed her outright. A previous attack saw the alien intelligence inside Fenrir purposefully keep a would-be victim alive for future shenanigans, so there was no indication that this one particular person had to be killed this one particular way. Team Fenrir also repeatedly demonstrated their ability to gorily dispatch solitary targets with ease so, if the scientist had to die, why was there no option to finish off a prone victim? There were no spectators around to foster suspicion; any who could raise the alarm were already dead. But it wasn’t to be and, with this survivor still active in the base with no further kill options available to you, it’s a secret game over. The worst kind of game over.

Here’s a close second, though; how about a massive hole where the conclusion was supposed to be. Not content with just undisclosed unfinishable game states, Outpost 13 is also secretly a two-parter, but makes no mention of this anywhere. Either luck out or meticulously follow a walkthrough, and you can kill off everyone on base in the precise order you’re supposed to. Congratulations; you’ve finished the first chapter. Significantly, breaking the game into parts was never the plan, but shady developer, Cantina Games, had a kickstarter release date to contractually adhere to, so whatever was completed at the time was thrown up on to the market to appease the backers. The first part – the part you can actually play – is supposed to be a prologue of sorts with the much larger, much more complex, second part being the majority of the game proper. Except the second part never surfaced and, seeing as its release date was early 2016, is pretty unlikely to. Numerous attempts to garner a response from the developer over kickstarter or social media have been met with radio silence. The game is dead. What remains is a poorly executed, messily hamstrung and clumsily castrated reminder of what could have been. No matter how good the initial idea, you’d probably want to avoid that.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 20, 2021)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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