Survival horror games are often considered by video game publishers as a risk. Maybe it’s because they are a niche market or because generally speaking they are aimed at adults rather than a mainstream audience. However the recent clamour for P.T. and the success of The Evil Within should mean that horror games receive a well overdue resurgence.
Outlast released in 2013 on PC and 2014 on PS4 and Xbox One by Red Barrels is another example of a horror game that is very well done and most important of all, scary. You play as a reporter investigating a story of bad things happening at an asylum. As you can imagine everything is not as it seems and it becomes apparent quite quickly that the inmates have taken over the asylum with you being their prey.
Everything happens in first person view, you can run, jump and peek around corners. There is no combat in Outlast. You are forced to hide in cupboards, lockers or under beds as you are stalked by many of the crazy inmates. This adds to the tension as you feel utterly powerless. One of the nice touches in the game is the ability to look behind you whilst you’re running. This cranks up terror even more because you can hear your own panicked breath as you run away knowing your would be killer is right behind you.
You are carrying around a video camera in your right hand to document your findings. The camera is not only used to film what is going on but it is also essential as most things take place in the dark. The camera has a handy night vision feature. Using night vision means it also drains the battery quickly so you are constantly on edge knowing there is a limited amount of batteries available. However with this being the case, there are spare batteries to be found and I never once ran out.
Outlast is extremely tense in places. When I first started playing I wanted the full experience, so I played in the dark with my headphones on. Shortly after I had started, I literally jumped out of my seat and felt that I couldn’t take playing like this so I turned the game off. The next day I played in the dark but had the sound coming through the TV which lessened the terror.
One of the things I love about this game is how you feel like you’re actually there exploring this horrible place. Everything seems so tactile, as you creep around your breathing gets heavier and you reach out to touch the walls or door frames whilst you peek around the corner. The sound design is impeccable with voices being heard in the distance getting closer or the howling wind and driving rain constantly ratcheting up the atmosphere.
The graphics are generally excellent especially when you hold your video camera and turn on the night vision. This really turns the game into an extra scary experience with almost a photo realistic look about it. It reminds me of the movie Manhunter when you see the killer walking up the stairs at the start of the film. It’s not all great though as there is some screen tearing which takes you out of the experience a little.
As with any good survival horror game, there are notes to be found which fill in the back story. You also write notes as you film things with your camera. This also adds an extra level of tension.
The one fundamental flaw with the game is the inability to fight back. I totally appreciate that only being able to hide adds to the tension but the fact of the matter is that no matter how weak or inexperienced you are at defending yourself, you wouldn’t just let somebody attack you without pushing or hitting back. The recent Alien Isolation could be excused as you are running away from an alien but even that had flamethrowers to fend it off.
The game itself is initially well paced and the first two or three hours being very tense. There are glimpses of terror and suggestion of the horror to come. However, as the game progresses it does start to go down the road of more shock value than tension as there is an over reliance on gore and jump scares. In fact sometimes it feels like you’re filming a snuff video with some particularly nasty violence and scenes of torture.
The ‘Whistleblower’ DLC is also pretty good and expands on the story. It acts as a prequel however I’d recommend playing the main story first.
Overall Outlast is an excellent survival horror game. Its production values make it feel like it could be a boxed game let alone a digital release. You do have to have some patience as essentially it boils down to a game of hide and seek, albeit a game of hide and seek where if you’re found you’re likely to be disembowelled. If I’m honest it could’ve done with being probably about an hour shorter however; if you’re a fan of horror games then I would totally recommend that you try this. Outlast isn’t for the squeamish or faint of heart so if that sounds like you then it’s probably a good idea to let this one pass you by.
Review by Chris (co-host of 60 Minutes With and ‘The Same Coin‘)