I must admit, I was skeptical about The Outer Worlds (2019), a new single-player first-person RPG sci-fi game.
After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. The Outer Worlds, however, was made by Obsidian Studios (the makers of Fallout: New Vegas) and that certainly gave me enough hope to try again.
Without breaking new ground in spoilers, I can say that The Outer Worlds is a sci-fi western space epic about the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After waking up from a long hibernation, you are tasked with discovering the dark secret of Halcyon, the colony that comprises various planets in the solar system. You are to make decisions that will, hopefully, lead to its salvation. As with Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds has many options for ending; the ending you receive is determined by the choices you make throughout the game. Being a soft-hearted altruist, I strove for a neutral ground in every conflict (sometimes, however, the only neutral ground I found was a mouthful of bullets).
As befits its future setting, The Outer Worlds teems with futuristic weapons and technology. That, of course, means that AI is certainly a part of the narrative. As the captain of a ship called The Unreliable, you have an AI (named ADA) who is integral in your success. Despite being limited to the ship and represented only by a rendered archive of faces on a computer monitor, ADA is a well-rounded personality—quirky, sarcastic, and opinionated.
Other than ADA, the only noticeable AI in the game are the “automechanicals.” These entities are usually enemies and are much like Star Wars droids but less efficient, less mobile, and less intelligent. In one side quest early in the game (aptly named, “Die Robots”), a dock worker named Ludwig presents you with his notions of building an army to stop the automechanicals from taking over the colony. He’s convinced that the automechanicals have grown intelligent enough to stage a revolt and purge Halcyon of its human occupants.
Before meeting Ludwig, I had yet to meet an “automechanical” in the game. So, I was won over by his paranoia and his prophecies of an AI uprising. After battling my way through a few “automechanicals” to complete the quest, however, my belief in Ludwig’s prophecy quickly diminished.
“Wait. Why does this seem so familiar to me?” I thought.
Ludwig accurately caricatures the AI hype that has swept over our culture in the past decade or so. Ludwig’s tales of impending doom reminded me of the doomsaying from influential figures in mainstream culture (Elon Musk, Sam Harris, and the late Stephen Hawking… to name just a few). Upon closer inspection, however, it quickly becomes apparent that the hype over the future of AI is just that; hype. Anyone who has taken a closer look and has a deeper understanding of the current state of AI (Alexa, Google Home, Siri, etc) knows that AI has been an invaluable tool but it will most likely always be just that… a tool.
Although Ludwig, to me, was certainly comical, his ideas of the future could be seen as prophetic. That is to say, the hype and craze over AI may be with us longer than we think. Perhaps, in the future, mainstream cultural figures will still be prophesying that day that AI takes over.
I have some quibbles with the game but that is a topic for another time, The Outer Worlds was overall an invigorating experience. After an endless barrage of “cash grab and loot box” game titles, it was refreshing that an RPG swept me back to the good ‘ol days of Mass Effect (2007) and Fallout 3 (2008).
Including most of the side quests, The Outer Worlds took me about 50 hours to complete. Depending on your play style and interest in side quests, your play time may be longer or shorter. The gameplay itself was familiar and easy to use, and the game engine was remarkably stable. After being conditioned to expect a game to explode into a thousand glitches (an occurrence that has made games like Skyrim the stuff of memes), I was surprised at just how stable the game was.
Overall, if you have the time, I recommend The Outer Worlds to sci-fi junkies like me.
Here are some more of Adam Nieri’s reviews, brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:
Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.
Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.
Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.
Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch
Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.
Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it