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Monday, May 1, 2023

How ‘Outer Terror’ Takes Bullet Heaven to Bullet Hell [Review]

On paper, Outer Terror looks like it’s aimed directly at me, as a mixture of addictive gameplay with a ‘50s horror comics vibe. In practice, it’s distinctly underbaked, to the point where I backed out of the game several times to check if it was in Early Access. It isn’t.

Outer Terror is a new entry in the same “bullet heaven” subgenre as last year’s hit Vampire Survivors, where you’re thrown into an arena full of monsters with a weapon and a dream. Either you get ground underfoot by the horde, or you stay alive long enough to amass enough levels and power-ups that the balance of power flips.

Each of Outer Terror’s 5 maps is stylized like a horror comic that EC would’ve published in the ‘50s. All five are even relatively high-concept; instead of something pedestrian like zombies, OT features smart technology going homicidal (Kill Switch), an eldritch god of fungus that suddenly eats the moon (The Gray Death), heat-seeking monsters overrunning a small Alaskan town (Frost Bite), and a clown who makes a bargain with the netherworld to resurrect her dead sister (Other Side).

SCP Foundation fans can also pick this up for Incident Report, where a Foundation combat operative and a prisoner with telekinetic powers are forced to team up to survive a dimension where humans are raised as cattle.

OT brings two particular quirks to the bullet heaven table. The first is the addition of 2-player co-op, either locally or via Among Us-style networked matchmaking.

The second is that all 5 levels aren’t simply about survival. Instead, you’ve got a series of goals you’re meant to accomplish on each randomly-generated map, such as reaching a particular location or bringing an NPC a particular item. Frost Bite might be the most complicated, as your health slowly drops whenever you’re outside safe zones, due to cold temperatures, and your primary goal is to find enough gasoline to keep your base’s generators going.

As addicted as I’ve been to a couple of other bullet heaven games, most recently 20 Minutes Till Dawn, I am exactly the kind of dork for whom these games’ plotlessness is a drawback. Outer Terror adding even a skeletal story to the mix is a big step forward for me.

Then OT takes a few big steps back, primarily by feeling like a beta test. In my time with the game, I’ve encountered multiple glitches, rough spots, the occasional animation error, and multiple mechanics that went completely unexplained. It doesn’t work with my capture software or any of Steam’s built-in tools, which is weird.

OT is simply an unpolished experience, even by comparison to something like, again, Vampire Survivors. It’s not that it’s a deliberate throwback that’s pretending to be a zero-effort cash grab, like how VS cosplays as a Castlevania fan game on Newgrounds; Outer Terror actually is sort of busted.

A big patch in late April, after the game’s release on Steam, did fix a couple of things, like adding more death animations, but also wiped my save data and introduced more bugs, like inexplicably locking me out of the Upgrades option on the main menu after I’ve finished a run.

There’s genuine art and enthusiasm on display in Outer Terror, but it needs more time in development before it’s worth a look, even at its low price point. It’s got a decent grasp on the core mechanics of a bullet heaven game; I like how it offers health pickups as an option when you gain a level, so you’ve got to choose between an upgrade or staying at low HP for another minute or two.

It’s also the first game of its type that I’m aware of that has co-op at all, so it might be worth a look for something to play with a buddy, especially if you’re both horror nerds. It’s difficult for me to completely write off any game that offers you the chance to team up with a pal online and murder waves of incoming death toasters.

At the end of the day, though, Outer Terror’s got a cool aesthetic but doesn’t work very well. Even without its technical issues, it’d be a slightly frustrating indie game that was elevated by the pack by its grindhouse aesthetics. With those issues, I’d need to see a big overhaul before I could seriously recommend it.

The post How ‘Outer Terror’ Takes Bullet Heaven to Bullet Hell [Review] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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