Red Barrels has finally created a survival horror experience for this generation of gamers. From the first bloody footprints, or the static cry from the television, Outlast delivers what many “horror” titles today fail to do.
In the game you’ll play as Miles Upshur, who in an effort to expose the wrongdoings of a greedy multinational enterprise, the Murkoff Corporation, will use any information he can get his hands on. Previously, Miles uncovered information linking the Murkoff Corporation to manipulating water and pharmaceutical distribution in third world countries. This time, however, Miles is sent an anonymous letter regarding gruesome human rights violations happening right in our backyard, Mount Massive Asylum in the mountains of Colorado.
Right from the beginning, the “creepy factor” in Outlast is off the charts. For starters, the game looks good, damn good, by making excellent use of the Unreal Engine 3; a realistic setting is a great way to start the terror. Things like boxes aren’t simply beige squares, they’ve got labels and creases, the metal has rust, and while most of the “patients” suffer from the same affliction, they are distinguishable from each other.
The second thing that makes Outlast truly scary is the inability to fight back. This is something so rarely seen in games today, but being completely helpless is a way to send shivers down players’ spines even if nothing is going on. Instead of promoting stealth but giving a choice to use violence, the only option here is to run or hide. In this aspect Outlast is very similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but is immediately more outward about its gruesome nature. In combination with this feeling of helplessness, Red Barrels layers many different horror elements including jump scares, gore and torture.
Corpses are something that there is definitely no shortage of, ranging from blood pools and entrails left behind to entire bodies which seem to have been blown from the inside out. While gratuitous amounts of gore won’t necessarily scare everyone, it’s a constant reminder of possible horrors lurking around the next corner. Along the same lines, there are many “patients” who have obviously been, or are still in the process of being tortured; it’s not uncommon to come across dismemberment or even crucifixion.
Before any enemy contact is where the best shock value of the game takes place. Creaking floors, high-pitched screams, and well placed hanging bodies do a great job of initially setting the pace. It’s rather unfortunate that this type of tactic wears thin after a few hours, and the jump scares become anticipated after awhile. One of the main reasons for this decreased sensitivity is due to the enemies themselves being not that scary.
Initially, I made every effort to avoid any detection by the crazed patients, but I eventually found myself cornered in a watery basement. In an attempt to dash past my pursuer, he hit me multiple times and it didn’t seem to do more than make Miles breath a little harder. I had assumed that any physical contact, or detection, would mean instant death, but after this encounter I became much less afraid of the inhabitants of Mount Massive Asylum. However, it is important to note that a few of the more prominent antagonists can easily, and graphically, put Miles down for good.
It’s slightly unfortunate that the graphics designers were so proud of their creations that they were on display more than they really should have been, but the theme encompassing, “What we can’t see is scarier than what we can” resonates from start to finish. Being stuck outside in the rainy pitch-black, with water distorting the little bit of light from the camera is truly a frighting scenario. Even more-so when you’re on your last battery and there’s no shelter in sight. What’s worse is when there’s no camera at all and you have to dash between dimly lit areas.
It’s quite apparent that the main purpose of Outlast is to scare, and it does so quite well, but does it also tell a good story? The short answer is no, but that isn’t exactly fair considering most horror movies don’t have an interesting story either. While the plot mixes a few different ideas, it’s still very generic and told almost exclusively through documents found along the way. An evil corporation has been experimenting on mental patients, but they went too far and created something they couldn’t control. In the end the storyline feels like a combination of Resident Evil, Doom and Silent Hill.
Just because the plot line is a little stale in itself does not mean that the way it’s experienced suffers the same fate. Since information is only given by bits and pieces of documentation, and the testimony of the crazed Father Martin, it’s difficult to discern what’s truly going on. There were even times when I questioned whether the events were actually happening or if Miles existed at all. Furthermore, it’s evident that even Miles begins to question his own sanity. Finally, the resolution of Outlast, while slightly predictable, was a nice change of pace from the typical “hero saves the day” ending. However, the inconclusiveness leaves a feeling of wanting more, possibly paving way for a sequel.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Outlast is the modern culmination of survival horror, combining multiple layers of terror, realistic graphics and the feeling of complete helplessness. It's a truly terrifying experience.