Game Review: Outlast
Outlast is a new survival horror video game published by Canadian game company Red Barrel Studios.
The overall plot of the game centers on Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist who receives an anonymous tip of illegal activity and abuse of patients at Mount Massive Asylum. Upon arriving at the asylum Miles discovers the staff are missing and the building in near shambles. The patients are left to wander around to their own devices, and some of them react violently to outsiders.
The object of the game is to investigate the atrocities of Mount Massive armed with nothing but a video camera and a reporter’s note pad. Miles is not a cop or marine, although even if he was the player quickly discovers that the SWAT team who arrived before did not fare well even with their guns. Your only options are to hide and use your camera’s night vision functions to navigate past hostile patients and crazed cult members.
Overall, this game as received positive reviews across the board, and its reputation is well earned. There are many elements of horror which Outlast does perfectly. Now, I played Outlast almost immediately after playing The Evil Within and it made me realize the fundamental difference between a horror survival game, and a game with gore and elements of horror survival included.
First off, atmosphere of the sprawling Mount Massive Asylum is terrifying, and large portions of the building are out of power. The range of the camera’s night vision is limited, which means an enemy could be hiding around any corner. Sometimes the best thing a game can do is let the player scare themselves because whatever we conjure up in our own imaginations is probably worse than they could ever hope of achieve.
But not all the inhabitants of the asylum are inherently hostile. Some of them sit in their drug induced stupors or wander around babbling nonsense. Some of them will only turn violent if Miles happens to walk too close and triggers the most horrifying jump scares in the game. Then there are the small handful who are plain and clearly out to get you, and they are a consistent threat throughout most of the game. If enemies happen to catch Miles there is little margin for error. It does not take much to trigger one of this game’s brutal dead cut scenes. Have you ever imagined seeing through the eyes of a man as his head ripped from his body by the bare hands of a psychopath? I’ve seen it … and it sticks with you.
Above all, what players of this game are going to find most terrifying is simply the fact that they are completely and utterly helpless. In my mind, this game is clearly a call back to games like Fatal Frame where the protagonist is an unassuming person with no combat skills. In both games the player is armed with nothing but a camera, but the main difference is that in Fatal Frame the camera also functions as a weapon, and encourages the player to let the enemies to get close in order to deal more damage. Miles does not even have that advantage. In fact, I highly recommend that players do not let the patients of the asylum get that close, or you will die.
There are a few flaws of course, some of which are caused directly by Outlast’s core gameplay mechanic. Towards the end of the game objective can begin to feel tedious as very few new elements are added along the way. Outlast lacks the excitement of unlocking new weapons, abilities and mechanics. In an effort to have Miles remain a passive observer and “witness” the joy of discovery runs dry quickly.
The same three main antagonists persistently dog Miles on his journey through the asylum, which can begin to make Outlast feel like a never ending game of cat and mouse. The game does shake things up later in the game when Miles loses the camera, and therefore the ability to properly navigate his surroundings, but it is briefly and also towards the tail end of the game.
The ending is also a point where I feel many fans will be divided. I will not spoil the game for anyone, but know that it is somewhat bittersweet.
Overall, the virtues of Outlast far outweigh its downfalls. It was the first game in years that had me feeling genuinely terrified even when there was not one jump scare in sight. For the full immersive experience, pick up a pair of surround sound gaming headphones, turn out the lights, and let the magic happen. There elements here for every fan of survival horror to enjoy.