Outlast, a first-person survival horror game developed by Canadian company Red Barrels Games.
The team consists of developers who have previously worked on big AAA titles such as Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia: a wealth of gaming talent. The game was released back in late 2013 for Windows PC and as of February 2014 is available on PS4. It was offered as February’s PlayStation Plus content
Since being released on PC it has gained the type of cult following that other famous PC horror games typically acquire, the type horror games such an Slender or Amnesia also seem to attract. Being a fan of survival horror style games since my early days of Resident Evil, I was more than delighted to find that this “ordeal” of a game that left its players nervous wrecks was coming to the new Sony console. Being someone who likes to see fresh new ways to be scared through media I took it upon myself to review Outlast for PS4.
You take the role of a journalist called Miles, who goes to investigate strange goings on in an old asylum after receiving and anonymous tip. Miles arrives at the aptly named Mount Massive Asylum, hidden way up in the mountains to find the hospital in chaos. The staff have been murdered and their bodies now litter (and hang up in) the many hallways and pitch-black rooms, killed by the escaped patients, an utter bloodbath. The dangerously disturbed and recently freed inmates of the asylum now walk the long, dark corridors of the asylum, making this a very unpleasant experience for the player.
After a series of warped events involving a hulking beast of a man and a priest (no this isn’t the start of a joke) you find yourself trapped in the asylum and the aim of the game is to find your way out whilst not being killed by the things that lurk there. As a journalist you’re reason for being there is to find evidence to bring down the company that runs the asylum, therefore the collectables in the game are classified documents. These document sparsely tell the backstory of the asylum, its goings on and it’s downfall.
If you don’t collect these, you’re not really at a loss as you are told what’s going on by some of the inmates. I say told, I mean you often find yourself listening to their insane babbles for clues to what’s happening.
They’re no real character development because honestly, it’s not that kind of game. The mystery slowly unravels as you proceed through the levels, Miles joys down his thoughts in his notebook which you can read but they only offer insight rather than explanation. You’re there and you need to get out, simple. Some horror movies get away with much less. For it’s simplicity I credit it and doesn’t confound you with too much explanation, which adds to the mysticism of this horrendous experience you, or rather Miles has to endure.
This is where Outlast really shines. The gameplay is very unique. Miles is not a fighter, you have no way of defending yourself, you are only armed with your hand-held digital video camera capable of infrared night-vision.
As you explore the long, dark hallways you have to carefully use the camera’s night-vision to see where you’re going, often you enter rooms that are completely pitch-black. The night-vision has a finite amount of battery and using it will slowly drain the power gauge located at the top of the screen, you have to search your surroundings for new batteries whilst rationing them, lest you be left with no power, standing in a dark room whilst someone or something brutally murders you. The camera is an amazing dramatic device in itself, just it’s use, having to rely on this constantly draining lifeline is terrifying.
As I mentioned earlier, Miles cannot fight and as the game bluntly describes in “you can only run, hide or die”. The aim of the game is to navigate through the levels and complete the objectives set before you without being killed, it has a stealth game feel to it as the idea is to not be seen. If you are spotted by the inmates or “variants” as they’re also referred to, and can run away and hide.
The levels have many hiding places such as old beds and coat lockers for you to quickly obscure yourself in whilst you tensely watch the lunatic search the room through the slits of the locker door. If you’re not quick enough to get out of sight you’ll be pulled from your hiding spot and attacked. Depending on difficulty you’ll either be killed quickly or have an opportunity to make a break for it. Once hidden successfully, the perusing enemy will eventually give up looking for you, allowing you time for your health to regenerate.
One enemy is particular, a massive, muscular variant described as looking like “someone tried to fuck-start his head with a cheese grater“, stalks you. He is reminiscent of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 or even to a lesser extent Pyramid Head of Silent Hill fame. He’s a large beast intent on killing you, stomping around, trying to sniff you out.
Another ingredient in the ordeal that is Miles’ visit to Mount Massive.
In terms of objectives they’re all related to escaping the hellish asylum. One of the very first things you have to do is return power to the building by restarting a generator, located in the flooded basement. The formulae is simple; here’s a small maze you have to navigate, there’s an enemy in there with you, turn on switches at each end to get out.
There are no navigation HUDs only what you can gather from signs on the walls, you have to fumble around and explore each room.
You can walk, run and crawl but more interestingly you can peek around corners by using the rear triggers. This is a very useful mechanic as you have no idea what lies around the next bend. You can also choose to slowly open doors and peer through the doorway, peer in to see if a thing dangerous lurks within. It’s funny when I think about it but Red Barrels have managed to turn almost every cliché horror movie moments into great game mechanics.
The whole game is essentially a self-shot, homemade video horror movie that we’ve all grown so tiresome of in cinemas but here it feels very fresh and because it’s a game, brings you closer to the horror than just observing characters on a screen.
Like the story I applaud the simplicity of the gameplay however I feel that in the given situation the character could have fashioned some type of defensive weapon out of his surroundings. It feels a little bare at times but perhaps I’m so used to crafting systems and upgradable weaponry from so many other games that I’ve been spoilt over the years.
Perhaps this is the “going back to basics” that I needed to cleanse my gaming palette.
Long dark hallways, grotesque enemies and unsettling grainy, green infrared filter. Outlast looks great.
Sure it doesn’t push hardware to the max on the PS4 but it runs really smooth, has high-res textures and I only noticed very mild screen-tearing.
Enemies or “variants” are horribly deformed humans who have undergone awful surgery during their stay wander the building. Not all of them will attack you, which is a clever way of keeping you on your toes as one minute a seemingly uninterested enemy will be cowering in a corner and suddenly they’ll spring for you. Their warped appearances are unsettling remind me of the hideous Splicers from Bioshock, all designed to freak you out.
The environments are lit in such a way that provokes your imagination in the worse way, constantly making you double-check every dark corner with your camera to make sure nothing is hiding, waiting to leap at you. I felt very uneasy whilst moving about, unbeknownst to what might jump out and grab me at any moment.
I’ve not felt this tense playing a game since the first Dead Space and Slender. The night vision doesn’t help as much as you may think, when turned on it blurs the image, makes it very grainy and intensifies light sources, often creating a white-out worse than being in pith black.
Sound is key in horror, doubly so in a video game and Outlast is no slouch.
From the muffled screams to the painfully loud squeak of the wooden floorboards underfoot, sound is fantastic. Musical queues alert you to imminent danger and nearby enemies.
I especially credit the voice acting of the inmates, the insane ramblings and creepy whispers are disturbing. I played the game using my TV speakers but I imagine it’s a whole new experience if played with surround sound headphones.
Outlast is a short game, if your slow and cautious like I was you’ll probably be playing for around 4 hours. It’s fairly linear, rarely you wander off the beaten track as many doors are locked, bottlenecking you down certain corridors. Like Bioshock; a feeling of vast environment to explore but are guided down certain pathways through the use of obstacles that a person could realistically climb over.
Being an indie title, one wouldn’t expect great length, I like to think its quality over quantity here.
Other than searching for all the collectible documents and trying harder difficulties, I, personally don’t feel the need to play it over and over. From a trophy-hunter perspective its list doesn’t excite: only 8 to collect overall. I’d probably attempt it once more on its hardest difficulty if I felt I had to time to do so but I likely won’t.
Replay Value: 0.5/1
I’ve had one hell of a time playing Outlast, as I said, I’ve rarely felt so tense whilst playing a game before. It’s originality is refreshing in an industry where a lot of game ideas are done to death. I only have one gripe and it comes from two areas late in the game. There are two large, open areas that are pitch-black, even the night vision is useless, I found this particularly frustrating as I had no idea where to go and no hope of seeing the enemy’s patrolling there.
I eventually found my way through but it took me a while and ground my pace to a halt. Other than that everything else works fine, the controls are solid and react well to subtle movements, which have to be made when carefully looking around corners or sneaking by an enemy when their back is turned.
A nice little feature is on the Dualshock 4, it’s LED light bar glows a bright pale green (mimicking the night vision) and dies down to a dull light when your in-game batteries run out. It adds nothing to actual gameplay but I thought it deserves a mention for being there.
Enjoyment – 0.75/1
In conclusion Outlast is a great title and I urge anyone who has a PS4 to claim is while it’s available on PS+.
Even if you’re not a fan of horror, you should summon up the courage and give Red Barrels their due as they’ve crafted a great product. After years of watching horror movies, you’d think I’d have grown an immunity to being scared by media like this but Outlast has made me jump, freaked me out and left my nerves in tatters. Sure it might not scare everyone, after initial hour I got used to my surroundings but unexpected events would quickly have me tensed up again, running for my life into the dead end of a hallway and being hacked to pieces.
Story – 0.5
Gameplay – 0.75
Presentation – 1.0
Replay Value – 0.5
Enjoyment – 0.75