Reich and wrong.
Developers have been trying to combine action and strategy for years, but most efforts haven't paid off very well. Either the gameplay gets so bogged down with complex strategic elements that the action becomes moot, or the action is so over the top, the strategy is barely there. A few have delivered this hallowed peanut butter cup admirably (the classic Sacrifice
comes to mind), but the bulk of them buckle
under their own ambitious weight.
The folks at Relic (Homeworld, Impossible Creatures) are the latest to undertake such a task, and they've actually done a decent job smashing together the two genres in their next-gen debut, The Outfit. With its triple-threat of uptempo action, an innovative strategy mechanic and robust online play, there's good reason for 360 owners to get excited. However, all the peanut butter cups in the world can't remove the bitter taste of a flaccid single-player campaign and generally unrewarding gunplay.
You do get to kill tons of Nazis, though, and that's always sweet. The Outfit tells the tale of a secret elite commando force trying to stop the nefarious activities of their Nazi wacko counterparts in an alternate version of World War II. There's a weak plot crammed in here about really bad Nazis, not quite as bad Nazis and some sort of Doomsday device, but the story is pretty negligible since it's all just an excuse to blow stuff up.
At the start of every single-player campaign mission, you can choose to play as any of three hardy soldiers, each of whom has primary and secondary weapons. Tommy Mac is the brute of the lot, lugging around a grease gun and a flamethrower and enjoying high stamina. The sniper JD is the fastest, and packs a nice punch with his shotgun. Captain Deuce Williams totes a bazooka and a wicked .45, not to mention the coolest name.
The Outfit's flow can best be described as a cross between Battlefield and Mercenaries. As you proceed through each linear level, you capture strategic points and various buildings which then act as re-spawn points. In an emulation of a multiplayer game, you do not have a set number of lives, instead infinitely re-spawning until you either lose all your buildings (unlikely in single-player) or grind your way through the level.
It's not just you against the world, though. Each soldier controls a squad of four grunts, issuing basic commands like 'suppress' and 'assault' in addition to a command unique to each soldier. Tommy, for instance, can order a squad to hurl tear gas at an enemy emplacement, which is handy for forcing units to leave their posts at fortified gun nests. JD, on the other hand, can order his troops to assault vehicles with sticky grenades. Nice ideas, but by and large you'll just let the squad do its thing without much care.
Such indifference is a result of the game's coolest innovation, the "Destruction on Demand" interface. Gunning things down nets you "FU"s (field units, of course), which can be instantly spent on reinforcements if you've lost squad mates, and gear. At any point, you can use a radial menu to call in vehicles, gun emplacements, or air strikes to help attack or defend a building or enemy soldiers. Your choices are based on which buildings are under your control; capture a Motor Pool to call in vehicles, snag an Armory and you'll increase their power and variety, and swipe a Radio Tower to enable air strikes.
The system works pretty well, lending a strategic flair to the otherwise straightforward combat. You'll capture a building, call in some gun nests, and move on without fear of immediately losing it. Likewise, a standoff between your squad and an enemy tank or two can be resolved with a well-placed air strike or a few anti-tank guns. Since goods are air-dropped within a couple seconds, you're never yanked out of the game waiting for something to be constructed.
Unfortunately, the single-player game isn't built to capitalize on any of this whatsoever. Each level is a linear crawl in which you mindlessly capture building after building, a rote series of battles effectively bereft of the strategy the Destruction on Demand menu hints at. Side missions occasionally offer a break in the monotony, but all you get for completion is a medal and a few 360 achievement points. The enemy A.I. isn't great, often rushing headfirst into your forces or just standing around waiting to die. Though they'll occupy empty vehicles and emplacements, they don't put up much of a fight, and since you endlessly re-spawn, the whole thing feels more like some sort of evil training course than a satisfying, scripted campaign.
The inaccurate gunplay doesn't help. Though the world itself is quite destructible, shooting simply doesn't pack much of a punch. The guns aren't very accurate, and when you do manage to hit an enemy, he won't noticeably react, even though he just got shot. Ammo is unlimited (including grenades), but every vehicle and weapon is constrained by an overheat meter. This keeps you from holding down the trigger, but since that results in wildly inaccurate shots anyway, the overheating seems extraneous.
Since The Outfit borrows its design from Battlefield's Conquest mode, the lame single-player shouldn't be a shocker…which is why multiplayer is really the only way to play. You can Co-Op the single-player game over Xbox Live!, which is nice, though it's still a pretty crappy campaign. The Outfit makes much more sense when you go barrel to barrel against other players, sort of a faster, crazier version of Battlefield. Deathmatch and Destruction (you're rewarded for blowing stuff up) take a back seat to Strategic Victory, pretty much a straight-up Battlefield knock-off with dwindling "victory points" based on captured buildings.
Though it only supports up to eight players at once, it gets much, much more hectic than that since squad mates don't die when the players do; re-spawning results in another four guys automatically added to the battle. A four on four match is more like sixteen on sixteen right off the bat, and after a couple minutes that count might double. The multiplayer also lets you play as the Axis characters, who mirror the Allies pretty closely.
Whether single or multi, The Outfit's look is average. Much of the environment can be destroyed, so you can have a good time tearing ass through buildings and watching walls crumble around you. However, the explosions are a little flat and the character models are inconsistent at best. Occasional framerate dips occur when the action gets covered in thick smoke, but otherwise it moves smoothly.
For a game with such stereotypical overtones, the voice-acting is surprisingly solid, from your gruff soldiers to the absurdly evil Nazis. The music and sound effects could have been ripped from any war game, really, but they suffice.
Despite its interesting strategy mechanic, The Outfit winds up feeling pretty typical. Its lacking single-player campaign is saved in part by its genuinely frantic, yet derivative multiplayer. Xbox 360 owners looking for a new recruit could do worse, though they might want to save some FUs for another Battlefield altogether.