As I walk down the halls of the dreary apartment, hunting for a lighter so I can have a smoke outside in the backyard by the bins, my neighbour, a close friend, hands me two and asks me to pick, “Do you want the skull or the trans flag lighter?” It’s a tougher decision than picking a starter Pokemon. Both are my brand! I love queer flags and I love a bit of edgy memorabilia. In the end, though, I opt for the ol’ blue, white, and pink. Good choice, eh?
An Outcry gets a lot weirder than picking a lighter. That’s normal stuff. So is the unfortunate amount of transphobia your neighbours subject you to, whether it’s the old man, the old woman, or the young mother who doesn’t even realise she’s deadnaming you – yikes, a bit of common courtesy while we’re being eaten alive by birds, please. You heard me right. Being eaten by birds. Talking birds. An Outcry is weird in the best of ways, playing like Undertale with a ‘60s horror aesthetic, boosted by its modern sociopolitical commentary. You’re a trans person in right-wing Austria, trapped in an apartment complex while birds pick off the occupants one by one.
The apartment feels almost liminal as if it’s not really there – but it is and you can’t put your finger on why. It’s like those dreams where you’re wandering in vast, open, and empty environments that are loosely familiar. The whole world is in the uncanny valley, leading to an unsettling atmosphere only heightened by the guttural, scratchy tones of the soundtrack. From the minute you start the game, locking yourself out of your apartment for the night, the eeriness creeps in. The neighbours are visible but barely, almost distorted by the art style – everything is just a touch off in places. Outcry does one thing near-perfectly and that’s crafting a creepy vibe.
It’s only made more unsettling by how alone you are. You have one person to lean on while everything goes to shit. But they’re flaky, sometimes answering the door but usually entranced in their own hobbies and work. So you’re left to your own devices, drinking a few beers with the birds, hanging out with open transphobes who invalidate you at every possible opportunity. An Outcry is a lonely experience and its world is so engrossing that it’s viscerally upsetting at points, like when it pulls you out for a psychedelic dream sequence where the narrator breaks the fourth wall to question if you’re doing enough outside of the game to make the world a better place. I hope so.
But while it has a greatly designed world and atmosphere, An Outcry can get repetitive. The apartment complex is where you’ll spend most of your time, revisiting the same few spaces. Undertale has similar horror overtones masked by its comical writing, but it also has a lot more variety to keep things fresh from start to finish, expanding on that tone in new and unexpected ways. Globetrotting – or underground trotting – wouldn’t fit An Outcry, but the complex size is limiting and can make the five hours it takes to beat the game feel very samey. Apartments have far more to them – basements, uniquely designed rooms, or different floors – but An Outcry doesn’t take full advantage of how large a space you can make that one, limited, and isolated setting. Just look at The Shining for an example of making one building feel large, unpredictable, and yet still isolating.
It’s the people you meet that keep the momentum going strong. Every character feels tangible. I’ve met that man, I’ve met that woman, and yes – I’ve even met those two kids. They’re all real people. An Outcry doesn’t sugarcoat its cast, showing the dismissal and abuse queer people go through on an all too common basis. I’m not trans, and I can’t say I understand their struggle, but being bisexual I’ve had plenty of people invalidate my sexuality, handwaving it as confusion or gay in denial. It wears you down to the point where sometimes fighting back is just too exhausting.
Alright, whatever you say. That’s exactly how An Outcry’s protagonist handles the abuse and I related to that on a deep-seated level, understanding their feeling of being tired, struggling to hold their chin up. Representation can veer on problematic or avoiding the messy reality of being queer, but An Outcry doesn’t make those pitfalls. Trans players will likely find a deeper, more comprehensive meaning behind An Outcry’s exploration of identity and the challenges that come with pursuing who you want to be, especially in a world where people are ignorant to your progress, even when the society you exist within seems to be falling apart at the seams. Despite everything, it’s still you.
What really shines is how the game handles its approach towards problematic terms and abuse. There’s a content warning and even options to disable animal abuse or slurs, instead displaying them in all-red text as just that – “slur”. You can still feel an emotional connection to the protagonist, see the abuse they face, and understand the toxicity they’re wading through. It’s a nice breather while letting the queerness stay messy and I cherished that approach during my playthrough.
An Outcry is an unsettling game in more ways than one. The talking birds that eat people are frightening, sure, but there’s a weird comfort in embracing their company when given the choice between them and the transphobes filling the halls of your apartment complex. It almost feels like purgatory, a place of judgement with the birds acting as reapers, and you’re watching as these horrible people are picked off one by one, punished for their wrongdoings. An Outcry is a quaint world packed with so much character and atmosphere, oozing personality while holding up a dark mirror to our own, yet it makes me proud to be queer and proud to embrace who I am.
Score: 4/5. A PC review copy was provided by the publisher.
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