With dozens of sci-fi references, The Outer Worlds shows Obsidian's love of the genre

(Image credit: Obsidian Entertainment)

The Outer Worlds has obviously been made by people who love science fiction. It's a funny game that references its inspirations proudly. Environment designs, one-off lines and space gadgets frequently pay homage to some of the best science fiction films and television of the past few decades. You've probably spotted loads already, but let's celebrate some of the best.

Two TV shows have clearly had a big influence on The Outer Worlds. There's Joss Whedon's classic, tragically short-lived Firefly, and Futurama. 

Firefly stars a band of misfits trying to make a buck on the frontier of space. They mix it up with gangsters and flee the attentions of terrifying space corporations. It has more of a space Western feel than The Outer Worlds, but a few character archetypes carry over into your companions. In Parvarti you have a different take on the cheerful mechanic who just loves ships and machines—much like Kaylee from Firefly. Shepherd Book seems like a much nicer guy than Vicar Max, but both are men of the cloth who keep accidentally hinting at a murderous past.

If you squint, your Outer Worlds ship looks a bit like Serenity. If you notice your hold filling up with 'wooly cows', that's surely a reference to a Firefly scene that shows Serenity's hold full of cows about to be rustled to another planet.

(Image credit: Obsidian)

In interviews Obsidian developers have named Futurama as an influence. It's another show about an unlikely band of friends (well, sort of friends) who barrel from planet to planet getting into scrapes. I mostly felt this influence in the tone of many of The Outer World's exchanges, but when one of your companions shouts "to shreds, you say" in combat, that must be a callout to a Professor Farnsworth quote from season 1.

(Image credit: Obsidian)

I felt the presence of a third comedy TV show. Red Dwarf is an old British sitcom about—you guessed it—a band of misfits trying to survive in space. Though, likely for budget reasons, they rarely did much planetside. Some of the ship designs remind me a little bit of The Bug, but the most direct link is ADA. The idea of a sardonic ship AI is an old one, but the presentation reminds me of the acerbic, long-suffering Red Dwarf ship AI, Holly.

(Image credit: Obsidian)

Of course there are a lot of visual callbacks. Stylistically The Outer Worlds harks back to the very first Fallout games. Thanks to the Bethesda Fallout games and Bioshock, the idea of old-timey posters making jokes about futuristic scenarios seems staid, but the Outer Worlds picks up that trend anyway. As for direct visual references your ship's navigation terminal sure does look like Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. As for the overall aesthetic, it's impossible to see such beautiful bright, clashing colours (see above) and not think of the amazing Chris Foss.

All of this isn't to say that Outer Worlds is simply cobbled together from these influences, but it's fun to celebrate the little callouts that developers sneak into their games. I enjoyed its take on corporations in space. That's an idea that has been done to death in science fiction, but Obsidian brings its own take to an old idea (Tacoma also does something interesting with this). I'm sure there are loads of little nods and references I've missed, feel free to share any you've spotted in the comments.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.