I always enjoy discovering new typing games. I can max out my typing speed at around 110 words per minute, so not only am I good at the game itself but writing the review only takes about ten minutes out of my day. It’s very efficient.
That’s not hyperbole, either. I really am good at Outshine, managing to unlock 12 of the game’s 28 achievements within the first level. I mention this because a) my ego needs stroking and b) your enjoyment of this game will be almost entirely dependent on how good you are at it.
Possibly the most famous game in the same subgenre is SEGA’s cult classic Typing of the Dead, and its more recent Overkill version, both of which present you with a quirky alternative gameplay loop to an established, existing property. What that means is you can get a lot of enjoyment out of them even if you’re not necessarily the world’s fastest typist, because they’re still of HotD games, with all the cheesy B-Movie horror cliches that entail.
Outshine, though, has none of that. Instead, it presents an abstract 3D glowing neon landscape that operates almost like an old equaliser, which you’re then pulled along in an on-rails fashion, except instead of shooting things, you type words and they die.
The aesthetics and gameplay loop (aside from the typing part) will put the older among you in mind of Rez, a cyber-themed systemic Dreamcast rail-shooter, and the comparison is a favourable, reverential one. Outshine has a rudimentary not-at-all-important plot about lights, Gods, space, darkness, and armies which serves only as a thin context to wrap around the gameplay, in much the same way as Rez didn’t really need an excuse to be the game it was.
You can tell that Outshine is made by people who understand the typing subgenre (if such a thing exists) because the graphics aren’t all that impressive. That might sound like criticism, but it’s actually an acknowledgment of what you’re going to be doing for most of your time. The backgrounds being flashy, detailed, and fast-paced would be an absolute waste of time, and possibly even detrimental to the gameplay. You’re here to type, and impressive visuals would only distract.
Instead, the target words pop up in a large, readable black-and-white font with a thick outline and, for the most part, stand out well against the abstract 3D of the world around you. Because you’re on rails, occasionally, the camera will swing or rotate in a way that obscures your targets under or behind the actual track you’re on, but this isn’t a regular occurrence and it’s not enough to get mad at.
While the graphical portion of the presentation is fine, the music is sadly a little bit lackluster. Because of the abstract 3D graphics that bring to mind something like Rez, you may go into this expecting some thumping, satisfying, catchy techno beats. What you’ll get instead is a sort-of tedious narrow loop of electronic music that sounds a little bit too background.
There’s a feature where layers of sound in the background music will increase or decrease based on your current combo (more on that in a minute), but I didn’t notice said feature for ages. If you’re doing well enough at a level that you’re breezing through like I did for most of it, you’re at the max combo pretty much all the time so it doesn’t hit with the impact I imagine they were aiming for. It’s a good idea in theory, but I get the sense instead that we’d have been better served with a bespoke catchy driving soundtrack to ‘pick up the slack’ of the overall presentation. The graphics, by necessity, couldn’t be all that impressive, so I’d have liked the audio to really bang and thump along with the gameplay.
Speaking of the gameplay, you might think that just being ‘good’ at typing will be more than enough to get you through. Truth is, you don’t actually need to be. There’s a suite of modifiers available on every level to increase or decrease your score multiplier which, if you want to, can make it incredibly easy to complete with just your two index fingers and one of your eyes closed. You wouldn’t get much out of it because, as I mentioned, the ‘plot’ might as well not exist, but you technically could.
More than that, you can’t just be good at typing. I set every level to ‘medium’, which is recommended for people with an average typing speed of around 80 words per minute, and I still ran into difficulties based on the very clever designs and spawn rates of the enemies. The best analogy is to actually look at something like House of the Dead and consider yourself good at just ‘shooting things’. That alone won’t get you through, because you also need to make intelligent calls about what to prioritise, keeping your eyes open for threats from all sides, and strategically placing your shots in line with the perceived threat level.
You’re a third-person 3D model (there’s that Rez again) with control over your placement based on the left and right shift/ctrl keys. You’re also given a toggleable shield on the spacebar, and a limited number of ‘multi-hit’ missiles to clear the screen on the enter key. These are expertly laid out, brilliantly simple ideas, adding several subtle layers of complexity to what could’ve very easily been “just type really quickly.”
Imagine writing up a game review while driving a motorbike along the wrong side of the road, and you’ll get an idea of what the combined challenge is like.
Like I mentioned earlier, you could, if you want, turn off most of the challenge and just stroll through the thing tapping your keyboard with your toes, but you’d get almost nothing out of it. The score is the point here. The addition of the level modifiers, a robust combo system, and a high quantity of ‘optional’ enemies who you don’t actually have to kill to proceed all come together to make the robust loop infectiously score-driven.
Now, there are many people I know in my life who would absolutely hate this game because they type with their elbows and have to look at the keyboard after every letter, spending an hour and a half to write a tweet, so if you’re not a touch-typist then you may not find this game to be your forte, but if you’ve got a typing speed of 60 words-per-minute or above, you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of Outshine. The only thing I’d like to be different is the soundtrack, and everything else is laser-focused on an experience that the developer clearly understands. You, a keyboard, and mad stuff happening in a pleasingly flashy way.
Fishing Cactus’ Outshine is out 3rd Nov on Steam. Published by Plug In Digital.