Outlast is a survival horror game released by Indie game developers Red Barrels on September 4th, 2013 for PC and PS4. This review was conducted on PC.
“Outlast contains intense violence, gore, graphic sexual content, and strong language. Please enjoy.” -Outlast
Before I begin this review I thought I’d explain how I went about playing the game. I think that in order to truly enjoy any horror game, you have to go into it with the full intent of letting yourself get scared. In order to do this, and to immerse myself in the full horror game experience, I played this game at midnight with all of the lights off, my window and door closed, and over-the-ear headphones on.
Playing the game right from the start, Outlast made me jump out of my chair, tremble with terror and cower in fear. There were times during the game where I had to stop for a moment and take a few deep breaths to stop my hands from shaking. This game will scare you more in the first 20 minutes than a horror movie will in its full two hours. Aside from some minor hiccups throughout the game, Outlast understands the nuances that make a horror game truly terrifying.
The game’s graphics and sound are pretty top-notch, and work well together to craft a fearful environment that is sure to get the player shaking in his boots. Sounds like doors creaking, footsteps, and even the nauseating “squish” sound when you step on a stray intestine will keep you on edge throughout even the short-lived calm points of the game. combine these sounds with the creepy visuals of an old building and the ugly ghouls that run amok in the Asylum, and you get a horrifying experience like something from a nightmare.
Starting the game sets the scene for you with a very cinematic opening as your character pulls up in front of the ominous and aptly named Mount Massive Asylum building. This place is a sprawling labyrinth of a building, and exits are often times only a distant hope. Upon your first look at the place, it looks like an old haunted mansion, and there’s even a few cliche flashes of lightning in the back. It wasn’t a bad thing though, and I found the choice a little humorous, like, “of course there would be a thunderstorm coming on the night I investigate the creepy Asylum.”
In Outlast, you play the journalist Miles Upshur, who upon receiving an anonymous tip about illegal activity at the secretive Mount Massive Asylum, eagerly drive down to the place to see what kind of dirt you can dig up on them, and record as evidence. You are armed with only a camera, no guns, knives, baseball bats, or chainsaws, and with it you are to capture as many unsettling events as you can. The catch is that as soon as you make it inside the place, you realize you’re in way over your head.
Without any weapon, you are completely and utterly powerless in the game, and fighting back is not an option. Your only hope of survival is stealth, and when you get caught, running from room to room until you break a line of sight and take refuge in a small closet or under a bed. Then you hide there, terrified as the mad man (or men, depending on how badly you screwed up) searches for you.
Light, of course, plays an integral role to the game, and your only way of traversing through the darkness is with the night vision setting on your camera. The catch here is that the setting eats battery life like a hungry, hungry hippo, so you’ll have to use it conservatively or be left in the dark. Batteries aren’t plentiful by any means, but as long as you’re not using the night vision every time it gets a little hard to see, and you’re actively searching for the little life saving cylinders, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble, despite the majority of the rooms being shrouded in darkness.
I enjoyed most of the game design choices, including the camera, which not only forces you to conserve your resources, unaware if there’s going to be a long stretch of darkness ahead without any batteries nearby, but what I really liked about the camera was that by capturing events with it, you gain more information. This design choice sort of forces you to watch the creepy events that you might otherwise look away from, or quickly move on from. I found myself multiple times crouching in a corner, silently observing a madman write in blood on a wall or bang his head bloody against a pillar. The game puts you in situations where you have to come in close contact with the creeps, and sometimes observing their movements is necessary to maintain hidden.
There were also some elements of the game that I was not so keen on however. The inside of the Asylum is very maze-like and at times it becomes hard to figure out where you’re supposed to be going. This wouldn’t be too big of a problem, but I found myself more than a few times being chased around in circles trying to find a place to hide or find my way around and ultimately being cornered and dying, forcing me to reload from a previous save. I understand that some points are supposed to be a bit more challenging than others, but it actually draws away from the fear and immersion and start to feel more like a game again when you have to repeat a scene or are being infinitely chased in circles. Fortunately these moments aren’t extremely common, despite happening more than once in my playthrough of the game.
The rest of the game was quite enjoyable, and aside from a few annoying repetitious objectives (I decided not to go into detail on this part to avoid spoilers), I found the game overall enjoyable. I have recommended this game to friends in the past, and I’d encourage you all to pick it up as well if this kind of game suits you or you’re looking for a good scare. What I like most about this game, and what I think it does the most right, is keep you powerless in the game. Fleeing from enemies in horror games is far more frightening than blowing their brains out with a fully automatic. The jump scares are never annoying or predictable, and there’s even a good bit of dark humor in the game. Overall I give Outlast an 8.5/10, and I’d classify it as one of the best horror survival games out this year.