Horror games, the terror of confronting something hunting you can be an exhilarating prospect although one that is sometimes too much for some gamers to handle, with many shying away from the horror genre and missing out on some real gems. Sometimes, grabbing your favourite gun and tackling the fear head-on is the best course of action, unfortunately for those visiting Red Barrels’ Mount Massive Asylum the only thing you’ll be grabbing for is a new pack of batteries to power your video camera’s night vision or an occasional pair of new pants!
Outlast puts you into the first person perspective of Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist hot on the heels of an anonymous tip off. The game is incredibly atmospheric; the asylum is dank, dilapidated and full of violent scenes. More impressively, it runs at a smooth 60fps and in glorious 1080p so there’s only a minimal amount of screen tearing and certainly no poorly rendered characters that you can nervously laugh at in the hope of sedating your fear.
A video camera with night vision, your wits and some average parkour moves are all that stands between your survival and the messed up inhabitants of the asylum. On paper, this may sound like a limited game, but it makes the gameplay that much more atmospheric and unnerving. As you might expect, the inhabitants of Mount Massive are pretty messed up and the story is no pretty picture either. Outlast balances jump scares, chase scenes and moments where you are lurking in the shadows just behind your would-be assailant so perfectly that at times you’ll barely have a chance to relax from the tension that Outlast creates. It’s refreshing heading into a game that doesn’t thrive on the need for you to run through a level balls deep, all guns blazing.
As I previously mentioned, the video camera has a night vision function that allows you to see in the dark, what horror game would be complete if it wasn’t set at night? Switching to the view finder of the camera plunges the screen into an eerie green hue and reduces your vision to a noisy distorted mess of static that only adds to the tension. To keep your camera powered you need to find batteries hidden throughout Mount Massive so exploration is a must if you don’t want to be caught short. This is no state of the art video camera either, the night vision doesn’t have a vast depth of field so you can only see a few feet in front of you and it eats through batteries faster than an iPhone.
While never overtly scary, the sense of panic, rush and fear of the unknown mixed with the asylum’s environment is what makes Outlast so damn scary — oh, you’re not afraid of scary games? Well, put your money where your mouth is and play this game in the dark with your favourite pair of surround sound headphones and I guarantee you that Outlast will make you jump, and maybe, just maybe give you nightmares!
I don’t want to say too much about the game’s plot or characters because another gem in this game’s morbid crown is not only the exploration of the asylum itself but the many weird characters you’ll meet, some friendly and some not so much. I will tell you this, you’ll die quite a bit and make plenty of errors while trying to solve navigational puzzles especially while under pressure from a chase scene. You’ll also spend a good portion of time under beds or in lockers hiding from the many unsavoury inmates that still reside in the asylum.
We all get sucked into the worlds that games create, that’s why we play them, and Outlast makes sure that it sucks you into the psyche of Miles. You really feel like you’re in the game especially during tense moments when your on-screen persona is breathing heavily, it doesn’t do wonders for your own heart rate as you try to calm yourself down to rationally deal with your current predicament. Because Outlast relies on the oldest tricks in the book to make you jump for the ceiling, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are for something to happen the jump scares will catch you out on several occasions. For me, it was usually followed by a nervous laugh at just how much it made me jump!
Outlast will easily keep you engaged throughout its 5-6 hour run-through and while the game mechanics rely heavily on the same formula of problem solving, stealth and hiding mechanics, the short runtime means that it never becomes too over familiar. The feeling of fear and unease is the biggest thing going for Outlast as is the way the game pulls you into its world wincing at every lump, bump and fall that Miles endures.