When I first saw the concept art for Outwitters, I noted the Adorables team (which consists of teddy bears and anthropomorphic mice wearing overalls) and became slightly concerned that One Man Left was bowing to market pressure and making a cute casual game aimed at kids. I was wrong.
Outwitters is a fever dream of a strategy game. It’s a game where you will see bipedal sharks fight cyclopean elephants and disembodied, levitating brains. The main theme sounds like late-period Tom Waits collaborating with Danny Elfman. It’s not a game for kids, it’s a game for freaks and subversives. I love it.
And it’s not just the brilliant presentation – that’s merely the facade laid over a deeply gratifying multiplayer strategy game. Outwitters is a turn-based squad tactical game played on a hex grid. There’s three different armies to choose from in Outwitters, each with a unique unit. You begin each match with a handful of units and a base – destroying your opponent’s base is the way to victory. Every turn, you can spend your action points (called “wits”) on moving (or otherwise employing) your units or buying new ones. Your team’s units range from cheap, fragile scouts to hardy, hard-hitting heavies. The maps are big enough to accommodate any strategy, but small enough to ensure that there’s action every turn. It’s as good a multiplayer wargame as I’ve ever played.
OML’s first game, Tilt to Live, was probably the most polished app on iOS – Outwitters lives up to the reputation it’s predecessor established. Every menu, every animation, every interaction – they all gleam with the polish that OML will soon be rightfully known for. Besides a couple of hitches with notifications that I noticed over the weekend, Outwitters is flawless. It’s all the more an achievement for being the product of a two-man studio. On the new iPad at least, there’s almost no perceptible loading times. That’s actually a pity, because the loading messages in Tilt to Live were hilarious.
Outwitters is a free app, which lets you play as much as you like with the Scallywags, an army of pirate fish whose unique unit is a hermit crab mortar that is the only area effect weapon in the game. You can spend a few dollars to unlock the Feedback and Adorables armies, whose unique units subvert enemy units and allow teleportation, respectively. For a little more, One Man Left also offers an Uber Pack which entitles the purchaser to every Outwitters army released forever and ever into the future. It’s a good deal and a nice way of dispensing with piecemeal IAPs.
Outwitters lets you play against Game Center friends or random opponents, and has a built-in ranking system that matches players against similarly-skilled opponents – a level of matchmaking sophistication that’s rare to see outside of AAA console games. Given my brief time with the game I can’t vouch for the ranked matchmaking’s efficacy but the fact that it’s there at all is remarkable.
The downside to Outwitters is that it is a multiplayer-only affair – it will only be fun for as long as there is an active player base. With the fickle and fast-moving nature of the App Store, it’s hard to say how long Outwitters will hold our attention. I know I’ll be playing it for quite a while.
5 out of 5
iTunes Store, Universal. Free.