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Star Wars Outlaws

I've played one hour of Star Wars Outlaws and I have a good feeling about almost everything

We finally got our hands on actual gameplay -three different sections to be precise- and here's how it felt.

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Yes, Star Wars Outlaws was probably the game I was looking froward to playing the most at the Summer Game Fest and Ubisoft Forward Showcase this year, after last year's very promising first glimpse. And yes, it's probably one of my 2-3 Games of the Show now it's all said and done in L.A. However, I want to share much more from my experience, including finer details and a couple of concerns, for you to get a better idea of what's coming on August 30.

Before I talk the missions themselves, I have to point out it needs some good polishing at a technical level in this final stretch. The game runs okay, with almost no glitches at sight and a considerably smooth framerate, but the toll the demo I played took to maintain that smoothness came in the shape of very blurry scenery. It looks like this game is heavily relying on dynamic resolution so, as I guess we played on a high-end gaming PC, I really hope they manage to fine-tune performance during the summer on both computers and consoles, as it didn't look at crisp as it did during the live showcase (which, by the way, had it good share of screen tearing too).

Star Wars Outlaws

With that out of the way, I can also tell you that I enjoyed my time with the three 20-minute vertical slices the demo consisted of. The game is so varied that this multi-purpose portions were meant to show things such as platforming, stealth, combat, or dogfighting, and it did a good job at that. And with gameplay variety also comes narrative and environmental diversity, and that feels great in a Star Wars game.

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Controlling both Kay Vess and the hairy little adorable devil that Nix is (because you have to think of it as an active resource at all times), I snuck into a fallen High Republic cruiser in The Wreck, downed imperial Tie-Fighters in False Flag, and infiltrated a Crimson Dawn facility to steal the so-called Bann'pu dira in The Relic.

Traversal is as you would expect from the genre, but for now I can only tell you about the more enclosed stages because, other than a couple of sprawling cities just there for me to walk around, try the mini games, and talk to people, actual action took place in very linear level-like sections during my time with the game.

Star Wars Outlaws

That means no exploration of the more open-ended worlds, no use for Kay's S57 Cardinal speeder bike. However, I have to admit that I did like her moves while on foot. Platforming is smooth, forgiving one could say, with long, almost floating jumps making your life easier. There's of course some yellow paint here and there, along with some very traditional climbing sections, but none of them seemed forced nor redundant, and for now they didn't annoy me once, whereas Cal Kestis's rigidity and cumbersomeness got on my nerves easily.

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In the same fashion, using the grappling hook with R3 to either swing over a cliff or climb down slowly from a ledge was pretty straight forward, and the swift transition from third to first-person view whenever you enter a ventilation duct is just so convenient and smooth as butter.

Very soon did I get to learn how to use the secondary modules of Kay's blaster to either ion-stun enemies, overcharge droids, or power outlets with electricity, other than of course relying on its main plasma blaster functionality to shoot down rivals when stealth is over. I still don't feel completely comfortable with how cover and aiming work, but in this case I think it has more to do with the style of the game and its controls. Besides, I also learned first-hand how you can grab weapons from downed enemies for a temporary use in the area (such as the JND-41 percussive cannon), and how you can further upgrade the blaster and its different modes at specific stations by investing gathered resources.

Because boy, you do gather some resources. At times, it felt like The Last of Us with all the R3-clicking around the environment, and I later realised that all that you collect can also be used to trade, something very fitting with the character's job.

Star Wars Outlaws

I loved the possibilities Nix gives you while exploring, but above all pre- and during combat, besides being able to scan the area and to tag targets. My favorite is when you send the little creature to set off a grenade an enemy is carrying naively, but other uses such as opening gates in the distance, fetching objects for you (this was very useful to retrieve a keycard without being spotted), preparing traps, or pretending to be dead to distract enemies are inventive, and when you're surrounded you can also send it to scratch the face of the foe to buy you some time and space.

An aspect that didn't convince me though is melee combat. Perhaps I didn't trigger enough 1:1 encounters to try it out proper, but at first sight it felt too limited and too scripted, and for a Han Solo-like scoundrel, and given how they have animated the character to resemble Western movies fist fighting, I was expecting this to be a tad more elaborated and satisfying. And I still don't know what to think about punching helmeted Storm Troopers in the face, less so after the Obi-Wan show... But I can see the humor behind it.

With so many possibilities at hand to tackle every mission and every section of them I found it interesting to see the game challenging me with some specific achievements such as "fetch X items with Nix", or "take down X enemies silently". Game director Mathias Karlson later told me these are meant for the so-called expert mode, but I welcomed the prompts as a way to invite players try out different stuff they might ignore if too focused on one single playstyle or set of mechanics.

Dogfights also left me with a nice first impression. Massive have opted for a very accessible, semi-casual approach when maneuvering the Trailblazer, somewhere closer to Lego Star Wars than to Squadrons, if you know what I mean, or perhaps resembling the underrated Starlink. The main aid here, other than an additional corsair telling you where to aim, is what they call Pursuit mode, which zooms into enemies with LT and tries to keep them in focus for easier chase. The spaceship section was short, but to me it looks like these will mean a nice change of pace even if they're not the real meat of the game. By the way, loading screens are smartly hidden, be it with smoke and clouds as you saw during the Forward, or with Kay fiddling around with the ship's control panel before it's ready (loaded) to take off.

Star Wars Outlaws

Finally I'd like to highlight a couple of mini game-esque mechanics that grabbed my attention. I didn't stop to play Sabacc cards in Kijimi City to earn some credits; I mean more two hacking mechanics that play like little games. One is using the Data Spike to pick locks rhythmically, where you have to 'feel' when to press the trigger in a sequence (good that I had vibrating triggers on the Xbox controller). The other one is more elaborated, in order to hack into computer terminals, and puts you completing a Wordle-like symbols puzzle. Both a nice touch to what it means to be a smuggler.

Interface and HUD are stylish and well-designed, with everything at hand together with some logical choices like pressing down on the D-pad to both heal Kay with a Bacta Vial, or the same to repair the Trailblazer spaceship. Nothing seems particularly rushed or cheap so far.

With that, I'm left wanting for much more. I want to learn all about the story (who is that Waka guy who tips me from the ship? And that Danka who calls me to offer missions? How important is Kay's childhood here?), I want to see how much can I explore planets and what they offer (I saw three landing spots for Mirogana alone), and I want to discover how much can I put the Reputation system to the test while making sense within that story. But what matters most seems to be there, with varied, fun, engaging gameplay, convincing main characters, and seemingly great respect for the source material. With a bit of polish, this could be one of Star Wars' finest video games in their modern era, and we'll find out if that is the case this very summer.

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