For those of you new to my writing, I guess I should throw it out there that I’m a huge fan of survival horror. I grew up on the likes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Clock Tower and Fatal Frame. I was worried for some time that it was a dying genre, especially with action becoming the main ingredient to the top survival horror franchises (ie. Resident Evil, Dead Space). Luckily, indie titles such as Penumbra and Amnesia: The Dark Descent paved the way for all new levels of terror.
Enter Outlast, a psychological horror title developed and published by industry newcomers Red Barrels. The story follows Miles Upshur, an independent journalist out to expose the dirty secrets of a mental facility recently re-opened by the shady Murkoff Corporation.
The game plays in first-person mode and it’s just you and your camcorder throughout the entire game- no weapons in sight. Outlast follows in the footsteps of Amnesia, where our protagonist never gets a weapon and the key to the game is to evade the many foes within the facility. Your camcorder is your primary “weapon” (it gave the game a spooky found footage horror feel) as it uses night vision to allow you to navigate the often dark corridors of the areas you explore. Be careful, though; the night vision drains your batteries and you’ll be left to creep in the darkness until you find more batteries. I found the game was gracious with the amount of batteries you found so it wasn’t something I had to concern myself with too badly. That really says something because as much as I enjoy horror, I’m a downright chicken and spent as little time as I could in the darkness. I refused!
I played Outlast with my roommate’s laptop connected to our TV so we could have a grand terror-filled experience together. Due to not wanting to play the game with our faces two inches from the screen, we had to use a controller- much to my chagrin. I’m a PC gamer through and through so having to do anything on a controller hurts me deeply. Playing a tense horror game with a controller was even worse. Even so, the lack of combat made the controls simple. You could walk, run, crouch, and peek around corners. It was easy enough until I got frightened and completely forgot the control scheme (which happened a lot, trust me).
So, yes, Outlast is terrifying. I may be a chicken, but I think the overall verdict is that this game might make you pee your pants. The surroundings are often beautiful, but just as often macabre and disgusting. I found it impressive that no matter where you were in the facility, be it in the well-lit, posh main floor reception and office area or the dark and bloody basement, there was always a heavy sense of dread looming over me. There was never a moment where I felt safe. It was tiring on my nerves.
And absolutely exhilarating.
Alas, Outlast isn’t a perfect game. I feel I was very thorough in looking for all the documents that were left around for players to use to piece the story together with and even then I was left kind of scratching my head at the game’s credits. I have a feeling they were trying a little too hard for a shocking and twisty game to throw us into and I can’t quite say they were entirely successful with the amount of head scratching myself and my roomate did. I beat the game not even an hour ago, so maybe I’m too quick to judge. Who knows, I may even need to gather the courage to play again.
Only a handful of enemy skins were offered through the game and this could be considered also a minor downfall. I’m not saying I wasn’t still scared witless when someone came lunging out of the dark at me, but once you had to sneak by the same enemy for the fiftieth time, they did get less shocking.
My biggest annoyance was, sadly, the protagonist himself and how the game presented his story. He rarely spoke, only wrote journal entries for anything of interest that happened during the game. Firstly, it sort of made the game feel less realistic and also a bit disjointed, and secondly, he was kind of a douche. I understand the developers were probably trying to give him some character, but it fell flat to me. He was overly crude and abrasive and it took away from the flow.
Having said all of that- did I still have a great time playing Outlast? The answer is a resounding yes. With the horror genre being grossly overdone in nearly ever media outlet, it’s become tough to feel that rush of fear. I spent the entirety of this game white knuckled, even when I wasn’t the one playing. I jumped and shrieked the whole way through. Despite any negative things I have to say about this title, when the credits rolled I had a huge grin on my face. This IS survival horror and it’s not to be missed. Anyone looking for a no holds barred scare-fest, please look no further.
I give Red Barrel’s Outlast a…
4.5 out of 5
You can grab Outlast on Steam for 19.99.