Thursday, May 26, 2022

An Outcry Review – The Birds Meets Undertale

As I walk through the hallways of the dreary apartment and look for a lighter so that I can smoke outside in the back yard by the garbage cans, my neighbor, a close friend, hands me two and asks me to choose: “Do you want them? Skull or the trans-flag lighter? ”It’s a harder decision than choosing a starter Pokémon. Both are my brands! I love queer flags, and I love somewhat edgy memorabilia. In the end, however, I opt for the old blue, white, and pink. Good choice right?

An outcry is much stranger than taking a lighter. This is normal stuff. Likewise, the unfortunate amount of transphobia your neighbors expose you to, be it the old man, old woman, or young mother who doesn’t even realize she’s calling you dead – huh, a bit of general courtesy while we’re being eaten alive of birds, please. You heard me right To be eaten by Birds. Talking birds. An Outcry is strange in the best sense of the word and, like Undertale, plays with a horror aesthetic of the 60s that is reinforced by his modern socio-political commentary. You are a trans person in right-wing Austria, trapped in a residential complex while birds snatch the residents one by one.


RELATED: How Minecraft Helped Me Accept My Queer Identity

The apartment feels almost liminal, as if it isn’t really there – but it is is and you can’t exactly say why. It’s like those dreams in which you wander through vast, open, and empty environments that are only loosely familiar. The whole world is in the creepy valley, creating an unsettling atmosphere that is only enhanced by the guttural, raspy tones of the soundtrack. From the minute you start the game and lock yourself out of your apartment for the night, the creep creeps in. The neighbors are visible, but hardly, almost distorted by the art style – everything is just a breath out in places. Outcry does one thing almost perfectly and that is a creepy atmosphere.

An outcry dead name

It only gets more unsettling how alone you are. You have one person to lean on while everything sucks. But they are lanky and sometimes open the door, but usually they are bewitched by their own hobbies and work. So you’re left to your own devices, have a few beers with the birds, hang out with open transphobes that devalue you at every opportunity. An outcry is a lonely experience and its world is so compelling that in some places it is downright disturbing, like when you are drawn to a psychedelic dream sequence in which the narrator breaks through the fourth wall to ask if you are outside of the game Do enough to make the world a better place. Hopefully.

But while it has a beautifully designed world and atmosphere, An Outcry can repeat itself. The apartment complex is where you spend most of your time and revisit the same few rooms. Undertale has similar horror overtones masked by its weird writing, but it also has a lot more variety to keep things fresh from start to finish, and expands that tone in new and unexpected ways. Globetrotting – or underground trotting – wouldn’t suit An Outcry, but the complexity of the complex is limited and can make the five hours it takes to beat the game feel very similar. Homes have much more to offer – basements, uniquely designed rooms, or different floors – but An Outcry doesn’t take full advantage of how large a space can be that is limited and isolated. Just look at The Shining for an example of how a building feels big, unpredictable, yet isolated.

It’s the people you meet that keep the momentum strong. Every character feels tangible. I met this man, I met this woman and yes – I even met these two children. They are all real people. An outcry doesn’t gloss over its cast and shows the layoffs and abuse queer people go through all too often. I’m not trans, and I can’t say I understand their struggle, but being bisexual, a lot of people have voided my sexuality and denied it as confusion or gay. It wears you down to the point where it is sometimes too taxing to fight back.

A scream lighter

Alright whatever you say This is exactly how the protagonist of An Outcry deals with the abuse and I have related that on a profound level, I understand her feeling of being tired and struggling to keep her chin up. Representation can become problematic or avoid the chaotic reality of being queer, but An Outcry doesn’t make these pitfalls. Trans players are likely to find a deeper, broader meaning behind exploring An Outcry’s identity and the challenges that come with pursuing who you want to be, especially in a world where people don’t know your progression, yourself when the society you exist in looks to be falling apart at the seams. In spite of everything, you still are.

What really shines is how the game deals with its approach to problematic terms and abuse. There’s a content warning and even options to turn off cruelty to animals or insults, which are instead shown in full red text as just that – “insult”. You can still feel an emotional connection with the protagonist, see the abuse he is exposed to, and understand the toxicity he is wading through. It’s a nice breather while the weirdness stays messy, and I appreciated this approach during my playthrough.

An outcry is a disturbing game in many ways. The talking birds that eat people may be terrifying, but embracing their company when given a choice between them and the transphobes that fill the hallways of your apartment complex is strange comfort. It almost feels like purgatory, a place of judgment where the birds act as reapers, and you watch as these horrific people are picked up one by one and punished for their wrongdoing. An Outcry is a quaint world full of character and atmosphere that exudes personality as it holds up a dark mirror to us, but it makes me proud to be queer and proud of who I am.

An outcry rating card

Score: 4/5. A PC review copy was made available by the publisher.

Next: Interview: Octo Octa from Tetris Beat “hopes queer people will thrive”

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