Outlast Review: A relentless survival horror experience
Miles Upshur, a member of the press, receives an e-mail from an employee at Mount Massive Asylum. The e-mail speaks of horrible and illegal activity taking place from within the facility. Upshur sees this as an opportunity that cannot be missed and makes his way to the facility. Grabbing his video camera and notebook, Upshur gets out of his car and looks at the enormous building in front of him, unaware of the horror that awaits inside.
Outlast is a first-person survival horror game developed by indie developer Red Barrels. Upon its release, it quickly became an instant hit with horror fans due to its intense, adrenaline filled gameplay, dark and disturbing storyline and instances that would stock even the most hardened players. Despite it being a great game, it isn't without its minor gameplay, writing and level design flaws in places.
The Asylum of Hell
As Upshur, you must investigate what has been going on in the insane asylum Mount Massive. The asylum is owned by a company called Murkoff Corporation, that claims to be a non-profit charity organization but is far from it. Upshur is hoping that this will be the story that finally breaks the company for what they are.
The story unfolds as you progress through the game video recording events and finding documentation and piece together as to what happened and who is responsible for it all. There is no denying that Outlast is very much a dark story, from the moment you enter the old asylum you know you are in for a hell of a ride.
As you collect documentation and journey through the asylum the story quickly begins to only get darker, more disturbing and downright disgusting at times. It is certainly not a story for the faint-hearted or weak-stomached as you are certainly going to experience plenty of scares and gruesome events throughout.
Overall the story behind Outlast is well written, although a bit complex in some regards where a second playthrough might be required to understand the plot in its entirety. A lot of the story does depend on your ability to capture events on video as they happen and encourages you to be brave and explore areas as much as possible.
Without the documentation and capturing of events, there can be a lot to miss in the overall story leading to things not making a whole lot of sense. This form of storytelling may not be something that all players will enjoy, but it plays into the role of being a reporter and does so beautifully.
To understand the story and find everything there is to be found can take patience and determination, but it is without a doubt worth the time spent.
A Relentless Beast That Doesn't Fold
Outlast is a game which is quite fast paced in comparison to that of other survival horror games such as Penumbra or Amnesia as two prime examples of this style of game. From the moment you first enter the asylum, things begin to heat up and never stop from there on.
It gives you little breathing space between each encounter with patients who wish to crush your skull in or rip your head off to be a new addition to their collection of trophies. Most enemy encounters revolve around sneaking around an enemy or you can hide from them in several ways.
You can hide in lockers, under beds, and in dark corners. The beauty about Outlast, which other games of this style never implemented to the same extent is the enemy intelligence. Even while hiding in a locker or under a bed there is no guarantee that your pursuer is not going to find you. If they do happen to find you they drag you out of your hiding place and you are forced once again to flee in hopes of escaping them.
It is an adrenaline-filled journey; even during those short moments of being able to breath freely, you never truly feel comfortable enough to be able to relax. It is a game that really keeps you on the edge of your seat right to the end.
To navigate through the darkness of the asylum, you have the night-vision on your video camera. Along the way, you will find batteries, which are required in order to keep using the night-vision. The higher the difficulty that you play, the fewer batteries there are to find and the fewer you can carry at any one time: vision becomes a tactical decision.
Once you run out of batteries, the night-vision becomes extremely weak to the point that you can only see what it right up close in front of you. It really makes you worry about your quantity of batteries and running out of them. There is nothing more terrifying than being able to see little more than what is about a foot away from you.
I always suggest playing Outlast in the higher difficulty setting for the best horror experience.
Beautiful, Horrifying, and Intense
Outlast was developed on the Unreal Engine, one of the most graphically powerful video game engines available and it was used beautifully. Red Barrels certainly used its power to their full advantage, creating beautifully detailed character models, effects, environments, and lighting.
Every character model has a huge amount of attention to detail in design, far beyond that of a lot of video games. It is this detail that has allowed the developers to create some downright scary and disturbing characters.
The lighting is brilliant and sets the atmosphere throughout the entire experience, adding to the sense of horror as you attempt to escape this horrible place. It uses a perfect balance of light and darkness, not overusing one or the other. The night vision of the video camera is also a brilliant decision and easily one of the best night vision options I have experienced in a game yet. Outlast is a true testament to what the Unreal Engine is perfectly capable of creating.
The music and ambiance within the game fit in perfectly with each scenario throughout the game. As you explore, it gives this low, slow, and eerie ambiance; when you are being pursued, the soundtrack gives this intense and fast paced music that immediately provides a sense of danger. All of this combined gives a truly beautiful, horrifying, and intense experience all in one.
Are There Any Flaws?
There are a number of flaws with Outlast, but none is of any major concern or that which could ruin your overall experience with the game. The biggest gripe I have with the game is at the halfway point, where you need to escape an area which is constantly patrolled by one of the main and unique characters. The problem with this scenario is that you need to push the cabinets away from the doors to get through them. This nearly always alerts the pursuer and you need to run and hide and go back and attempt to push it a bit further again. It can take several attempts to clear each door from being blocked.
Segments like this completely slow down the pace of the game and force a much slower progress.
There is a case of overusing some of the unique characters while not using others enough. Chris Walker, a giant man who stalks you throughout the game is very much overused and appears a few times too many. On the other hand, there are two brothers you encounter only a few times in the game, each being all too brief.
The two brothers are phenomenal characters that have a compelling chemistry with each other. I felt that they should have been used more than they were due to them being far more than the likes of the boring, lumbering Chris Walker.
There are also quite a few reused character models throughout the game, to give life to the asylum. They are used a bit too often to the point you would see the same character model a good few times throughout the entire game.
One of the Best Horror Games in Years
Outlast is certainly one of the best modern horror games out there. It does everything right when it comes to the isolation horror genre. There is no mistaking that it has taken what made Amnesia The Dark Descent such a great game and brought it to the next level while adding its own twist.
It does contain jump scares, but unlike in most horror games they are well placed and best of all unexpected which is the only way that jump scares can work with success. Overall, Outlast is a game that any horror fan will enjoy greatly, and it is worth a second or third playthrough on various difficulty settings.
I could say more on the game but doing so would lead to spoilers and ruin some surprises that the game has in store for the player. Have plenty of spare pairs of underwear, you are certainly going to need them when you play Outlast.
Outlast is available to buy on GOG.com for €17.99 and Steam for €19.99. There is currently a 75% off sale for Outlast on both GOG.com and Steam.
GameSkinny StaffNovember 3, 2015, 11:57 amContributorI found myself very frustrated with Outlast and I don't think it's particularly well-written at all. My big gripe, right off the bat, is how weak the plot hook is and how it shatters suspension of disbelief.
This guy is a journalist willing to risk breaking and entering a clearly inhabited building, at night, *and* illegally video record while he does? That's an awful lot of risk for an investigative reporter to commit to based on... a short, anonymous email. Right, totally believable behavior. Investigative reporting is usually a pretty unglamorous job of sitting behind a computer researching, sending emails, and making calls. Through the entire game, I the feeling of 'this is dumb, why is my character even here?' and that followed throughout.
Additionally, there are so many red flags before even getting into the building (especially in the opening written note) that it's hard to sympathize with the protagonist at all. Cell reception cut out, likely due to a jammer? Great, I'll continue to break and enter and not backtrack to cell service to let anyone know - especially not my managing editor. Murkoff has a long track record of disguising profit as charity? Cool, let's not follow up on that at all or do any pre-excursion digging on legal claims against the company. It's just plain unprofessional journalism dressed up because the developers needed an excuse to force a video camera into the gameplay. I couldn't get into it at all.
Damien SmithNovember 16, 2015, 11:31 amCorrespondentI never actually looked at the storyline from that perspective before if I am to be honest and its certainly interesting to see your thoughts on it. When it came to going into Outlast, I was more about the here and now and focusing on what is going on as oppose to looking at what would have been the sensible thing for Miles to actually do.
I can completely understand why it would frustrate you and find it hard to actually get into Outlast. Let's hope the sequel doesn't make the same mistake :)