Tuesday, April 8, 2014

'Outlast' (Game Review)

It takes a lot for a video game to frighten me. Most survival horror games rely on contrived jump scares and eventually fall flat when your character acquires overpowered weapons and equipment. Outlast from developer Red Barrels provides a different approach to the genre. It's a constant fear fest that keeps you on the edge of your seat and always looking over your shoulder.

You play as Miles Upshur, a journalist investigating the Mount Massive Asylum. The mysterious Murkoff Corporation has supposedly been conducting shadowy experiments at the facility and you decide to check it out after being tipped off by a whistleblower. Outlast is a survival horror game in every sense of the word. Miles has no weapons, and no formal combat training. He is armed only with his notepad, wits, and camera with a night vision function. From the very first moments you get out of your truck and break into the Mount Massive Facility, you'll have to constantly be on guard.

Outlast certainly has its share of jump scares. I went the full route of playing in a dark room with headphones on, and there were numerous times I leaped out of my seat or found hallways I just didn't want to walk down for fear of what was lurking in the shadows. What sets it apart though is when things DON'T attack or engage you. As you make your way through the Asylum recording evidence, you'll encounter inmates and experiments known as "Variants". Not everything is out to get you, which heightens the tension, because you'll be ready to run and nothing will happen. It adds a level of unpredictability that makes things even more frightening. Speaking of running, you're going to do a lot of it. Running and hiding are your main methods of defense, and your only way to survive. You can also use the darkness to your advantage by enabling the night vision on your camera, although you'll need to scrounge around for batteries to supply juice for it.

Sound also plays a major role in setting the mood and heightening the sense of dread. The score and effects will make the hair on your neck stand up, and Miles will start breathing heavily the more frightened he becomes, even when just recording the horrific sights he encounters. Things become even more intense when you're trying to escape from enemies. There is a real sense of panic when you're running for your life, scrambling to find a place to remain unseen before something makes it around the corner and finds where you hunkered down. The ability to look backwards over your shoulder while running is a great touch and only adds to the sense of fear when a chase ensues.

I can't recommend Outlast enough to horror fans. Even non-gamers will find its simple controls lower the barrier of entry, and I've never played a game that does as great a job of making you feel like you're starring in a "found footage" flick. If you're a survival horror fan this is a must play, especially since it is heavily discounted on Steam, and currently free on PS4 with a Playstation Plus membership.

Grade: A
Reviewed on PC via Steam


  1. I haven't made it through Outlast yet, but I can see exactly why so many said it beat out Amnesia A Machine for Pigs for scariest game of 2013.

    "What sets it apart though is when things DON'T attack or engage you."

    How true that statement is. I can't tell you how unnerved I was the first time I encountered something that didn't leap up to attack me, or really pay me any mind whatsoever. I've been playing too much Amnesia apparently, because I'd completely forgotten that little concept about humanoids that aren't an immediate threat to your life.

    Great writeup, I need to get the game finished up.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, it's a rad game. I want to download the "Whistleblower" DLC that came out at some point soon, as it fills in the events prior to this game to flesh out the story even more.

    I need to do a write up on the Amnesia games at some point. I still haven't gotten a chance to really dig into "A Machine For Pigs", but it looks incredible.

  3. Yeah I've been wanting to get a hold of Whistleblower too, but I figured since I haven't even finished the game yet it can wait... lol.

    I'm actually working on a review for A Machine for Pigs at the moment. Definitely a really great experience, but as a sequel to The Dark Descent it dropped a few key elements. Still a hell of a lot of fun to play though.

  4. Cool. When you finish that Machine For Pigs review make sure you link me to it. I'd like to read it!