Horror influenced video games walk a very fine line within the video game industry. There are in an essence one of two ways that things can play out. You can attempt to be scary which in itself is tricky do for the sole fact of creating an outright scary atmosphere within the realm of a video game is no easy task. The other is having horror elements while abandoning scare factor all together in favor of a more violent and over the top experience.
While games that aim for the latter certainly are fun there is something about a game that successfully creates tension and a feeling of fear within those who play it. That’s exactly what Outlast manages to do. It creates a world in which things aren’t as easy as shooting a zombie in the face or using a blunt weapon to dispatch your foe; instead your method of survival is often running. Rather than present your character as someone who suddenly becomes a badass when presented in dire circumstances, your character is simply an average Joe.
In fact your character completely lacks the ability to fight back, instead having to run and hide from those who pursue him.
In Outlast you play reporter Miles Upshur. You receive a tip about an old asylum owned by the Murkoff Corporation in which it is believed that questionable health practices have been performed on the patients. After breaking into the asylum via an upstairs window you find a dying SWAT team member who tells you to leave right away. During your attempt to escape you are attacked and thrown threw a window down into the lower floors of the asylum. As you awaken from the fall you quickly realize that you will need to find an alternate method of escape. That’s the basic storyline without diving too deep into spoiler territory.
As a reporter you enter into the Mount Massive Asylum armed with only a video camera. It is this mechanic that actually plays greatly into the games ability to create tension. As you navigate through the asylum there are several instances where the rooms and hallways are completely dark. Your only choice in those situations is to operate the night vision feature on your camera as you try and find a way out. In fact a large portion of the game is seen through this method which only allows you to see portions of the room, which of course makes it easy to find yourself into a dangerous situation if you aren’t careful. At the same time though you need to be smart with your camera use since the night vision function eats up battery life and will be unusable if you don’t find replacement batteries.
The look of the game will be hit or miss for some. While the game doesn’t look bad it certainly doesn’t feel as if it is in the same league of most of the current crop of games to come out. I personally don’t feel it takes away from the game as a whole but it certainly does take some of the realism out of the game at times. This is mostly apparent when it comes to character design more so than anything else.
What it lacks in looks though it more than makes up for in the sound design. There is something to be said about the feeling you get as you are hiding in a locker as someone knocks down the door looking for you and having to rely on the sounds of the room to determine when to come out. In fact if you own a headset for gaming I highly recommend using it to heighten the intensity of such moments. I also like that the game didn’t put as much focus on overplayed cliche thematic music as you plod through, instead letting the sounds of the characters and the environment speak for themselves.
Outlast perfectly encompasses that feeling you had as a kid as you watched a horror movie before bed and then found yourself creeping through a dark house to use the bathroom. While you can certainly run around like a madman and try and fly through the game as a reckless pace, it takes away from the experience. Instead the game feels more rewarding to play it slowly, gradually opening doors before easing into a dark room. Rather than bolt down a hallway, you listen to the sounds around you and peak around the corner before continuing. That’s what the game is able to convey so well, that inner child we all have. The feeling of “what was that” we all felt as a floorboard creaked on our way back to our room. The difference in Outlast is that sometimes there is something in the dark, and sometimes there is a “boogeyman” under the bed.
Outlast gets a four out of five: GREAT.