Run, hide, or die.
There are plenty of horror games out there, but games that can really scare you, really make you jump, are few and far between. To that end Red Barrels are aiming to create a new horror experience that uses modern PC technology to deliver the type of scares that are usually reserved for movies. Can a fledgling studio, albeit one staffed with industry veterans, distinguish itself with a brand new approach to a classic genre? Let’s turn off the lights, put on our headphones, and find out.
Outlast puts player in the shoes, and behind the camcorder, of investigative journalist, Miles Upshur. Miles has been sent to the mountains of Colorado to investigate the recently re-opened Mount Massive Asylum. The charity wing of a shady multinational, called the Murkoff Corporation, has been running the asylum in total secrecy and your goal is to find out just what has been going on, and what could have motivated the company to resume operations there. Upon arriving, you find the front gates unmanned, and asylum seemingly deserted.
The difference between Outlast and many other survival horror games is that there will be no actual combat. Red Barrels don’t treat protagonist, who is a journalist by trade, as some sort of instant super hero, ready to use the weapons at hand to defeat his enemies. Instead, he is armed with a camcorder that thankfully has a night vision function, a pocketful of batteries, and not much else. There is no map, no gun, and definitely no green herbs.
When you do encounter enemies in Outlast, you’ll have to run, hide, or do some combination of the two. The darkness is your enemy but it can also be your friend as try to find a bed to hide under, a locker to duck into, or just a corner to cower in. Enemies will usually lose interest in you if you can find a place to hide without being spotted. This formula works well in place of traditional combat but also leads to some repetitive sections where you’ll find yourself retreating to the same locker, over and over, and watching the same enemy through the grate for a couple of minutes each time.
The atmosphere in Outlast is the main attraction. Red Barrels have managed to perfectly mix areas of light, low light, and complete darkness to never make you feel like you’re wandering around in circles all the time. I expected the asylum to become dull after a while but the subtle shifts in décor lend a believable level of variety to a place that you expect to be quite uniform.
Coupled with the fantastic setting, Outlast’s enemy and scenario design will scare crap out of you. While mostly relying on jump-scares, the thrills are never cheap or pointless and are used to set the current scene or advance the action. There are also a few moments that will scare you in the way that just sends a chill up your spine and in these moments you’ll wish the game had just tried to make you jump.
Players will have the option to take advantage of full controller support but, with either the keyboard and mouse or controller, some of the controls are a bit clunky. Miles is able to vault over low walls or obstacles and grasp ledges to pull himself up but these set pieces don’t always seem to recognize what you’re trying to do. None of the control issues managed to hinder me to the point where I died, but they remained a tad unreliable.
Outlast’s story is sweet, but really quite short. I was able to finish the game in well under three hours. I did thoroughly enjoy my short time with Outlast but was definitely left wishing for a little more.
There are no multiplayer modes in Outlast.
If you were hoping that Outlast would end up being as scary as the trailers made it seem, you’re going to be pleased when you get your hands on it. Red Barrels set the stage and then let that stage scare the hell out of you at every turn. While it ultimately left me wanting more, Outlast may be the most frightening game I’ve ever played and that’s exactly what I was hoping it would be.
Release Date: September 4th, 2013
Available On: PC via Steam