If there is one genre that affects my senses more than anything else, it’s the horror genre. There is just something about being on edge, the thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen next, no matter how unpleasant it may be. The beating of your heart, trying to restrain yourself from covering your ears and eyes, sitting on the edge of your seat as the tension reaches an unbearable level. There are many people that don’t enjoy feeling this way, but there are others like myself that embrace it; to appreciate a feeling that most don’t experience during a normal day’s activities. Red Barrels Games’ Outlast is an absolute assault on your senses, and after being hailed as the “Scariest Game of the Year” by a variety of outlets last year, it has newly arrived on the PlayStation 4, hoping to find an all new audience to terrify (and it’s free to PlayStation Plus members to boot ($19.99 if not a member)!). This is a game you MUST experience for yourself!
I will cut to the chase: many of you won’t be playing Outlast for its story. It’s your typical “haunted insane asylum” plot. It’s not a narrative that will have you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled, though it is serviceable and entertaining enough; many of the collectibles you obtain during the game will help flesh out the story. You view the world through the eyes of Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist who is investigating the mysterious Mount Massive Asylum thanks to an anonymous letter that hints at some unusual experimentation going on. Being the truth-seeking, hard-boiled reporter that he is, Miles needs to infiltrate this asylum and expose the reality within its troubled walls. There is more to the story, but to avoid spoilers, I would rather keep it fresh for those of you that haven’t taken the plunge yet. There are some decent twists along the way, and a satisfying ending awaits you, but it’s not the story that you’ll be thinking about for weeks to come.
"Red Barrels Games’ Outlast is an absolute assault on your senses."
The true standout feature of Outlast, however, is the presentation. Right from the start, the tone is set. This is a survival horror game in its purest form, and it doesn’t hold back any punches. You rarely have time to breathe, and you’re consistently on edge for the majority of the (roughly 5 hours, longer if you scour for all the collectibles) campaign. I’ve always put presentation near the top (just below gameplay) of my list in terms of what makes a game entertaining, and in that regard, Outlast is a resounding success. In my opinion, there is only one way to play this game, and it’s as follows: Lights turned off, surround sound system/headphones cranked up. Deviate from that, and the effectiveness of the game is diminished. Red Barrels has knocked it out of the park when it comes to creating an unnerving, eerie atmosphere. Everything from the chilling music, to the wide range sound field, and the fact that you spend most of your time looking through a camcorder (a la found footage films) whilst using night vision, all pull you into the hell that is Outlast. If you’re not jumping out of your seat from one of the many well placed jolt-scares, then you’re constantly on edge waiting for the next one that may or may not be right around the corner. After playing through the game, I was shaken and mentally drained; I didn’t sleep well after playing either, but I couldn’t be happier about it!
There are a few issues I have with the game that I normally wouldn’t make a big deal about, but these issues pulled me out of such an immersive experience. They’re worth mentioning as they affected the experience much more than they would in other types of games.
"I didn’t sleep well after playing either, but I couldn’t be happier about it!"
As you progress through the story, there will be moments where the game will actually cut to a screen with a spinning buffering symbol as it loads the next segment. There’s nothing that takes you out of an experience more than walking down a dark hallway, approaching a door that is slightly ajar, only to have the game cut away to a loading screen. Another thing that bugged me is that if you get pinned into a corner by one of the many terrifying inhabitants of the asylum who are hunting you down, Miles is basically screwed. I appreciate that the game encourages you to use a stealthy approach, and to hide or flee when being assaulted, but it just seems that even a freelance journalist should be able to throw a punch, or better yet, hit someone in the face every now and then with that handheld camera he uses the entire time. I’m all for a game that doesn’t feature weapons, but I think it would’ve added to the tension if you had the ability to fight for your life, whether it be via button mashing or a Quick Time Event. Oh well, here’s hoping for improved mechanics in the sequel that SHOULD be in consideration (I’m talking to you Red Barrels!).
Outlast is the most terrifying experience I’ve ever endured while playing a video game. The presentation here is highly effective, as there are many haunting images and frightening moments that will stick with you long after completion. The fact that this game is a part of the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection is borderline insane, as I would’ve gladly paid $40 for this type of experience. If you are a fan of horror, than you absolutely MUST experience the relentless terror that is Outlast.
Brent's Verdict: “It won’t just scare you, it’ll f**k you up for the rest of your night!”
- Chilling atmophere
- Well-timed scares
- Hard to stop playing
- Disruptive load screens
- Story fizzles in third act
Holy soiled undies, Batman!
I don’t know that I’ve ever been more terrified, doing anything in my life, than I was during my six or seven hours with Red Barrels Games’ survival horror opus, Outlast.
As Brent alluded to, Red Barrels has crafted a horror title with an atmosphere and presence that is really second to none in the genre. From the moment you step into intrepid reporter Miles Upshur’s shoes, Outlast's creepy and ominous ambiance settles over you with a darkness so thick you can almost feel it through the controller. A darkness that, quite literally, you will be fighting to navigate through to the game’s end, as Outlast’s first-person, night vision camcorder approach is a brilliant design choice, creating an immersive, tension riddled scarefest as you are actually seeing the horror first-hand through Miles’ eyes. There's something inherently terrifying about peering through the darkness, searching for a way to go, only to find a burly naked dude with his dong hanging out chasing you down a pitch black hallway with a butcher knife.
"Even the simple act of un-pausing the game is accompanied by a haunting melody!"
Equally as important to the world of Outlast is the excellent sound work in the game. From creaking floorboards, to blood-curdling screams, to subtly terrifying touches such as the way Miles starts breathing heavy when in a particularly harrowing situation, the sound work is a driving force behind the fear the game creates. Even the simple act of un-pausing the game is accompanied by a haunting melody (I found myself attempting to pause the game as little as possible to avoid hearing it!). I'm with Brent, this is a game that demands to be played with a nice set of headphones in total darkness to get the full experience that Outlast has to offer.
While neither of us were particularly enamored with the story in Outlast, Brent was a little more forgiving of its shortcomings than I was. True, it’s merely a vessel for the horror you experience while playing, but by game’s end I found myself scratching my head as to what exactly had happened over the course of this game. While the story presents itself initially as an interesting curiosity (albeit, a far-fetched one), it eventually devolves into an overly convoluted mass that I won’t go into here as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone yet to experience it. Collectible documents, in addition to a series of well-written notes Miles jots down as he is chronicling the bizarre happenings around him, are a welcome addition and help to flesh out the story that is there, but it’s never enough to elevate it past the confusing place it ends up in.
There are nagging technical issues that hold Outlast back as well. The most irritating of these issues is the loading/buffering screen that Brent talked about earlier. This screen crops up in odd places throughout the game, and it strikes me as weird that here we are in the midst of the next-generation with the PS4, and we’re dealing with loading screens that completely replace the image on screen.
"There's something inherently terrifying about peering through the darkness, searching for a way to go, only to find a burly naked dude with his dong hanging out chasing you down a pitch black hallway with a butcher knife."
Another bizarre glitch (I guess I would call it) stems from player death in the game. Several times I made a mistake and fell prey to one of the denizens of Mount Massive Asylum, only to respawn at the last checkpoint with my attacker nowhere to be found. One time I even respawned in the place I was trying to get to, and I hadn’t even made it there yet! There are a few instances of slow down here and there as well, but nothing that affects the game in any meaningful way. Overall, Outlast is a fantastic looking game, reveling in it’s gory and grizzly glory; these minor technical issues, while affecting the games immersion in a few instances, are more than the likely the result of designing for new hardware, and have little effect on the game's enjoyment overall.
Let’s talk about gameplay for a minute, too. In Outlast, you don’t have the ability to fight or use weapons at all, creating a game that is survival horror in its purest form. I love the idea of the helpless protagonist trying to survive against impossible odds, and the game implements this concept into the gameplay successfully for the most part. The emphasis on stealth and carefully navigating your environment is a welcome change of pace from your average run-and-gun first-person shooter, and the way the enemies react to sound and movement is impressive and engaging. You won’t find yourself running past the enemies in Outlast without them noticing you. It would have been interesting had the developers implemented the ability to defend yourself in a limited capacity (i.e. picking up shards of broken glass or the myriad of medical tools littered throughout the game to stab an enemy should the need arise), but I understand why they didn’t. The lack of any offensive ability definitely turns the tension up to 11 (you’ll never forget the name Chris Walker). One gameplay issue that did bother me to a degree, and this may stem more from just my inability to calm down and orient myself while playing, is a number of times (especially in the game's second half) I found myself wandering around aimlessly unsure of where to go. I understand that a major part of the game is the fact that your character is thrown into this darkness and needs to find his way out, but there were several instances where I had no clue where to go (outside of the asylum, anyone?). It wasn't game-breaking, and like I said, may be a result of my own ineptitude at times, but it was frustrating on occasion.
I’ve never played a game quite like Outlast, nor been this scared playing any game (or at least since those dogs burst through the window in the mansion hallway in the first Resident Evil). It is a sick and disturbing romp through an insane asylum not for the faint of heart, yet is has this magnetic quality that keeps you coming back for more, regardless of how terrified you may be. Technical and story issues aside, this game is a recommended experience that horror fans will eat up and lick the plate clean. If you’ve never experienced a horror game before and are looking to try out the genre (and have the stomach for it), rarely has it been done better than Outlast.
Ben's Verdict: “Turn off the lights, strap on a pair of kick-ass headphones, grab an extra pair of pants and get ready to have the s**t scared out of you!”
- Amazing ambiance
- Legitimately terrifying
- Novel premise/gameplay
- Convoluted story
- Nagging technical issues