Release Date: September 4, 2013Platform: PCDeveloper: Red BarrelsPublisher: Red BarrelsGenre: Survival Horror
As a longtime fan of horror movies and anything excessively gory (I will proudly tell anyone that my favorite movies of all time are the entire Saw series), I’ve found that there’s not a lot of things out there anymore that REALLY give me a scare anymore, let alone make me jump out of my seat. To be honest, I was not expecting my absolutely terrifying, borderline torturous playthrough of Outlast to be as scary as it was. I didn’t think I would jump as many times as I did before it was over. I never thought I would suddenly appreciate every video game in existence that actually gave me a weapon to defend myself. And I CERTAINLY never would have pictured myself begging the game to be over already, so I could just go ahead and write this damn review without having my heart beat out of my chest every five minutes. Because in many ways, Red Barrels’ Outlast does to the survival horror genre what did back in 2010: it reminds you that the genre is far from dead, and that some entries in it these days are capable of being so scary that you might as well wish it were dead by the time you finally stumble through it.
You start out the game as a journalist named Miles Upshur, and as any good journalist in history who’s looking for that scandalous big scoop, you’ll stop at nothing to make your story heard: even if that means subjecting yourself to some of the most horrifying and deadly scenarios that anyone could possibly imagine. Your investigation begins at a newly re-opened asylum called Mount Massive, where some seriously strange things have been said to be going on. Your first real task in the game is to find a way into said disturbing asylum, and written progress reports of your adventure will be added to your journal whenever you capture something awful happening with your camcorder, or come across a Case File collectable that are strewn around the game world. Things only get worse the further involved you get in the sick and twisted world of Outlast, and pretty soon your main objective is to just get the hell out of there as fast as you can with your life (you are given no weapons, or any means of defending yourself throughout the entirety of your adventure). But of course, they’re not going to just let you walk right on out of there, now would they? Pretty soon, the game plays host to a number of equally disturbing and downright frightening characters, with a surprising amount of depth and individual traits to them given a game of this nature, which definitely turned out to be a nice, if not incredibly disconcerting surprise.
The biggest (and by extension, most terrifying) gameplay element in Outlast is centered on your camcorder, which not only serves as a means for your character to document every unbelievably horrific finding he comes across throughout his journey, but also a necessary tool for survival, and its completely eerie night vision mode is all but required to navigate most of the dank and shadowy environments you’ll find along the 5-hour campaign: I’m being serious here, some of these rooms and hallways are so dark that it’s literally impossible to navigate through them without this handy-dandy night vision mode. To make matters worse, every time you want to use your camcorder’s night vision mode, this causes the battery on your camera to deplete at a frightening pace. Luckily, batteries are pretty common to come by in the actual game world, and you can hold up to ten of them on you at once. I was fortunate enough to never have to experience what would happen if you run out of batteries in an impassably dark room, but I can’t imagine the results would be all too pretty. It all gives a fantastic incentive to search through every room for wherever a spare and abandoned battery might be hiding (albeit a hurried and frantic search), and a sense of urgency in gaming that’s unlike many others.
The many camcorder views and small attentions to the camera interface are highlighted so well because the graphics in Outlast are so unmatched by any other survival horror games recently, and make for an insanely realistic experience that fails to leave your head (I can’t wait to see what this bad boy is going to look like in its upcoming PlayStation 4 release next year). Think about some of the slickest FPS games you’ve ever experiences, from Half Life 2 to the Killzone series, and that imagine that prowess and graphic achievement in a survival horror game and you would have Outlast. The frame rates are so smooth and fast in the game that it actually feels like you’re controlling a video camera in real life, and at the very least, it really makes you appreciate what those people go through in horror movies like Paranormal Activity. What’s more, you’re even able to zoom in with your camera like the scope on a sniper, and use it to see off into the distance, and catch a glimpse of whatever horrors lie in wait. And trust me: the first time you zoom in with your camera in a completely dark room and see two glowing eyes staring right back and you, and ADVANCING towards your position, no less, then you’ll get an uncomfortable feel for what this new age of horror games is truly prepared to bring.
When you’re not messing around with the camera or hunting for batteries, you’ll spend most of your time desperately running for your life from all sorts of horrific-looking monsters and unnerving basement creatures. Ideally, your goal is to move slowly enough so that you never attract an enemy’s attention, and can safely maneuver around or behind them to get to where you need to go. But since this is a horror survival game we’re talking about here, things will rarely go that smoothly, and Outlast will regularly put you in unavoidable situations that bring you face-to-face with some of the scariest beings in gaming. In those moments, it’s incredibly easy to panic so bad that you’ll be viscerally murdered in an instant, so it’s a good thing that Outlast is pretty generous with its checkpoint system. There’s little scarier in this game than when you’re fleeing from a monster, only to have him unexpectedly strike you from behind, or think you’ve outsmarted your pursuer just to turn a corner and find him standing there, giving the labyrinth-esque nature of many of the level designs.
In addition to fleeing in terror, another element that works hand in hand here in Outlast is hiding, which borrows a few pages from Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s book. When a monster is chasing you, you’ll be encouraged to slam the doors to rooms shut behind you to impede their progress, and as they fumble with busting down your instinctively-lain barricade, you can hide under beds or inside lockers and patiently wait as they break in, look around to no avail, and then finally leave. It is in these breathless moments of chase that the sound design of the game really shines through, as the music just goes absolutely haywire, and you could feel that your character short, panicked breathing could give away your hiding spot at any moment.
It’s truly an uncomfortable, unnerving experience, and you’ll never once have a moment in the game where you feel absolutely safe, as these chase instances happen quite frequently and at all the right moments, and the areas where you’re able to explore in rooms with lights in them never last for long. My only complaint about these segments is that sometimes the controls with opening and closing doors can be a bit off. For instance, clicking the left mouse button makes you open a door immediately, creating a sound, while holding the left mouse button and slowly inching forward or backwards will cause you to open the door more slowly and gradually. Because of this, it can get confusing sometimes since some doors you’ll need to push in to open, and others you’ll need to pull out. Furthermore, the enemies chase you at such impossibly fast speeds that it’s often futile to try and turn around mid-run and shut a door behind you, as sometimes your proximity to the door in question doesn’t always register in the way that you’ll think it should, and by then your pursuer will most likely have reached you already and then you’re nothing but screwed.
To end this review, I just want to leave everyone with a small anecdote that occurs around the midway section of the game. After a breathless romp through a grime-infested and seemingly never-ending network of pitch-black sewers, I was captured by something that can only be described as a crazed self-proclaimed “doctor” who loved to “operate” on anyone and anything that he could get his stringy hands on. This doctor was completely naked, save for a rubber apron spread across his front, and the amount of scars and metal devices poking out from his lanky body were enough to make anyone’s spine curl. As he strapped me down in a wheelchair and wheeled me into his office (a men’s bathroom with not nearly enough light, nor cleanliness to remotely pass for a respectable site for surgery), I watched in complete and utter horror as he proceeded to cut off a finger on each of my character’s hands with a giant pair of rusty garden shears, before my character fell to the floor and puked out his guts in a first person perspective.
That’s just how gruesome Red Barrels’ Outlast is. Now that I’ve used every synonym possible for “horrifying,” “terrifying,” and “disturbing” more times than I can count, if you think you can stomach everything this chance-taking game has to offer, then there’s no doubt in my mind that we will all agree that this is the scariest video game we’ll have played in quite some time.
Story – 10/10Gameplay – 9/10Graphics – 10/10Soundtrack – 10/10Replayability – 8/10