Outlast – PS4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Genre: Survival Horror
Reviewed by ChronoSloth
Outlast is lonely and hostile. If you’ve ever played Resident Evil 4 or Demon’s Souls, then you’ll be familiar with the way Outlast makes you feel. You enter a world that seems foreign and lived in, where you are an outsider with nearly every person you encounter baying for your blood. You are scared, desperate, and ready for it to all be over, while simultaneously enjoying every minute of it. This game gives you a sense of dread only rivaled by waiting for pregnancy test results. Outlast is an incredibly atmospheric survival horror game that is successful at terrifying you.
The player is given the role of journalist Miles Upshur, who plans on infiltrating Mount Massive Asylum to expose the strange experiments that are rumored to be taking place inside. As you may have guessed, this is a terrible idea. Once inside, it is immediately evident that things have gone terribly wrong. Patients are not confined, most of them are missing limbs or are incredibly deformed thanks to an equally insane doctor, bodies of police and staff line the halls, and a dying SWAT team member impaled on a stake in a room where a patient has lined the shelves with severed heads warns us to “Get the fuck out of this terrible place” with his dying breath. This serves as our introduction to Mount Massive Asylum, where the entire game takes place.
Outlast differs from many of its contemporaries by making the player completely helpless in fighting off their enemies. There are no melee weapons, no guns, and no magical or religious symbols that will keep these lunatics from mutilating you. This isn’t fight or flight; this is stealth or sprint. However some patients are either too busying banging their heads against the wall to attack you, or are hiding under beds, just as scared as you. This adds to the horror factor of the game, because when you first spot someone, you’re not sure if they’re “friendly” or not. Outlast is a very dark game, both metaphorically and literally. The dark may only serve to further disturb you along with the gore and the insane rants of the patients, but it will be your best friend in avoiding your pursuers. Most of the game’s tension comes from hiding in the dark, and watching an enemy grow from a pair of eyes in the distance into a full deranged figure a few feet from you, and wondering if you should run or stay still.The camera that you’re given to document the game’s events has a night vision mode. If you’d like a preview of how night vision works in this game, check out the video Rubber Johnny (warning: pretty disturbing) from which Red Barrels said it drew direct inspiration. This allows you to navigate the dark, but along with worrying about being grabbed at any moment, you have to keep an eye on the camera’s remaining battery life. Batteries can be found by exploring areas thoroughly, and documents that further explain Mount Massive’s atrocities are often not far behind.
Gameplay usually consists of further exploring areas of Mount Massive to find a way to escape, and this leads to many tense situations. There will often be a machine or pump that needs to be activated by hitting several nearby switches before returning to the device itself to power it on. In these areas, you will always be in danger, whether from regular patients, or a boss enemy. While these parts are great at scaring the player and immersing you completely, around the third time you’re forced to do a task like this, it begins to add tedium and hurt the immersion by making the player wonder how you’ve found yourself in this situation repeatedly and how the asylum is physically structured this way. In an otherwise almost always fresh and believable experience, this stands out. Outlast is at its best when its best when its letting you take in its scenery, or puts you in a situation where the area you need to head to next is blocked outright by a boss or enemy and you have to find a way to stay alive and make it there. “Jumpscares”, which I’m usually not a fan of, are used well and are not seen too often or relied upon. They are fun and used to make sure you know that there’s no resting; danger is ever present.
After seeing games like inFAMOUS: Second Son and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zereos, Outlast might seem to some like a slouch in the graphics department. However, it’d be crazy (heh) to knock it for not being as shiny, because while the graphics may not be a stand out feature, spectacle isn’t what this game is about, and the graphics serve their purpose of framing your experience and scaring the hell out of you. The sound design is excellent, with well written, well acted dialogue and plenty of environmental noise going on and sounds that are now synonymous in my head with the movement of certain bosses and being noticed by enemies. There is no invasive UI, tutorial messages can be turned off, and the controls are intuitive, though you may forget them in a fit of panic if an enemy spots you in a pitch black hallway. If the terror keeps you from wanting to progress, finding out the ultimate fate of the main character and the story of what’s actually happening in Mount Massive are compelling reasons to continue playing. Outlast‘s presentation is all around great.
With a location as memorable as Bioshock’s Rapture, a pursuing boss as relentless as Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis, and an atmosphere as dense as Silent Hill’s fog, Outlast is a culmination of the high points of the survival horror genre. Wait until night, turn off your lights, plug in your headphones, and get ready to go down the drain.
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