key review info
- Game: Outlast
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: Yes
- Reviewed on:
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Traditionally, horror and video games have not mixed well, even if some players still remember the first time they met the early enemies of Doom or Hexen or swear that Amnesia was the most terrifying piece of media they have consumed in the last few years.
The problem is that most games tend to give the player a little too much control over his fate and a good horror experience relies, for the most part, on convincing the subject that escape is impossible.
But the medium seems uniquely suited to the genre and Outlast, the new release from Red Barrels, is a worthy attempt to show how a horror experience that uses some classic ideas of the genre can be enhanced by clever use of light, narrative and graphics.
The story of the game is rather simple and might initially turn some gamers off: Miles Upshur, an overconfident investigative journalist, is heading to Mount Massive Asylum, the kind of institution which seems tailor made to attract horrific acts of violence.
The game’s narrative is being slowly uncovered by finding notes and documents inside the sprawling building and players will discover a solid story that quietly colors their experience.
The gameplay in Outlast is better than the story, although there are moments when I wished that the team aimed for a little more subtlety in their approach to horror.
This is a game that understands that even old ideas can feel fresh again as long as the player, caught inside the limits of the first-person view, never knows exactly what’s going to happen.
Outlast has disembodied heads, former humans that are neither living nor dead, horrific injuries, shouts that ring inside huge halls, glass shattering just as dark figures roam around the player.
All of these would not be too scary as long as the player had a source of light to point towards them and a weapon to make him feel safe.
But Red Barrels only gives the investigative journalist a camera that can use its night vision function to peer into the darkness with limited success and there are no solid weapons in sight.
Running is the only option when something threatening spots the player and Outlast is the type of game that gives players plenty of chances to escape, trying to make the entire experience feel fluent and fast even if death always seems to be around the corner.
It’s also interesting to see how the game treats the moment when an enemy actually gets hold of the player character, because it underlines one of the core elements of any horror experience, which I will not spoil here.
Outlast becomes a game where darkness is a friend, because it allows players to hide from mad doctors and shadowy movement, and a threat, because it might hide horrors that spring to life as soon as night vision has drained the camera’s batteries.
Red Barrels has clearly invested time and attention into making sure that the graphics and the audio of Outlast complement the gameplay and the story told, with some really weird disfigurement when it comes to the characters a player meets and some truly scary tracks.
The only problem is that there are moments when the music preempts the actual scary moment that’s coming, eventually blunting some of its impact because the player knows that something is coming and is now prepared to be frightened.
The game would have benefited from being a little shorter, which would have allowed the developers to drop some of the encounters that feel too similar while focusing more on the unique inmates that a gamer can meet.
Outlast is a hard to play game because it’s effective at what it does, but can at the same time become frustrating once it reveals its bag of tricks.
This is definitely a solid experience for horror lovers that appreciate the idea of unique mechanics and the presence of strong gore.