But Outcry's problems don't end there. Gradually, it begins to clutter its previously intriguing storytelling with preposterous pseudo-science, and then the designers decided to throw down a spiritual ending that doesn't make one iota of sense. The English translation is often a garbled mess, and an overly enthusiastic voice actor reads the whole script verbatim, mistakes and all. The puzzles, once irritating, descend into complete nonsense. One involves rewiring some cables to restore power to the town, but the "correct" solution creates a short circuit. With a walkthrough open, you'll see the conclusion within four hours, but I cannot imagine a single person arriving there without it.
It's a tragic shame. There is so much creativity and flair in Outcry's approach, yet it squanders everything by breaking several fundamental rules of game design. It feels like a game still in its beta stage, desperate for a series of rigorous testing sessions and the filling of countless plot holes. To leave the initial story hanging is ludicrous and, by the finale, there is so much left unexplained that Outcry ends up truly living up to its name. It certainly had me crying out for more.
But that's the thing. In any other game this poor, I'd have given up long before the end. But I didn't. I kept going. I kept plowing through, cringing at its design, alt-tabbing between the game and a detailed walkthrough, right up until the very last second. It is an endlessly fascinating experience, a relentlessly weird and wonderful thing.
At least year's Develop Conference in Brighton, England, one debate reared its head again and again: where should the focus lie on a scale between graphics and gameplay? I didn't understand the question. To argue for one or the other seems to demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of how game design works, and how those final products are experienced by the end user. I came away troubled by developers who claimed enjoyment was solely in the mechanics, and even more baffled by those who argued in favor of putting artistry first. Both viewpoints seemed conceptually flawed.
Then I played Outcry, and I understood a bit. Sometimes, a game works despite neglecting a fundamental aspect of its design. And Outcry does work, in its own, unfathomable way. I played through in a single sitting, eyes glued to the screen, hand affixed to the mouse. I don't do that when I'm not absolutely caught up in a thing of sheer brilliance. I was frustrated. I snarled at the monitor. Outcry is a terrible game.
It is, however, is a thoroughly remarkable one: a game that etches itself into your mind as much as the chemicals you ingested at the start of its story. That doesn't excuse the problems, but I'd take Outcry over an immaculately polished but creatively devoid release any day. Maybe Dyack was right. Maybe artistry and flair are the way forward. Either way, Outcry is a fascinating experience - and, for that, I'll forgive the game for being morbidly broken. It's a brilliant game, one that cries out to be absorbed by anyone with just a little patience.
So don't do drugs, kids. Instead, play Outcry for very much the same experience.
Lewis Denby is editor of Resolution Magazine and freelance writer for anyone who offers him shiny coins. He maintains a blog at www.lewisdenby.com. He has never, ever taken drugs. Honestly. Don't give him that look.