Few games over the years have made it into the list of what I would deem as a true survival horror, and fewer still have totally scared the crap out of me. Outlast is a game that now tops that list both on a scary level and on being a true survival horror. In fact, this game has probably scared me as much as any great horror movie I have ever watched. The developers of Outlast, Red Barrels, are made up of some very experienced people who have worked on titles such as Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune before forming their own studio. This experience shows through in the game’s design and mechanics bringing us a winning formula that preys upon even the most primal of human emotions, like our fear, and survival instinct.
Outlast begins on a lonely country road in Colorado, it’s night time and you are driving towards what should be an abandoned mental facility. You play as Miles Upshur, a reporter who has received a tip off that something is wrong at the Mount Massive Asylum. Approaching the Asylum you go over the notes again, Murkoff Psychiatric System are apparently conducting some illegal experiments at the asylum. True to human nature, and the nature of his job, Miles has to be nosey and investigate these claims by breaking into the asylum and gathering evidence to support the claims. Armed with nothing more than a few batteries and his video camera he sets off to gain entry into what can only be described as a downward spiral into the depths of hell itself.
A few things not to expect in Outlast include, weapons, ammo or even beating off the enemies with the butt end of your camera. Instead you will have to survive by stealth, speed and cunning. If you think about it, why would a reporter carry a machine gun loaded to the hilt with exploding bullets around with him, he just wouldn’t, it’s a fact. Your only weapons will be how fast you can hide, or run, in order to avoid being killed, and ending up as one of the tormented souls trapped in the asylum. Making your way through the corridors of Mount Massive Asylum, you can get the true feeling of how desperate life is in this hopeless place. A place full of damp, musty air that you can almost taste with every breath you take, as you make your way around through the horrors that await. Upon entering each room your senses are heightened to the fact that you have no idea what may be lurking in the darkness ahead. Using the night vision on your camera only adds to the fear that at any moment something is going to grab you, and it usually does. Outlast is full of moments that totally make you jump and quiver with fright, and all of them are so indescribably convincing that you fear entering the next room.
The entire environment created for the game gives off a distinct feeling of death and horror, from the cracking blood stained walls, right down to the countless body parts strewn around every corner. This feeling never lets up, and when you run all you can hear is the ever increasing beats of your heart coupled with your heavy breath. In some situations you almost want a button to hold your breath for fear that the large monstrous beast that patrols the corridors will hear you and come quickly to rip your still beating heart from your chest. In fact, you are constantly aware of his presence during the game, whether it’s his heavy foot falls or his large looming shadow creeping up the corridor walls. Have no doubt that at times he will spot you, and then you will run, trying to shake him off by hiding in a locker or anywhere you can for that matter, whispering to yourself, “please don’t look in here” as your breathing gets heavier and heavier. Outlast does a good job at hiding it’s linear path, while you are constantly in fear you almost forget that you are being ushered from one heart pounding moment to the next, and exploration is not only stopped by the game itself but by the fear you have of going off the beaten track and finding more frightening experiences. In some ways you feel exactly as you would in real life – just wanting to get the hell out of this nightmare as fast and as soon as possible. Sometimes a little exploration is called for, otherwise you will find your camera running out of battery power fast, leaving you in complete darkness to deal with your imagination and what it’s telling you.
Graphically, Outlast deals with the night vision extremely well, so well in fact it’s more than believable. Where it falls slightly is in the textures during the parts that have lighting, apart from that I would have no other complaints about the setting in which it takes place. Outlast does many things right, the atmosphere in which you find yourself, the frights, the horror and the gameplay are all portrayed perfectly. I have to question that while it’s an experience to play this game, is it really one that you would want to repeat after escaping the first time? I am not so sure about that. However the first DLC is now available to download called “The Whistleblower”, and that is sure to add some more to the entire nappy filling experience. Outlast for me has been a journey of fear and anticipation, one that I am sure will stay with me for some time to come. If you have a weak heart, and are under doctors instructions to take it easy, then give this one a miss, however every able bodied gamer of the correct age should not pass this by. Outlast has definitely redefined the requirements to be a true horror survival game.