Thanks to its weapon-free gameplay and tense atmosphere, Outlast delivers a genuinely terrifying experience.
There have been several horror games over the years, but only a few of them belong in the pantheon on seminal titles you’d want to play. Some of them include Resident Evil 2, Eternal Darkness and, of course, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In one form or another, first-person survival horror game Outlast is clearly influenced by those horror games (especially the latter,) and the game manages to deliver a terrifying experience that leaves a lasting impression.
In Outlast, you play as journalist Miles Upshur who, after receiving an anonymous email by a whistleblower, decides to investigate private psychiatric hospital Mount Massive Asylum located somewhere in the Colorado area. Apparently, inside the building people are conducting inhumane experiments on the patients and it’s your duty to uncover the truth and reveal it to the public. But the horrors inside the asylum soon turn against the investigator and you find yourself locked inside the horrifying facility with a bunch of patients and doctors who want nothing but to kill you in gruesome ways.
Like some of the best horror games ever made, Outlast lacks any form of combat, so whenever you encounter enemies, you have three options: you can run, hide or die. Enemies come in different forms, but the way in which you deal with them is always the same: you need to avoid them at all costs while you try to find your way out of the asylum. If you’re spotted, you need to outrun your pursuer, hide inside lockers or under beds and wait until the enemies give up looking for you. This provides some of the scariest moments in the game, since you’ll find yourself running down hallways and opening random doors hoping that there’s somewhere you can hide inside.
Although you can’t use any weapons, you have a more valuable tool at your disposal: your trusty camcorder. Since you went there to investigate, you have a digital camera you can use to reveal hidden information and use night vision to see in the dark. The fact that the protagonist has a camera actually makes sense which is a problem in most found footage horror movies, since holding on to a camera when there’s someone chasing you with a chainsaw is ridiculous. The entire game revolves around darkness and this resource is put to great use.
But there are some contrivances with the plot. I felt that the use of an asylum for the main setting was incredibly uninspired. Although effective, we’ve all seen insane asylums in both games and film (in games like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, Dementium: The Ward and The Evil Within and in films like Grave Encounters, Wrong Turn 4 and the Ward) and seeing people who have mental illnesses as dangerous is offensive. Also, your digital camera runs out of battery the more you use it and not only does this looks like an excuse to add tension, but the batteries run dry after a few minutes which doesn’t make sense.
Another problem is related to the game’s design. To progress, Outlast forces you to push buttons, pull switches or activate generators and this structure quickly becomes repetitive and frustrating. Although you need to avoid enemies while you look for three of something, the process feels lazy and takes you out of the experience.
Outlast uses every trick in the book to scare you: there are mutilated people, grotesque-looking patients, syringes, jump scares, dark environments and list goes on and on. Although some of those resources are more effective than others, Outlast is a tense and terrifying horror game that will satisfy both newcomers and veterans alike as long as they have the stomach to play it. Some of my favorite moments came from the numerous scripted scenes where you need to retrieve important items or follow a specific path to lose enemies that are chasing you. In other words, this can be an extremely violent game that seldom shies away from anything to scare you.
Completing Outlast should take you about five hours depending on how much time you dedicate to explore the environments. I felt like the length was more than appropriate for the story the game was trying to tell and should have the game been longer, the gameplay could have become repetitive.
Outlast knows that the most effective scares come from things you can’t kill and the game puts that concept to great use. On top of that, the survival horror games takes some of the best parts about Amnesia and found footage films to create something that feels unique and horrifying at the same time. It has some weak moments here and there, but Outlast creates the illusion of danger so often and so effectively, that it’s hard not to recommend it.