I have a big gripe with many survival horror games. They’re called survival horror, meaning the point of the game is to survive, but they end up actually being more action-oriented. Sometimes this works. It certainly did for Dead Space, which succeeded in scaring the living Hell out of me while always satisfying my need to kill disgusting alien beasts. But with all of those guns and armor upgrades, you never feel too helpless. In a real horror scenario, I think many of us would be left defenseless. Our wits would become our tools for survival, not axes and laser guns. This is the basic premise for Outlast, a game that does survival horror perfectly.
You play as Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist, as he explores the secrets behind Mount Massive Asylum in Colorado (Hey, I feel like that idea is pretty common…). Once inside, things get dark – very dark. Played through a first-person perspective, at times the only way to make your way through these terrifying halls is by using your handheld video camera’s night vision. With a limited amount of batteries, the player must use it sparingly, lest they become stranded with no source of light. Miles can run, jump, crouch, and hide, but he cannot attack. Upshur is helpless against any enemies that can find him.
If something essential to the story is filmed, a journal entry will be added to the player’s database, giving more insight to the situation. Documents are also able to be logged, which help build the story behind the asylum’s secrets. This gives an excellent sense of immersion as no one friendly will be encountered to speak to you during Outlast.
The inhabitants of Mount Massive are full of disturbing detail. One type of enemies has a surprising and creepy quirk of having his full penis exposed. At first, it seems funny – but after he starts chasing you, the laughs cease. “Boss fights” come in the form of playing hide and seek with an especially deadly enemy, for example, a psychotic doctor.
And don’t think you’re getting out of this game unscathed, even if you play flawlessly. Outlast forces you to feel Miles’ pain. There comes a point in the game where he has his fingers forcibly removed, and there is nothing you can do about it besides watch it happen. This poor guy needs a different career.
While I thought the story was downright awesome, the ending of the game takes on a different atmosphere than the rest. No spoilers, but will just say that some will hate the change of direction, while others will embrace it. Personally, I preferred the aesthetics of the previous acts but enjoyed it nonetheless.
Outlast at its best is terrifying and unforgiving. The game makes great use of subtle (and often not-so-subtle) sound design – especially when you’re hiding underneath a bed in hopes that no hulking beast will find you. One of the most entertaining and chilling aspects of the game is when you are noticed by an enemy and sent running for safety. The player must think quick, making each turn count; the wrong one could cost you your life. And it never seems to get any less surprising or piss-your-pants scary.
This also makes the game exceptionally tough at times, especially when playing on the hardest difficulty. The monsters here are intelligent. Though they are computer generated, you almost feel like they have their own minds. Much of the game comes down to patience and luck. Being quick-witted is a must. Otherwise, the player surely will die.
Outlast’s simplicity is its strongest asset. There is an intense fear that many people have about feeling helpless. It’s one thing to explore the halls of a mental asylum filled with bloodthirsty maniacs, but it’s a completely different story when you must remain unarmed. If you can make it through the entire game without jumping in your seat or turning the lights on for a break, you’re a braver soul than I am. But then again, I cant’ see that happening to anyone who truly invests themselves in this game.
Few games – if any – have ever scared me the way Outlast has. There’s a sequel set for release on April 25th of this year, and you can bet your life I’ll be playing it on release day. Pray for me.
The Geeked Gods Score: