Game Review: Outlast
“Outlast contains intense violence, gore, graphic sexual content and strong language. Please enjoy.”
After hitting “New Game” on the main menu screen, the above introductory message is shown before a brief insight into the plot. Although this fairly broad but hefty warning was an informative flag to wave, I’d have preferred:
“Outlast will ruin the contents of your underwear drawer faster than concentrated chipotle. Please enjoy.”
Outlast is scary! Outlast is very scary! Did I mention? Outlast is very very scary! Sorry if the repetition is annoying but jeez, my heart was putting in some effort throughout my time with the game.
There were instances where I made little frightened noises that I wasn’t aware I could make. I’m not actually bad with horror movies, I very rarely jump and I can’t remember feeling any level of real fear whilst watching them. The developer, Red Barrels, show a good example of how video games can instill something within you that nothing else on a screen can.
The premise is that you play as Miles Upshur, an investigative reporter. You’ve received info that Mount Massive Asylum, a psychiatric hospital owned by an unscrupulous company, is a hotbed of nastiness. You decide to see the asylum for yourself. Armed with nothing but a video camera and enough curiosity (or blind stupidity) to enter the eerie dwelling, you set about your task. Whilst digging for the truth, you find files based on patients, they help fill in some of the blanks about what’s going on in this hell hole. These files seem very well written and are always interesting to find. The rest of the story telling is achieved through the games ability to keep you on edge. With snippets of plot thrown at you, most of it is fed to you whilst searching for the way out of Mount Massive Asylum.
One of the biggest stand out game mechanics is the use of your video camera. The reason the camera is so integral is that you utilise it’s night vision function to navigate your way around the dark. To add to the survival element of Outlast, using the night vision depletes your batteries pretty quickly. Eventually, each battery you pick up is accompanied by a sigh of relief. Another strong differentiator is the control scheme. You have the usual, walk, run, jump, crouch, but you have some less familiar control. Miles can choose to open doors slowly or quickly and can lean around every corner. You’re even able to look over your shoulder whilst running away. One thing you can not do is fight. Outlast has no form of player combat. Your only defense is to run or hide, this might add more tension than if you were capable of fighting, I think I’d have preferred to be able to fend for myself. The reason I say this is because there were points where the fear was overtaken by frustration. When I died repeatedly in the same section, with no way to defend myself when cornered in a room. In some scenarios, I was sent further back than I’d have liked.
One of the great pieces of advice you’ll receive from the kind inmates of Mount Massive Asylum
The game utilises many tropes of the horror movie genre. It uses them to great effect. So many nuanced sounds and movements made things feel very intense. The Asylum’s design is a huge part of the creep factor remaining so high. Each section has enough believable obstacles to make it seem like organic chaos has taken over. You’re not given much guidance on where to go but through exploration, you get there. On a couple of occasions I struggled to find where to go, but it was an intentional part of the game, your supposed to search all over.
The games presentation has a few people I’ve spoken to divided. I thought it’s visuals were good for the type of game it is. The lighting was cool, at times even making you scared of your own shadow. Huge portions of the Asylum are enveloped in darkness, forcing you to view it through your trusty camera. Whilst relying on the night vision, the limited field of sight you have benefits the the sense of suspense. Nice touches like after you’ve walked through a pool of blood, you leave bloody footprints in your wake. The character models weren’t the best designs or visually stunning but it didn’t detract from my experience. One thing I really can not fault is Outlast’ sound direction. Every audio cue is perfectly placed, it adds tension to almost every step you take. Before you’ve even seen anything terrifying, the audio has you creeping at a snails pace through each room. The music and sound effects marry together to set each scene off to be as bleak as can be.
Outlast often thrusts such handsome chaps your way, you’re in for a treat!
I liked Outlast, it did what it set out to do, which had my heart racing for a few hours I played it. It’s style would resonate with others more than me but I applaud what Red Barrels has done. I doubt I’ll ever go through it again. I found playing it pretty stressful. I got this on my PS4 through the PS+ program, so I never paid for it. I do think it was worth the value of it’s full price anyway so for free it’s easy to recommend. If a couple of the design choices were altered or refined, I think I’d have gotten more out of it. It almost runs down the route of other non con-formative games, but then does conform with gaming tropes. When it forces you to find key cards, activate security devices, power up generators, turn drainage valves, it very much conforms. That’s all fine, I just think that when you add those video game cliches, the gameplay should be elevated to that of other games. If it would have avoided those typical trappings then the lack of combat would have felt more at home.
Outlast is a very tense, scary and suspenseful ride, with not much forgiveness for your wellbeing. One of the scariest games I’ve ever played, with a fantastic audio backdrop. I’d have preferred it to play a little better but it does it’s job of making you need to invest in some new underwear.