Outlast review — Feel the fear with this near-perfect nightmare
Authored by Mack Ashworth
When I sit down to play a horror game these days, I expect a few jumpy moments every half hour or so. I assume a terrifying encounter will follow with a chance to relax and recuperate. So when Red Barrels’ Outlast hit me with scare after scare, keeping my heart racing and the tension high, I damn well couldn’t wait for the game to end, as superb as it is. I just wanted it to be over, and the game knew this. It teased me with opportunities of escape, and then (literally) dragged me back for more.
You play as Miles Upshur, an independent journalist, who has journeyed to the Mount Massive Asylum to follow up on a tip from an anonymous source. This source has provided a vague description of strange goings on at the mental institute and so, hungry for a story, Miles goes looking for answers.
Outlast tells its story very well. While there are notes littered about the asylum providing extra details about inmates, and strange experiments, the game doesn’t rely too heavily upon them to tell its tale. For the most part, the game’s story is told through dialogue, which is solid and well acted out.
Taking me five hours to complete, and considering I raced through some areas out of sheer terror, the game offers a nice amount of content for its $20 price tag.
Red Barrels have borrowed a lot from other horror games. I’m not mad though, because they have taken the basic ideas and improved on them tenfold. The player’s inability to fight enemies, permitted only to run away, for example, is enhanced by how some encounters force you to recklessly sprint down unexplored corridors, away from one evil… towards another.
In other games, players find themselves dependent on a lamp or torch to keep them moving through the darkness. In Outlast, you are given a camcorder with a built-in night vision mode and, while it does let you see things clearly up close, it also paints your surroundings with an eerie green tint, causing everything to look even more unnatural. It’s very unsettling.
You will often find yourself hunting for batteries, with which to power your camcorder. As these are expended quickly, you will have to search dark rooms for more. That being said, I always had at least two batteries at the ready, and I rarely had to concern myself about conserving battery life. If the developers had been a little more cruel, with a few less batteries populating the place, I really think it would have increased the tension past what is already a very intense experience.
To progress through the asylum, you will have to solve basic puzzles to unlock doors, and partake in a little light platforming. Of course, those “basic puzzles” that involve pushing a couple of buttons, become terrifying tasks, as with each button you push, or lever you pull, nearby inmates will come running to investigate. The encounters in Outlast are so common that you never feel completely safe, with your imagination quickly becoming your own worst enemy, and paranoia swiftly kicking in.
As for the “light platforming”, you will sometimes be asked to climb and jump your way to an objective. Luckily, Miles moves like Faith from Mirror’s Edge. He can vault objects, smash through doors left ajar, and he just generally feels great to control. Not only is he quite the athletic chap, but he is also incredibly tough. So tough in fact, that he can take up to four hits from most enemies, which is frankly pretty ridiculous. Enemies become a lot less menacing when you suddenly find out that you can simply take a little beating, and sprint away.
On the upside, however, this does make the largest enemy in the game, by comparison, a lot more terrifying. He will take you down in two hits, and is too large to sprint past. If you get cornered by him, the last thing you’ll see is his smile… and all of your internal organs pouring out from the gaping wound in your stomach.
Just as the game seems to be getting a little more predictable, and a little less scary; you suddenly find yourself with a new challenge. Remember that time when you could just run away from a not-so-powerful enemy? Well, running is now no longer an option. You have to hide.
When I first saw the “X to hide” notification pop up on screen, I knew I was in for a bad evening. Hiding in a ward under one of the beds, I found myself shaking both in-game and in real life, hoping that the deformity hunting me would give up and just leave. Of course, that was when he started to check underneath the beds…
Easily one of the greatest looking and sounding horror games that I’ve ever played, Outlast gives players a realistic-looking world to explore, with audio that is second to none. I myself, was almost driven to insanity with the whispers and creaking floorboards; not to mention the incredible musical score. It would be rude to play this game without headphones.
Every so often I would pause momentarily, and allow myself to truly appreciate the visuals. Every bit of this game looks fantastic. From large areas completely smothered in blood, to the more intimate parts of the asylum, where everything seems completely normal, until you discover the mutilated corpse tucked beneath a table.
The implementation of night vision is what really makes this game stand out for me. As mentioned before, this mode on your camera allows you to see in the dark, but at the cost of everything looking even more creepy. Some of the biggest scares I experienced, were when I had heard a suspicious noise, turned on my night vision to investigate, and found myself face to skinless face with a crazed inmate. Yes, terrifying stuff.
One complaint I do have about the presentation of Outlast, is that character models, and animations, are reused a little more than I’d like. It becomes noticeable and can often ruin what should be an unpredictable encounter.
The menu system does its job perfectly, there is no HUD except in camera mode, and hints can be turned off. Simple things result in maximum immersion. Allow the game to take you in, and you will not be disappointed.
Outlast is one incredible horror game. While some games set out to simply make you jump, Red Barrels’ debut effort has you jumping up from your chair, and running for the light switch.
You are forced to enter areas that you know house a threat. You are made to run and hide when you know you will be found. You need to experience this game, because I know it will not disappoint.
- Evokes genuine fear
- Night vision
- Brilliant visuals and flawless sound
- Weak enemies
- Reused character models
- Too many batteries scattered around
Final Verdict: 9/10 (Grab some headphones, draw the curtains, and enjoy the horror!)
A review copy of Outlast was provided to us by Red Barrels. I played for 5 hours on PC (i5 3570k, GTX 770) with an Xbox 360 controller, which is fully supported. Currently the game is available for $20 on Steam.