I have played my fair share of horror games, both leaning toward action and survival. In this day and age, it’s rather difficult to find a good horror game that has the survival feel to it, and even when those were around, it would usually be surrounded by clunky controls to “add tension.” After playing Red Barrels’ Outlast, I see that bad controls and limited resources are not needed to have a good survival horror experience. I now have a new found respect for the genre.
Players take on the role of journalist Miles Upshur as he arrives at a mental institution where his sources tell him that dangerous, unethical and possibly supernatural experiments are taking place. When he arrives he finds nothing but dead bodies, crazed patients and fear. Armed with only his video camera, Miles must escape the madness and along the way document what he has seen.
Everything takes place in the first person perspective. Miles can utilize his camera to see in dark areas using the night vision. In fact, players will find that they will have their camera up most of the time. The bad thing is, his camera uses batteries with are sparsely placed around the asylum. If his batteries run out, he has to trek in complete darkness. That is a very bad and frightening experience.
Since Miles is not a fighter in the slightest, he must run and hide from enemies. These enemies can’t really see in the dark either so many times they may be five feet in front of him and still walk right on by. The tension when running away from a crazed lunatic and then hiding while they search for him is nerve-racking.
From almost the beginning, Miles is really just trying to escape the asylum. Of course, that can’t happen easily and multiple events take place that have him restarting power to the building, and other things to get him to where he needs to go. I do have to mention, around halfway through the game, these objectives start to drag down the game a bit. It feels like it is saying once again “Here is what you need to do. Do it while sneaking around these enemies.” After a few encounters I was able to predict some enemy patterns, but after this short slow period, the game pick back up for a really good climax.
The presentation is amazing. The way the camera zooms in slightly when brought up to the face and the distortions when the night vision is turned on really make it feel real. The sound design is superb as well. Hearing Miles hold his breath when hiding from an enemy and hearing his heartbeat when running in fear made me feel like I was actually there doing the same things he was, and that slight whining noise the camera makes when the night vision turns on always had me hoping nothing was right in front of me. Small touches like seeing Mile’s hand grip the frame of a door while peeking out into the hallway really nails it all. There are small touches in Outlast that just add more to the overall feel.
Of course, I have to mention how terrifying it really is. Sure, there are jump scares every now and again, but what really makes it deserve the moniker of survival horror is just how vulnerable Miles is. The situations he is in and what the player chooses to do are just like what anyone in that situation might experience. Outlast goes far beyond loud noises and falling bodies. It creates a reality I didn’t want to go to. When I say I didn’t want to venture into a specific room, it wasn’t because I was afraid there was going to be a loud jump scare ahead; it was because I was absolutely terrified. It has been a very long time since I have experienced something like this.
The visuals mixed with the lighting effects were fantastic. When I walked into a dark engine room in the basement it was just dark. It was so dark I couldn’t even see Miles’ hands in front of his face. When seeing an enemy slowly creep towards me in a darkened corridor while not being able to see himself, he acted just like any psychotic maniac would in a pitch black hallway.
The game took around five hours to complete. This is with me getting lost a few times and actually trying to uncover some of the facts littered around the world. Players can pick up documents that shed some light on what exactly is going on here at the Mount Massive Asylum and when filming certain events, Miles creates his own notes with his take on what he is experiencing. While the story is there and it has its moments, it was never invasive and held me enough to keep searching for facts.
Like I stated earlier, Outlast is an experience I haven’t had in a very long time. I have played a ton of horror games in my life and this is one of the most gut wrenching, nerve-racking and purely terrifying experiences I have ever had. This game has redefined survival horror. Outlast isn’t what I would call a fun experience. It was a scary one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It may have its slow parts in the middle, but even then, I couldn’t stop gunning for more. If you enjoy a terrifying game and are not prone to heart attacks, this $20 fright-fest is for you. Just be warned, it is not for the faint of heart.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.