One of the first games designed by David Crane of Activision fame, Outlaw for the Atari 2600 is both a target shooting contest and a shootout game in one cartridge. When playing by yourself, you score points by shooting a moving target. When challenging a friend, the two of you (one gunslinger on the left and one on the right) fire away at each other.
Outlaw features 16 variations of play. In each of the games, an object such as a cactus, a wall, or a stagecoach moves or stands between the gunslingers, or between the lone gunslinger and the target. In the two-player games, the first player to score 10 points wins. In the one-player games, you've got 99 seconds to score a maximum of 10 points. Outlaw was patterned after Midway’s Gun Fight, which hit the arcades in 1975.
Some things, like going to amusement parks and sporting events, aren’t much fun by yourself. You can add playing Outlaw to that list. Played alone, Outlaw is an overly simplistic and boring game. Played with a friend, however, it is a kicking good time. You'll laugh a lot as you and your frenemy duck behind and break through the various obstacles, taking potshots at one another.
Like most of the early Atari VCS games—Fun With Numbers and Maze Craze come immediately to mind—the graphics in Outlaw are barebones to say the least. With his cowboy hat and crouching shooting stance, the gunfighter is recognizable as such, but overall the sprites and color schemes are basic. When compared to other games of the day, however, Outlaw doesn't look too shabby.
One appealing aspect of Atari VCS cartridges from the late 70s was the number of gameplay variations. Many titles boasted at least 16 different games in one cartridge. While these extra games were generally minor variations on a basic theme, at least it seemed like you were getting more for your money. In Outlaw, the variations are certainly welcome. The difference between shooting through a wall and shooting past a stagecoach is indeed significant in terms of the strategies used for hitting your opponent while avoiding his or her gunfire.
Outlaw is an imminently playable game that offers a good amount of enjoyment. Shooting through the obstacles to get to your opponent is a blast. However, when compared Combat, which is the best two-on-two shootout game from the era, it comes up a little short. With its tanks and planes, Combat offers more challenges, variations and excitement.