When I was a kid, several hundred years ago, I always wanted to be a cowboy. OK, so that isn’t strictly true, I also wanted to be a Ghostbuster and a WWF (not E) wrestler. But, as time went by, I realised I was neither the intellectual equal of Stantz, Spengler or Venkman, nor did I fancy rolling around on TV in my underpants. My desire to be a Wild West gunslinger remained, however. I mean, that’s way more realistic, right?
Living in England had its limitations on this dream of course. Firstly, the only cowboys I ever saw were the kind that poorly tarmacked your drive and took off with your life savings – certainly not a patch on big bad (and bow-legged) John Wayne – and secondly, I’d spent more time riding Donkey’s on Skegness beach than I ever had riding into the sunset on a horse. So you can imagine the screams of Yeehaw that came bellowing out of my house when in 1997, George Lucas himself gave me a leg up to finally realise this life-long ambition.
Now, don’t get ahead of yourself here. I don’t mean the bearded godfather of the Holy Star Wars Trilogy came round to my parent’s house and gifted me my very own set of pistols and chaps – although that would have been brilliant. No, instead Mr. Lucas and the wonderful people at LucasArts created a video game so incredible and gritty that 14-year-old me could vicariously live out his dream by simply slipping the disc in my home computer. That game, dear friends, was Outlaws.
Released in March, 1997, Outlaws was even more exciting than the Westerns I’d seen on TV. The plot followed the exploits of retired U.S Marshall James Anderson, who, in true Western tradition, sets out on a mission of revenge when a bunch of no good hoodlums kill his wife and kidnap his daughter. Covering every conceivable Wild West-themed backdrop, Anderson is pitted against a veritable army of gunslinging goons, all eager to shoot your right through the heart. But it’ll all be worth it when he finally gets to hold his beloved daughter in his arms once more. Shit, this is Academy Award-winning material if ever I saw it.
Recreating the Wild West involved an impressive mixture of LucasArts’ INSANE animation engine for cutscenes, and the Jedi Engine for gameplay, both of which had previously been used on the equally great Star Wars: Dark Forces game. Sure, visually Outlaws may not have aged as well as some video games, but for 14-year-old me back in 1997 I might as well have been transplanted back in time to live out my fantasy. This was the closest I was ever going to get to be a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy and I was hooked.
Astonishingly, not everyone felt the same way as I did. Some critics unfavourably compared Outlaws to Doom, calling it Doom-lite, or a Duke Nukem clone. This was utter nonsense to me. After all, how many first-person-shooters had you played by that point? And how many of them were given a Western setting? Blasting aliens, monsters or Nazis were passé by this point. Sending a dirty outlaw straight to Hell on the other hand – shit, you can’t put a price on dishing out justice like that!
Sadly my dream of being the Wild West’s biggest hero ended abruptly. I discovered Championship Manager later that year and abandoned James Anderson for good. In doing so he never tracked down those responsible for the death of his wife, and moreover, he was never reunited with his daughter. I have had to live with that guilt ever since. Or at least since I remembered I hadn’t completed the game. In hindsight, this may have been a grave mistake. I mean, there’s no way a badass dude like U.S Marshall James Anderson would ever forgive me for such a betrayal.
I guess I’ll be sleeping with one eye open for a while now, y’know, just to be sure. Or maybe I’ll dust off my copy of Outlaws and head back out on the hunt. I reckon I owe him that much.