Tom Brokaw called the men and women who fought World War II “The Greatest Generation”. Apparently, the video game industry considers them the most exploitable generation. The Outfit is perhaps the one-billionth title taking advantage of the massive conflict that divided history from the Depression to Leave it to Beaver, and like many of the WWII titles that have been cranked out in assembly-line fashion by game developers, it’s a somewhat fun, mostly average game.
Now, I certainly wasn’t around when fascism roared throughout Europe, and common, everyday Americans went rushing off to fight the good fight, but I remember reading reprints of those classic comic books like Sgt. Fury and his Howlin’ Commandos. These post-War comics really never caught on with me because of the weird mixture of gritty realism and the naïve, idealistic portrayals of combat never meshed well (besides, I was a super-hero fantasy fanatic). The Outfit’s storyline hearkens back to those cartoony representations of muscle-bound G.I.’s and their corny Nazi counterparts. The three characters fighting for Uncle Sam have names like Capt. Deuce Williams and Sgt. Tommy Mac. The black soldier, Lt. J.D. Tyler, looks like he was designed from templates in the “How to Draw a Stereotypical African-American Soldier” guide that was probably used to create “Roadblock” of G.I. Joe fame. All three of these guys can be chosen during the game, and all of them have specialties, weaknesses and unique weapons that are different enough to create variety. Their generic backgrounds describe a Captain so dedicated to fighting he turns down promotions, a lily-white Sergeant and Iowa farmboy who is “all brawn and no finesse”, and a Lieutenant who learned how to be a stealthy tracker from his grandfather while in the backwoods of New England (though he’s originally from New York). If I hadn’t just written that down, I already would have forgotten this “meh” attempt at fleshing out the guys. The bad guy backgrounds are just as, um, bad. Gen. Hans Von Beck, Gen. Victor Morder and the deadly Fraulein, Nina Dietrich all seem to have motivations that were picked out of a hat full of World War II clichés.
Since a compelling story isn’t the draw of this game, it has to come down to gameplay. Blowing up Nazis in a video game is always a little fun. If this wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be a billion WWII shooters. Since there are, it safely can be assumed that The Outfit does tap into that primitive instinct to blast anything wearing a swastika. The action takes place in third-person with the weapons being dependent on the character chosen. The secondary weapons of a character are mapped to the left bumper, and various grenades are thrown by using the left trigger. Aiming is a matter of luck because the damn targeting reticule moves with the fluidity of drying cement. This makes killing your opponents from far away a little easier, sometimes, than getting up close and personal with them (unless you have the flamethrower). Mowing down NPCs in the single-player mode won’t make you sweat much over this problem, but in multi-player it becomes a real pain.
The most interesting feature of the game, however, is “Destruction on Demand”. By using the “Y” button on your controller, you can bring up a menu of bonus equipment and reinforcements that can be airlifted into your position. This costs money which miraculously is given to you as you slay your enemies and clear objectives. Bring in air strikes, anti-tank guns, heavy machine guns, or even a tank, all with the press of a few buttons and a few seconds of waiting for some parachutes to float down from a cargo plane. The unfortunate drawback with this feature in single player is the handholding that goes on. The game will actually tell you to place certain pieces of equipment when approaching an objective and you won’t get all the goodies until you reach the point when you need them. I think the “on demand” part was really on behalf of the games programming. “Destruction on Demand” does add an element of strategy to the multiplayer portion of the game, playing a big part in how well you might do. Money is tight, and if the other guy has a tank, do you buy a tank yourself, or an anti-tank gun to secure your position?
The graphics go hand-and-glove with the gameplay department, sadly. Nothing looks terrible, but nothing screams “next generation” either. The environments mostly resemble detailed models on a toy battlefield, and the characters and soldiers have a heavy, action-figure look to them. Maybe a lot of this has to do with the fact that the story elements were materials rejected from the G.I. Joe cartoon show, but a little more effort wouldn’t have killed them. Because of the boxy, toy soldier style, the animation seems a bit sluggish as well. Frame-rate appears to be fine, but the actual, physical movements such as running or driving a vehicle, fight your controls and look sluggish and dull on the screen. I give kudos to the tracer bullets whizzing by with their bright, terrifying fire-trails. Without them, I wouldn’t even know where my opponents were due to the fact it takes forever just to look around.
The sound workup in The Outfit seems to have come from a mix-tape of things colliding together. Maybe a recording made from some John Wayne flick where he kills everything on the screen and smokes a cigarette with authority. At some point, I seem to recall looking around for the source of the bullets rattling into my body. I could hear the damn things and I could see my health bar dropping, but I could have been shot from the moon for all the good it did me. Again, tracer fire sure is helpful, but if the bullets aren’t visible, the audio of the bullets is just as unnoticed. Big booms from tank guns and cannons only register on the emotions when you happen to be standing in the direct path of an explosion. Otherwise, the noise from the massive ordinance dropped on your position isn’t something to write home to your (dutifully waiting) sweetheart about.
Really, if the Xbox Live component were missing from this title, I would have said this game isn’t even worth renting. With online multiplayer actually being somewhere near the realm of “fun”, I think I can recommend this as a rental, and a purchase for die-hard shooter fans in need of another WWII fix isn’t completely out of order. Playing as the campy Gen. Victor Morder can be entertaining…he seems to be the closest thing to Col. Klink I’ve seen in a game. The use of “Destruction on Demand” coupled with typical modes like death-match, team death-match or capture objective points on a map is enjoyable. Setting up a quick match online is easy as well. I have gripes about the fact that the same difficulties in the single-player game are present in the multiplayer ones, but the challenge of fighting a human opponent makes up for the cheap, tacked on linear feel of the solo stuff. Multiplayer is the only reason to put this disc back into your 360 once the single-player stuff’s completed, so “huzzah” for its okay replay value.
Man, I must be burned out on World War II games. From Castle Wolfenstein to another Call of Duty game, it seems like there is a new WWII title every three or four minutes. On the surface, The Outfit is just another one of these games. Deep inside, it still is just another one of these games, but with okay multiplayer options. Average looks and average personality makes for a less-than-ideal date in the real world, and in the game world. For the curious, I think it wouldn’t hurt to rent and play the game on a temporary basis. Who knows, maybe there are some people out there who may really want to shoot a virtual Nazi for the umpteenth time.