Outlast is a survival horror game, released on September 4th, 2013 for Windows PC and then later for the PS4 and Xbox One. It is published by Red Barrels Games and was their first game developed as an independent company.
It was actually the first survival horror game I’ve ever played, because, after having some not-so-great experiences with those “scary faces” that appear at the end of YouTube videos, I wasn’t keen on the idea of playing an entire video game that was based around jump scares. However, after watching the beginning of a playthrough of the game, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot.
After braving the haunting music of the title screen, I plugged my earphones in and was ready to start the fun, and get the pants scared off me.
First off, though, I have to ask, why would you accept an anonymous letter requesting you to visit and write an article on the horrors of a mental asylum? Also, upon arrival, your car breaks down and you have no phone reception. Surely that’s a big red flag? But of course, Miles Upshur, the protagonist of this story, doesn’t think about this and mindlessly ventures in anyway thinking about all the secrets he could uncover.
(Sometimes I wonder if the characters you are playing as are worth saving seeing as how they’re so stupid sometimes…)
As soon as you arrive at the asylum you find the front door is blocked and so you are told to find another way in. Once you do get into the building, it immediately becomes pitch black and you are forced to use the infrared on your cam recorder, which, of course, drains your battery… quickly.
It’s the atmosphere that did it for me. Not knowing what was behind every corner, and being limited to seeing through infrared (which still wasn’t enough for decent peripheral vision) just gives that perfect creepy, eerie vibe. I wanted to run. I wanted to get out of this place as soon as possible. However, I couldn’t because I had to scavenge in every dark corner for batteries for my camcorder and I didn’t want to alert whatever was lurking in the corridors.
There are definitely some stressful points in the game, and, when you’re being chased, it always gets the heart going. Usually, if I’m being chased and manage to evade the chaser, I’d find some place to hide and wait for the pursuer to walk past.
I admit the first few times I was chased and then hiding from an enemy, I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure if the hiding spots that were being checked were randomised, or if there was a particular place that was checked and I had just got lucky each time. After a while, however, I realised it was all in my head and that it was meant to freak you out that every spot is checked – except for where you are, or so it seemed – which sort of ruined the atmosphere. Although, in saying that, it still didn’t fail to freak me out.
Sometimes it did get annoying because, in some cases, you could see your exit was right there and it was just the pattern of the “lurker” you had to keep an eye on. And, sometimes, if you went too early or too late, you could get spotted which meant you would have to sprint away and find the same spot you’d been hiding in the last 20 times, and do the same thing all over again.
It does get stressful, however, when you’re being chased and you run past your hiding spot and that’s when the panic kicks in. You frantically look around every room, hoping to not get cornered by the thing that’s chasing you, just to find a spot to hide in and to take a breather.
This is where I made an interesting observation. While the areas you are in appear relatively similar, with only small things to set each room in the asylum apart, it doesn’t feel as if the developers had just copied and pasted the design of each room, or each floor. It felt as if the rooms were lived in, and looked real. And when you were hiding behind a corner, the lean mechanic actually worked; which meant instead of being spotted when you leant outward, you were still behind a wall.
When I was hiding, I thought it was quite interesting and effective because I would hear a heartbeat in my ears and was never sure if it was my heartbeat that I heard in my ears, or Miles’. I’d sometimes even take out my earphones to check if it was indeed my own.
Throughout the game, you encounter some interesting characters. Some that help, some that want to kill you, and some that just freak you out.
For example, this one patient I encountered in the cells. He was in a straitjacket and would slowly walk up to me saying “it looks like you’ve got an itch. Have you got an itch?” When I first saw him, I ran into a cell and locked myself in because I thought he was going to kill me. Turns out he’s just a creepy guy who’s got a really bad itch.
You get a few characters like that. Some of them even help you (to a certain degree). I was still in the cells and at one point I was grabbed by a hysterical patient and I had to try and shake him. I think it was because I was near a cell but one of the “patients” inside a locked cell grabbed the guy off of me and snapped his neck. Gruesome.
Then there are those characters that aren’t so helpful. The ones that are trying to hunt you down and kill you. The ones that rip your head off. Chop your fingers off. Hack you to pieces. The fun stuff!
However, the good thing about this game was that you never knew who, or what, you were going to encounter. Was it going to try and help you? Was it going to kill you? Or was it just there to freak you out? And the scares were completely random. Unless the music picked up, signalling you had been spotted from somewhere and were being chased, you couldn’t really tell when the next jump scare was going to happen.
As for interaction, the only sort of dialogue you usually heard was just enemies talking to themselves, which, in turn, along with filming it with the camcorder, would make Miles record it via journal entries (a common mechanic I’ve now discovered is in many survival horror games). The camera work was a little clunky, though, which meant I would often find myself walking into walls without realising; sometimes until it was too late.
With the adrenaline pumping through me as I edged my way closer to the end, all throughout the game it had that sense of “I’ll play just a little bit more.” By that time it was 9.30pm and I had been playing for a good 10 hours.
I do, however, feel it overstayed its welcome towards the end. It may have been because I just wanted to finish the game, or it really did start to get a bit boring. To me, it felt like they put more miniature “quests” into the game to lengthen the ending and not have people think it was anticlimactic, or rushed.
It had that good mix of well-placed jump scares and puzzles without it being too difficult. I would have, however, liked the saves to be a little bit more frequent. Sometimes in the game, you would have to press a few buttons to activate a certain mechanism, and, if you died, none of the progress you made was saved, meaning you’d have to press the buttons all over again.
I was pleasantly surprised though at how in depth this game was with the storyline and characters. It also had its funny and disturbing moments, depending on who you are though it might have been different for you.
This was my first ever genuine survival horror game, and while I was hesitant to play it, in the beginning, it ended up consuming my gaming time far more than I had expected. It recommends you play with headphones in the dark, which I did in the end, and it felt so much more real, and, in some cases, fun, than if you played in the daytime.
Outlast is a terrifying, albeit, enjoyable experience, and successfully reeled me into the horror genre. It left me wanting more, and I may play it again in the future. It had the perfect atmosphere, forcing me to check behind every corner before hesitantly crawling forward. While I feel the game may have overstayed its welcome, it certainly ended well, and with the sequel planned to be released in time for Halloween, I am excited to see what the creators at Red Barrels Games have in store for us as I eagerly await the opportunity to uncover more of the disturbing terror that is Outlast.