Outlast is scary. That is the question you want answered by a review is it not? Unlike other games where there are so many variables and systems. Questions like whether or not it is fun or if it fits within a series’ framework. Here, with horror games and specifically with Outlast there is one answer that most gamer’s care about. Is it scary? Yes my brothers, yes it is.
Outlast follows the story of investigative journalist Miles Upshur, who in his infinite wisdom, decides going to an Insane asylum at night, with just a video camera is the best way to spend an evening. The setup is simple; Upshur comes to the asylum seeking a huge story involving the Murkoff Corp. supposedly performing experiments on the tenants. Most of the relatively simple tale is told through notes taken by Upshur as he films significant scenes or by logs and files found within the asylum. Miles is a silent protagonist with his only dialogue being screams, heavy breathing and grunts of pain. There is no combat or weapons with his only saving grace being a video camera with a night vision mode. This gives the player a rudimentary sort of flashlight and the game itself that terrifying and popular “found film” look.
Mount Massive Asylum, ladies and gentleman, is where this hell of an experience takes place and I use the word hell literally. The asylum is the star of the game much like Rapture was in the original Bioshock or the titular Skyrim. Mount Massive is terrifying and beautifully detailed as its corridors are filled with some of the most brutal examples of video game viscera and gore. Though the gore itself is not what Red Barrels relies on to scare the player, it is the tension that is created by a combination of the beautiful and disturbing environs and the unsettling cast of characters within Mount Massive.
The characters are rendered with grotesque detail whether they are trying to take you under their wing or chasing you through the halls of the asylum. The world is beautiful and when standing still the characters fit the scene but the animations are stiff and the lip sync is acceptable at best. It is frustrating when a harrowing chase scene has just begun only to hide in a corner and watch as the asylum inmate walks around stiffly with his arms at his side making unrealistically sharp turns. What makes these chases is the fact that Miles cannot fight back and must run and hide similar to Amnesia. Where outlast surpasses Amnesia: The Dark Descent in this regard is how fluid Upshur’s movements are. The game almost has a mirrors edge lite feel as Miles automatically slides over low objects and jumps up to higher ledges all in first person. A genius mechanic that Red Barrels implemented was switching the lean key to act as a way to look behind you when sprinting. It lets you see the classic “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” scenario first hand, just when you think you are clear you look behind you and the enemy is inches away.
It is the mix of fluid first person movement and the genius of being able to see your legs, chest, hands etc. at all times that makes you feel like you are in the world. As you lean around a corner Miles puts his hand on the edge of the door, as you crouch he slides a hand across the ground to guide him and as you walk over the many corpses and limbs he actually steps on them as they have real geometry in the world. It is this feeling that you are there that makes it so much more real, like you yourself are running and hiding in a locker as you breathe heavily avoiding one of the crazed tenants.
The music and sound design can make or break any horror title and thankfully Outlasts more than fits the bill. The denizens of the asylum are well acted and their dialogue ranges from hilarious to downright disturbing. The music is sparse and moody and perfectly fits the scene whenever it comes in. Sadly, the weakest point of the game is the story, it is told sparsely and well enough, and up until the last half hour is interesting and mysterious. The classic idea that the mystery itself is better than the answers comes into play here. The unknown and lack of knowledge thereof is what makes Outlast, but in the end the answer you didn’t really want is given in an odd finale where the plot takes a sci-fi twist. The second detractor for some will be that the game is rather short. On steam it clocked in my gameplay anywhere between 3-4 hours (it said three hours played but that could be all the way up to 3:59). I personally felt the game was lengthy enough as it can be exhausting to play a game like this for an extended period of time.
Outlast is an exemplary horror game and should be seen as a model to follow for horror developers in the future. The question will no longer be “Is it scary?” but it will now be “Is it as scary as Outlast?” In the case of Outlast and the sheer quality of its horror the answer will almost always be a disheartened “no.”
+Great Sound Design
+First Person Free Running
Editors Note: Outlast is very, very mature. This may even be too much for some adult gamer’s as it contains disturbing depictions of nudity and necrophilia among the heaps of gore. Subjects not normally dabbled in by games but Outlast handles them deftly adding to the already disturbing atmosphere. Be warned.