Sorry guys, but I’m going to do it.
I’m going to talk about Outlast and how it relates to other horror games that have been released. I’m going to reference Silent Hill 2, Amnesia, and other games that have come to define what it means for me to be scared. I love the horror genre, I can’t help it.
I’m going to not judge the game on its own merits but on its contribution to the genre. I’m going to say “It’s an impressive, immersive experience,” just like in any other game review, but then I’m going to add a huge “but” at the end.
Outlast is a simple, horrifying, suspenseful experience. It’s able to make me scream at the top of my lungs, shiver, make my heart jump to my throat. Maybe when I scream for the umpteenth time, I’ll lose my heart forever and never finish the game. Maybe Miles will never be able to escape the asylum filled with monsters no longer human and he’ll run and pant for eternity, stuck between lines of code waiting for the Wallrider to walk on by and not check his locker (spoiler, he will).
But… but it’s all things I have seen before.
In an older review I wrote about Lone Survivor, I mentioned how I really wanted to like the game. The indie release is a side-scrolling surprise that while legitimately disturbing and unique, had me thinking about other things:
I kept thinking about how it could be improved to match this standard, maybe with less repetitive gameplay, a protagonist who wasn’t so needy, and less horror movie clichés, some of which don’t exactly work.
I once chalked this opinion up to inexperience. This was one of my first video game reviews and I didn’t think I knew exactly what to look for when reviewing a game. I didn’t know some of the unspoken rules of the profession. Talking about Silent Hill in comparison to any upcoming or new horror release is a copout.
I don’t regret it. I don’t feel that comparing Lone Survivor directly to masterpieces of any related group is unfair, although maybe I shouldn’t have put so much focus on it. Sure, having played the Silent Hill series almost completely through raises my expectations of horror games, but that’s not something I should put aside. At least, not all the time.
In a genre as new as video games, precedents are fresh. The same goes for film, books, and other interactive media. There’s always something that’s going to come first and is going to be deemed a “classic” while your newer, probably better effort is going to be forgotten and pushed aside. The reason game developers go to create the next big, scary horror genre—just as an example—is most likely because something else came first. Whether it was another video game or a film or novel that gave that person nightmares when they were younger, there was something that inspired them to go there, to create that thing. Games like Silent Hill inspired countless survival horror copies and imitators in the same way that novels like Frankenstein jumpstarted science fiction.
To think about the frontrunners and the classics is a way to acknowledge history. Where did Outlast come from but from a love of the horror genre? Chances are that the creators played games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. This is similar to how parallels between Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem are too obvious to ignore.
The jump scare aspects that make Outlast so terrifying work because they have been established to work. That’s thanks to the artists that tried it first. While I shouldn’t compare them immediately, it would be impossible to just not think about it at all. I would be forgetting about the legacy that a few decades of creative coding have established. I’d be forgetting about the video games that got me hooked, and made me want to do this in the first place.
So yeah, Outlast is a great game. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to think about other horror games as well. Sorry.