We all have that housemate, that friend who claims that they aren’t affected by scary movies, that they are sagely unmoved by darkness and whispers, that no amount of horror could elevate their supernatural heart rate. If you find yourself becoming irked by these cool cats and their nerves of steel, settle them down in a dark room and load up Outlast.
The game opens showing the player driving through a country lane at night towards a large building, which we learn is Mount Massive Asylum. You become an investigative journalist who received an anonymous message that something has gone badly wrong at the asylum, and needs to be documented and revealed. You start the game as a fleet-footed journalist with no fighting ability, but with a sturdy camera fitted with night vision.
You enter the asylum and barely have time to take in how beautiful the game looks (and visually this game is both stunning and terrifying) before the curtain comes up on your adventure frantic effort to survive.
Large parts of the game are played in darkness using your camera’s night vision to flit and crawl through the asylum, and you will be forced to run, hide, sneak and climb to survive. Outlast keeps the player on his/her toes, requiring you to improvise and react to diverse situations, and occasionally toys with the player, shattering anything the player thought he/she knew about how to play the game in excruciating moments of tragedy.
When Red Barrels made outlast they nailed insanity — the patients and other beings you encounter in the asylum seem truly insane. You don’t know if they will spout nonsense at you, be sick on you, help you, attack you, or kill you (or even worse). You will find yourself edging your way around the walls of rooms, back to the wall, keeping your eyes fixed on the madmen, swearing under your breath and hoping they wont snap and go for you. You would think that the journalist you control would probably take down some of the scrawnier patients, but irritatingly, he seems to be a fervent pacifist even when faced with his own bloody demise. Besides, who is to say that any of us would be any braver in his situation?
The tension very rarely lets up, so it would be forgiven if the game seems overwhelming, particularly in the more difficult parts. However, the delivery of tension varies between eerie moments, chases, stealth segments, and dramatic sequences.
Outlast is a linear game — if you see an open door or way of climbing up somewhere you can be certain you have to go there, which on the one hand takes all pretence of freedom out of the game but on the other hand you are so grateful for seeing that open air vent while being chased by Dwayne Johnson’s horny psychotic cousin that you wont want to ever leave it.
Some of the puzzles are generic, but not overly contrived, and that can be forgiven anyway in a game with as much going for it as Outlast. It is being said in the same breath as Slender, Amnesia, and with good reason. Although it borrows from landmark games like these before it, it brings original elements to the table too, and will impress even a horror veteran.
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