Ten minutes into Outlast and I’ve squealed in terror as a patient seemingly emerges from thin-air and accuses me of being “sick.” Naked patients wielding machetes and blunt objects stare at me while they giggle over which body parts they’ll get to keep. The deeper I dive into Red Barrels’ Outlast makes me wonder if I really am sick.
Released in September 4th, 2013 on PC and February 5th, 2014 for the PlayStation 4 [Version reviewed], Outlast is a survival-horror game in the same vein as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Arrival – so you can expect a lot of running and hiding. The game features Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist on the lead of a beat at the fictional Mount Massive Asylum investigating a case that involves behavioral [and physical] mutilation. He doesn’t have a firearm, a knife, or a big pokey stick to jab at offenders; so his best bet is to dash away and find the nearest locker or bed to hide under. Outlast handles a chunk of the narrative through the environment and picking up documents that reveal what’s been really happening in the asylum. Expect a lot of jump scares.
What you’ll like
Night vision isn’t a new game mechanic, but the way Outlast utilizes it is horrifyingly innovative. Combing through a [seemingly] abandoned asylum means there’s going to be a lot of burnt out lightbulbs – so it’s a good thing Miles’ camera has night vision. There’s nothing more disturbing than hearing shackles rattling in the distance over incoherent mumbling as you fumble to flip up your camcorder. Switch to night vision and the sound you hear is a hulking six-foot tall blob of meat with glowing green eyes. To keep up the pressure, Miles’ camera runs on batteries that are conveniently placed around the asylum. Run out of batteries and your ability to navigate the environment runs out as well. It’s unnerving to conserve your batteries when all you want to do is stare at that one guy pounding his head into a support beam in the dark.
Nifty DualShock 4 features
Though Outlast doesn’t utilize any touchpad controls, Red Barrels makes use of the light bar. Health is indicated by white, yellow, and red depending on how much kick you’ve got left in you, and the light bar emits a greenish hue when night vision is enabled. Though the internal speaker isn’t used, there’s a 3.5mm universal headphone port to soak up all the wondrous sounds of Mount Massive Asylum, which is highly convenient for those wanting complete immersion in that nuthouse.
Constantly saying, “What’s that noise?”
Red Barrels’ choice in sound design is impeccable. The floor creaks with every step you take, the pipelines clank from years of wear and tear, and it seems like Miles forgot his inhaler because he’s always breathing heavily. Inmates mutter to themselves as you pass by. Flies buzz around rotting flesh. Blood-curdling screams are heard in the distance. Outlast plays on the idea of sensory deprivation – impairing the sense of sight induces a heightened sense of hearing. It also helps that they added a touch of non-diegetic sound, you know, for those jump scares we’re all familiar with. Nothing screams terror like the sudden shriek from a violin.
What you won’t like
Hey, just because they’re inmates in an insane asylum doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Okay, they’re kind of stupid. When an inmate has you in his sights, he’ll chase you down until you find the nearest room with a bed, locker, or desk to hide behind. Miles can easily out-pace these guys no sweat, and the A.I. has a tendency to check every corner of the room except the one you’re hanging out in. While it may be tense the first few times, it just seems redundant when you know you’ve gotten away. It’s a different story if he catches you hiding in the act. Most of the times you can stay out of their line of vision and sneak past them.
It’s an on-rails fright fest
I say, “on-rails” because encountering something frightening usually means you’re on the right path. Outlast’s level design is slightly linear: you activate generators A and B, you turn on the power, you find a key card etc. There’s slight backtracking, but you won’t lose your sense of direction. Where Outlast lacks in hefty-puzzle solving, exploration, and combat makes up for it in heavy ambiance. As you comb through confined hallways, you can hear blood dripping on the floor and incoherent mumbling in the distance. You tense a little bit as you peek around the corner to check if the coast is clear. It’s not. Though “tense” is a good way to define the gameplay mechanics of Outlast, it can be a little repetitive when you’re running from the same flesh-hungry maniac and hiding under the same dilapidated locker.
Outlast has one goal: to terrify you, and it does the job well. The game is nothing groundbreaking in terms of game or player mechanics, but it does show a renewed interest in the survival-horror genre. For fans of the genre, this is a good thing. Five hours might be short for a typical game, but I found it to be just the right length for a survival-horror game of this nature. For 20$ USD, it’s the perfect horror romp you’d expect on the PlayStation 4. For PS+ users, it’s free in the month of February, so it’s hard to pass up. You can always spend that 20$ on adult diapers. You might need it.
Outlast is out now for the PC and the PlayStation 4.
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