Platform: PC, PS4 (Q1 2014)
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, Horror
Players: Single Player
Written by Whistler 23rd November 2013
While today the video game horror market has become rather over saturated in either mainstream failures like Resident Evil 6 and (arguably) Silent Hill: Downpoar, or indie devs riding off the success of a few paticular games' success (cough, Amnesia, cough, Cry of Fear).
Luckily there are still developers trying to do something other than copying Amnesia; Outlast by Red barrels is a first person survival horror game where the player must solve puzzles whilst hiding and running away from the many horrors and madmen in the Mount Massive Asylum.
Outlast follows freelance journalist, Miles Upshur who arrives at the asylum upon receiving a letter from an insider about malicious practices and all the sorts you expect from a haunted asylum. Of course upon entering the asylum (through a broken f***ing window on the top floor no less), he finds himself trapped and must frantically search for a way out as well as finding out what madness has fallen upon the madhouse as he must escape from madmen, the jail warden and horrors beyond imagining (or at least beyond being mentioned in here).
After the rather meh experience I had with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, I found myself oh so pleasantly surprised playing Outlast. Right from the get go I found myself already unnerved just standing outside the damn asylum never mind once I entered it and found myself dealing with my reawakened childhood fear of the dark, (it's okay I didn't need to go for therapy afterwards).
In Outlast the visuals aren't amazing, but the lack of them is.
Much like Silent Hill's brilliant use of fog to allow for a more stable experience so you were lagging whenever you went outside as the machines made a futile attempt to render all the buildings, Outlast uses the dark and lack of seeing to increase the fear factor. Lighting in the game is well done allowing you to be able to see just enough so you know what killed you (thanks game), and when in total darkness the game utilizes a similar mechanic to the lanterns and flash lights from Amnesia and Doom 3 respectively.
While arguably this isn't anything ground breaking per say, the addition of the night vision mode on the camera the player carries around with them for recording events and scanning areas over long distance is a brilliant addition and pretty much made Outlast the game it is in my opinion.
Much like the Rec films (if you haven't seen any of them you must now walk away from this review and watch them, feel free to comeback when you have), when you're in the dark hallways with the night vision on the game becomes incredibly claustrophobic; the fact is I can't do justice in describing the overwhelming fear you get once you start to use that camera, each time you go into the dark it feels like watching some of the most scariest horror movies you've ever seen for the first time again and again.
Outlast becomes incredibly immersive when you notice you'll probably react and move as if you were in that actual situation. Often I found myself holding onto corners for dear life, or slowly sliding against walls in hopes of nothing jumping out at me (it never worked). The horror elements in the game are for the most part brilliantly balanced, there are jump scares but it doesn't feel like they're just trying to overload your senses with them, the flow between scares is nicely paced where not seeing anything starts to scare you more than when you do.
However the puzzle elements of the game are somewhat lacking, being just fetch quests in layman's terms. Often each area of the game requires a simple yet challenging find yourself through a maze-
Sadly while this formula does work, it also becomes rather tediously monochrome and incredibly predictable where towards the end I tended to just run around as I was sick of bumping into enemies.
While this isn't proven, Sky and myself noticed that in a lot of scenarios, not just when picking up an item, enemies tended to spawn right around the corner making it almost impossible to get past certain areas without just making a mad dash.
While this is good as it keeps you on your toes, it does get tedious and frustrating towards the end.
All that being said the game is brilliant, while the soundtrack falls between good and typical it does lend itself to the game when required. What actually struck me is that the devs have also made sure to make use (or it was a rather fortunate accident) of the lack of sound, often certain areas the player will notice complete silence besides a couple of environmental sounds making each little creek and step ever more chilling before eventually jumping out at you with something.
Sadly the story is a little lacking, but it honestly doesn't feel like it was needed to begin with (le gasp Whistler, a game where you don't care for story).
The premise alone with the little bits of documents you pick up along the way is all that was really needed, considering you're main goal was to escape so it wasn't like there was some big mystery to solve or anything.
Without ruining anything it does feel like Outlast lost it's fangs towards the end of the game sadly, where the majority of the game is poorly lit hallways, destroyed rooms and even makes the freaking rain scary; coming up to the last section of the game is all brightly lit up and felt really underplayed. Where games like Doom 3 and FEAR have clearly shown you can make labs and such scary, Outlast just didn't hit that mark (even with all the blood and guts painted everywhere).
Outlast by Red Barrels is a masterfully done horror game with some real bite to it, admittedly with a few overused tropes by the end but keeps up the horror part amazingly well. While the game is only 5-
Scary as hell,
Horror with bite to it,
Good use of lighting and gritty visuals.
Certain puzzle mechanics become tedious,
Sudden spawning enemies,
Rather average end game and ending.
Final verdict ,
Outlast scares the crap out of me with a 8 out of 10, and would've got 9 if not for the lack lustre ending.