Video Games

The Outer Worlds

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Looked at one way, The Outer Worlds, a sprawling, narratively complex role-playing game from developer Obsidian, is a bleakly funny satire of corporate power.

The game is set in an alternate future in which Teddy Roosevelt never became president, and thus never engaged in antitrust actions against large corporations. You play as an interstellar colonist awoken from cryosleep by a mad scientist after decades in a derelict spaceship. The scientist's goal is to get you to help him awaken the other colonists in order to spark a revolution against the Board, a corporate conglomerate that controls nearly all life and economic activity in the solar system—or at least appears to. 

Much of the game consists of extended conversations with computer-controlled characters, in which they not only task you with in-game objectives but explain their philosophy and worldview. As you play, you encounter factions offering various models of both acceptance of and resistance to corporate rule: There's a space station that prides itself as a hub for entrepreneurial freedom outside Board control; a pirate crew planning a revolution; a group of quasi-religionists spreading a message of anti-corporate empowerment; and a corporate town that has rejected corporate rigor in favor of quality-of-life reforms that also boost productivity.

For all the ways it makes corporate power out to be stifling, then, The Outer Worlds also consistently shows people organizing into small bands and collectives to pursue freedom from the Board, a nominally corporate entity that is perhaps better understood as a quasi-government. Looked at this way, it's not simply a parody of corporate dominance; it's a game about individuals resisting authoritarian rule, in any form.

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  1. The whole corporate power narrative is like progressives dropping f-bombs: overused.

    1. It worked in Fallout because it was treated satirically. Probably the biggest flaw in Fallout 4 is toning down that satire. But in this game the weird corporatism is treated with utmost sincerity. As if the game set out to be a leftist morality tale or something.

      1. naw, I never got that vibe. It still had a level of Fallout satire in it, and they did show corporations that hadn’t gone off the deep end. I got the feel that it was more of a “any group with absolute power is a bad thing”. Most of the resistant groups shown in the game have their own morality questions attached to them, so while the corps might be mostly bad, it doesn’t make the alternative good by default,

        Shadowrunner also has the whole evil UberCorp thing going and it never tries to present it as “corp bad, gov’ment good”, if anything, the governments are either corrupt and weak or authoritarian and even worse.

      2. It didn’t work in Fallout. It wasn’t in Fallout in and significant way until at least FO2 and even there it was simply background on ‘vault experiments’.

        It was Bethesda that ran with it – and ‘evil Vault-Tec’ got old real quick.

        Leftist morality tales would certainly show corporations unshackled to the government in a bad light, but they would show small groups trying to exist outside of that power structure in an even worse one.

        In a Leftist parable, the ‘best ending’ is one where the individualist enclaves are consumed by the corporations which are faithfully subservient to the government.

  2. You’re a little late on the review, this game dropped months ago.

    1. Took him a while to read the game manual to learn the controls.

    2. What are you talking about? The game doesn’t come out for another 9 months.

      1. The game came out last years, just in a limited and exclusive release. Not available for general distribution via the standard distributors for another nine months.

      2. only if you’re some sort of console peasant. The PC Master Race got it last year, as is befitting our superior machines /sarc /notsarc

        1. Consoles got it months ago. It’s sitting on my PS4 now.

  3. Much of the game consists of extended conversations with computer-controlled characters, in which they not only task you with in-game objectives but explain their philosophy and worldview.

    Sort of like the US presidential election, then?

  4. But is the game any fun?

    WTAF good is a review about a game that doesn’t state if the author had any fun?

    Your review makes me think you have been fighting monsters and the abyss of politics has been looking back into you for FAR too long.

    1. I had fun playing it. These are the guys who made Fallout New Vegas and many worked on the original Fallout titles before Bethesda got it, and you can see a little bit of that in the game. It is a shorter game, but the developers made it clear from the beginning that would be the case.

      There’s a lot of side missions and while I did find some stuff a little clunky, I’d say it’s worth the price. Compared to the crap that the Triple A guys are shoveling our way, it was a breath of fresh air to get a complete game on launch with little to no bugs.

      1. > These are the guys who made Fallout New Vegas

        Actually no. Same company, wholly different cast of developers. The two main guys worked on Fallout 1 and 2, but did NOT work on New Vegas. Only the Obsidian execs are the same, but we all know execs don’t develop.

        1. I think I did hear that they had laid off a bunch of folks off a while ago, my bad

  5. The game was created by the same two dudes that started the Fallout franchise. Both have a weird dystopic view of corporations. But while Fallout treats its subject satirically, The Outer Worlds attempt to take this farce seriously. There’s no laughably comical Vault-Tec, the evil business people in this game are deadly serious about their corporatism. It was a huge letdown for me. It’s like all they know about corporations is what they learned from watching cheap Hollywood movies. It was all cheesy and predictable.

    Other review points. The graphics quality was just okay for a 2019 game. Every planet seemed to have the same flora, fauna, and architecture. Yes, there were differences, but the whole feel was the same everywhere. It was playing No Man’s Sky all over again. No matter how random the worlds in NMS were, they all looked the same. And the faces. Gagh, the faces! Everyone looked the same. Which didn’t have to be because one or two characters did stand out (Phineas0, which leads me to think they pushed the NPC sculpting task to some intern. Oh well, I’ve seen worse modern game in this regard.

    But what really galled me nearly as much as the corporatism was the same old tired cliche of a choose-your-own-adventure plot. Side again the big evil corporation and the game ends with a big fight in a dungeon with all your anti-corporate allies showing up to help. Side WITH the big evil corporation, and you get the EXACT SAME END FIGHT! Complete with your anti-corporate allies showing up to help! There is literally no difference between endings. Yeah, they have different ending slides, but who cares. The endings are still the same.

    But grumbles aside, it was a good game. The maps could have been bigger. The creatures and stuff could have been more varied. The gameplay itself was fine. Which leaves me giving it a score of 7/10. But it could easily have been 9/10 if it had tried. Whoever is running Obsidian (Feargus!) needs to get back on the ball. The game was a poor showing from a company and team that could do better.

    1. But while Fallout treats its subject satirically, The Outer Worlds attempt to take this farce seriously. There’s no laughably comical Vault-Tec, the evil business people in this game are deadly serious about their corporatism.

      I didn’t read it that way exactly. I agree with you that the Board isn’t as obviously comical as Vault-Tec, but I don’t think the Board is to be taken seriously. Yes, there were the typical wage slave types of tropes and corporate culture is presented in almost meme form, but it’s still satirical. The focus in Outer Worlds was more of individuals vs. organizations, and the organizations each were authoritarian and power hungry in their own little way. I saw it more as why collectivism fails – everyone had to work for the benefit of the corp or their group. Individuals never prospered as individuals. It was Ingsoc but substitute Big Brother with Big Corp. and work to undermine Victory Brand.

      I had a lot of fun with the first 75% of the game. By the last planet (after doing all the side quests, too) I just wanted to reach the end. Still, overall, I’d give it an 8/10. It was entertaining enough to keep me playing till the credits, long enough to not feel ripped off, and focused enough where I wanted to play through to the conclusion.

      1. Maybe it’s my advancing age and atrophying skill level, but I rarely reach the end of games. I wish I did.

        I just don’t take the time, and when I decide to really try I eventually lose interest and focus because there is so much other stuff pulling on me. I wish I could do everything, but gaming falls off. I guess if I really wanted it, I would stick with it.

        1. I almost never finish games either. I mentioned it mostly because it’s so rare for me these days. That it managed to capture my attention without sidetracking into the weeds was notable.

      2. That was my read too, Ska.

      3. Better review than the one published by Reason.

        Thank you. 🙂

    2. Cool, an actual review in a comment on a “review” that is pretty much a nullity.

    3. Wasn’t the bioshock franchise a treatise against individualism, libertarianism and specifically, Ayn Randism?

      1. ehhh, the first one could be seen as being against rampant capitalism, the second one was more against communism if I remember correctly. Bioshock infinite was against ultranationalism, religious fanaticism, and just any sort of ideological fanaticism in general (the resistance group you help turns into basically the French Revolution/Russian revolution really quick once it takes control, and it turns on you just as quickly)

          1. 1. the game’s 7 years old, there’s a statute of limitations on these things. Spoiler alert, the Titanic sinks at the end of the movie. Jesus dies in the Bible. King Kong climbs the Empire State Building just to get shot off of it by planes.
            2. I haven’t spoiled the story or game for you, there are MAJOR spoilers in both Bioshock 1 & Infinite that completely change the way you view the game. Nothing I’ve said hurts the story, trust me

            1. YOU RUINED EVERYTHING, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THERE WAS A BIOSHOCK 2!

              1. wait till you hear about the new Half Life then XD

                1. HALF LIFE 3 CONFIRMED

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