Some of the best sci-fi works like a carnival mirror, able to reflect reality in a twisted way. It’s also a way to subtly criticise a regime or state of affairs. The Outer Worlds works as this type of satire, as a game that skewers corporations and capitalism.
It takes place in the distant future on a colony owned by the Halcyon Holdings Corporation. Light years from Earth, an alliance of companies has run amok in the star system. Players take on the role of a colonist aboard a lost ship called the Hope, that went missing in transit. Instead of finding and rescuing the passengers, the disaster was hidden to avoid bad publicity and lost finances.
But a rogue scientist named Phineas Vernon Welles saves one of the Hope’s passengers, the Stranger.
Players craft the hero of the campaign and mould the Stranger to their play-style. They can make the colonist a melee specialist, who fights enemies with a sword, or they can turn the character into a smooth talker, able to avoid battle.
After the Stranger is rescued, the hero becomes embroiled in a grand quest to save his fellow colonists on the Hope. That mission expands as the Stranger uncovers a plot that will affect every person in the Halcyon colony where the corporate ethos has embedded itself so deeply that soldiers and citizens spout off advertisements in regular speech. Children are born into slavery and the fear of losing their jobs makes employees do comically bad tasks.
Players have to navigate this farce and decide which side they stand on. Choices affect the planets and space stations that the Stranger visits. They can bring together feuding communities or they can empower one side to overthrow the other.
The narrative of The Outer World is backed by a head-turning visual style and a retro look found in pulp magazines with richly coloured flora and fauna and fantastic vistas. The artwork also blends a mix of the Wild West and Victorian England, and it’s a look that hasnt been done much in a sci-fi universe.
The Outer World is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a well-crafted role-playing game that will capture players with its storytelling while also giving them a pressing reflection on the times.