Throughout my time gaming there have been few genres I haven’t been able to get into and until recently survival horror was one of them. I never really understood. I suppose the reason why it’s hard for one individual to experience every facet of a discipline because the amount of stuff that has been and is being produced is so large and the amount of time one has is so limited. Well that and I’m a huge coward. Anyways I’ve decided to jump into the deep end of survival horror with Outlast, a 2013 game by up-and-coming indie developer Red Barrels (available for PC via Steam and PS4 via PSN direct download). After completion of the game I can say with confidence that Outlast has made me a fan of the survival horror genre.
The premise of Outlast is pretty simple: You play as Miles Upshur, a journalist who receives an email from an employee at Mount Massive Asylum informing him of human rights violations. In a sudden burst intelligence he decides that the best course of action would be to break into Mount Massive in the dead of night armed with nothing but a video recorder and a few batteries because breaking into an asylum at night is always a good idea. Inevitably Miles finds himself trapped in a place where the staff are all murdered and the patients-turned-physically-deformed-monsters have taken control. At that point the game’s main goal is introduced: escape.
When I referred to the ‘deep end’ of survival horror I was referencing the type of survival horror that emphasizes survival instead of combat. Unlike most games (Resident Evil: Revelations) that label themselves 'horror,' Outlast is more focused on making you crap your pants than giving you some monsters to shoot. In fact, so focused on accomplishing this goal that it removed combat altogether. When one of Mount Massive’s more violent denizens spots you there is nothing you can do to defend yourself. In the game, I had to make my way through Mount Massive with nothing but a video camera, a fist full of batteries, some well-implemented stealth mechanics and the age old tactic known as ‘running like hell.’ Overall, the gameplay was fantastic and helped keep me in a state of utter terror during the entire playthrough.
Outlast’s story (as previously mentioned) is about a journalist who breaks into an asylum in order to get the scoop on what appears to be a pulitzer-worthy story, only to find himself trapped. While the concept of an ambitious journalist sneaking into an asylum only to end up trapped within isn’t original (it’s possible Red Barrels stole it from the second season of American Horror Story and they probably stole it from somewhere else) Red barrels still makes a pretty good game out of it. It was intriguing enough to keep me playing and there's one moment 1-3 hours into the game that is just crazy (people who played the game you know what I’m talking about). I do have some issues with the ending and if you aren’t paying attention at certain parts you can miss out, but it’s nothing that ruins the game. All in all, Outlast was a good choice.
Now considering that I’ve been kissing Red Barrels’ feet for the past few paragraphs it would be easy to assume that Outlast escaped my clutches without receiving any negative criticism. Unfortunately, I did have some issues with the game. First off, I would like to point out the game’s length. I finished the game in five hours. I don’t think this is good criticism, because the game certainly feels much longer than it actually is (you remember events as being longer than they actually were when you’re in flight mode) and there are many collectables for the completionist types. My other problem with the game is the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it isn’t scary and it doesn’t feel like the rest of the game. It does wrap the story up nicely, but I think it could have been done better. All things considered, the ending and the length weren’t able to ruin a great experience.
At the end of the day it’s only fair to judge a horror game like Outlast on whether or not it’s scary and the answer to that question its yes; its fucking terrifying. If you want to be scared this is the game for you. Yes, the developers never set out with any sort of higher ambitions, it’s horrifying. The game plays well, it’s scary, the story is pretty good, the game looks pretty for an indie title. Outlast is fantastic and I genuinely recommend it.
Disclaimer: A word of warning before you buy: Outlast is not a game that screws around. It has an ESRB rating of M (though in all honesty it comes pretty close to AO) and contains strong language, blood, gore, and graphic sexual content (not the good kind).