Horror Gaming: Outlast

Horror Gaming: Outlast

Horror Reviews
 

 

Title: Outlast

Format: PC

Price: USD 19.99 (Steam)

 

 

 


There’s no danger of the faint-of-heart accidentally picking up Outlast thinking it’s a staring contest simulator. It is very obvious what this is. It’s a visceral horror game set in an asylum. You can’t get anywhere near this game without that being as plain as the nose on your face (though whether that nose will continue to be attached to your face is not quite so clear). This is hardly the most original of settings. But then again, neither was the haunted prison of The Suffering, which was and remains a classic. Outlast is not exactly The Suffering ten years on, as the latter armed you with conventional weapons and a hulk-out rage mode, whereas Outlast, true to its name, is a survive-’em-up. The parallel is taking a more than familiar horror trope, and making you experience it through some good design and solid mechanics.

There’s quite a pedigree to the game as well. According to the website of the developer, Red Barrels, the team includes the game designer for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed and the first Uncharted, the level designer for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell: Conviction, and the art director on Splinter Cell and Army of Two. They also brought in J.T. Petty on story writing duties, who has previous written for the Splinter Cell franchise as well as Homefront (which at least had an intriguing proposition, even if it only translated into a four-hour campaign as a game). This isn’t pure code-in-your-bedroom indie, but I am intrigued by the idea of experienced game professionals founding their own studio to make a game they want to make, and using Steam as their publisher.

The quality you get as a result is immediately apparent. The game starts with the protagonist driving (at night, natch) along a country road. As the player, you know where you’re going, but when Mount Massive Asylum first looms up in front of you it’s still a powerful moment. A quick set piece has your first-person view glance at the file on the seat next to you and quickly we discover you are Miles Upshur, independent investigative journalist who has been contacted by a whistleblower about the dire goings-on at the Asylum, now run by the Murkoff Corporation. There is then a brief introduction to the game’s mechanics: you get more information if you are recording on your video camera when events happen, and you can use the camera’s night vision to navigate the dark. With that out of the way, you’re then free and clear to do what no one in their right mind would do, which is climb into the asylum run by an evil corporationy corporation with the abandoned military vehicles out front. There is even a little self-referential nod early on, when Miles encounters a slaughtered SWAT team (or private equivalent) and the dying leader tells him to get out. Miles’s response is to dryly observe he wished someone had mentioned that before he got trapped inside. It’s not original, but it looks fantastic and it’s easy to control. You know you’re going to get into trouble in less time than it takes to skin an inmate, and you do, and then you’re on adrenalin from here on out.

The game does a good job of creating tension. You know there are going to be jump-shock moments, but that doesn’t mean you can predict when they are going to be. The video camera needs batteries to run, or you’re stumbling in the dark. And of course, you cannot fight, so the noble art of running away is on full display here. This is perhaps where the Splinter Cell experience of the team is apparent. There are guards – or in this case, crazy dangerous people – on semi-predictable patrol in moderately open-world set-piece sections. That doesn’t decrease the tension any when you see one of them looming out of the green-screen night-vision dark at you. There are some nice details too – at one point, you’re in a room on your own, and vault up into the ventilation shaft to get to another location. If you happen to look back, you see someone just closing the door of the room you just left….they were right behind you….

Despite the overriding objective being escape, the journalist in you can still hunt down clues to what has been going on at Mount Massive, which will likely not really be a surprise to anyone in big picture terms even if the details are well-written. If there are any niggles with the game, the almost obligatory sewer-section feels a bit tired, though the other locations are convincing, and also there is a little bit of Drag-it-out-itis at the end, a disease which primary symptom in any game involves an objective to ‘turn on the sub-generator.’ There’s also a bit where you drop your camera and have to go get it back, which also feels like padding.

Outlast is twice the price of many other Indie titles, but it has big studio production values and has a very sizeable campaign. Even if bits I personally felt were padding were removed, it would still be a ‘full size’ game and an awful lot cheaper than the 60 bucks most publishers expect for games less polished than this. This is not a story and atmosphere game, it’s a shocker, and at that it is first-rate.

Outlast

Story

“Haunted Asylum” cross-pollinated with “Evil Corporation Does Things It Shouldn’t,” it serves as well-written platform for the antics within

Gameplay

Graphically excellent. Simple controls support repeated Get The Hell Out Of There decisions and fearful turning on of your night vision

Frustration

Only a little from just a very few dragging-out bits. Otherwise, very fair as it tries to dismember you.
Horror Game ReviewsDelivers big studio quality for an awful lot less money. Intense and well constructed.Recommended.



Outlast

I wondered how ‘graphic sexual content’ could be contained in the game. Then I found out. It involved a favourite prison activity, only with one of the participants absent the normal complement of heads. Eww.

Outlast

Oh yeah, let’s break into that place – definitely a good idea

Outlast

Er…is everyone OK?

Outlast

I’m in trouble here, aren’t I?

Outlast

Definitely in trouble.

Outlast

Shouldn’t have had that curry last night, mate

Outlast

My mother always said there was too much blood on TV these days

Outlast

Why, hello there. Are you here to help?

Outlast

It’s time to run away. Again.

Outlast

Follow the blood? Would you care to narrow that down? There’s an awful lot of it round here

Outlast

Oh good grief. Well, I appear to still be alive at this point. That’s something, I suppose

Outlast

Stupid Evil Corporation! Have none of you seen Event Horizon?

 


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Review Guidelines: How I review

I am puzzled by conventional reviews. How can they know I will enjoy one game to 86% of theoretical maximum enjoyment, yet another only 72%? What is maximum enjoyment? What does 72% of maximum enjoyment feel like? This doesn’t tell me what I want to know.

Personally, I think the key factors in assessing a game are Story, Game Mechanics, and Frustration Factor.

  • Story: I’m aware of the well-worn ‘games-don’t-need-story’ argument. For some games I think that is true, and others I do not. And for those games that ‘don’t need a story’ then they sure as heck better play well.
  • Game Mechanics: This deals with the technical realisation of the story world (or the raison d’etre for those games that ‘don’t need story’). I don’t think separate scores for graphics, sounds, and gameplay are helpful. Do the mechanics support the game? If so, I will say so here.
  • Frustration Factor: I think again this deserves equal ranking with Story and Game Mechanics. After all, these are games, and unlike TV shows or books, need our active participation. I don’t care if it’s got a great story if the controls get me killed. I don’t care how pretty it looks if a cheap boss takes me down time and again. As a working person, I don’t have summer holidays or whole weekends to battle through poor design. This is nothing to do with difficulty – there are plenty of difficult, but fair games (see the excellent article on this here)
  • Overall: My final and of course entirely subjective opinion as a result of the three factors. I will even get a little bit tasty and think I have the right to make a recommendation. I don’t think numbers/percentages tell the whole story, instead I find that games broadly fall into the following categories:
    Recommended Game Icon Recommended: a great game, genre independent. This will get a lovely gold skull of approval.
    Recommended For Fans Game Icon Recommended for genre fans: lacks broader appeal, but genre fans will love it. This will get an affectionate pink skull of approval.
    For Fans Only Game Icon For genre fans only: genre fans with time on their hands will get some enjoyment but far from a must-have. This will get a mildy entertained skull.
    Not Recommended Game Icon Avoid: ’nuff said. We’re in unhappy black skull territory here.

That’s what I’d want to know to make a decision. I hope it’s useful.

Lawence has lived and worked throughout North America, Europe and Asia over the last two decades. He has seen a great deal of corruption, and the occasional monster, although those have been human (to the best of his knowledge). A great fan of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, Lanzen has published two full-length novels: A Door in Thorston and The Dam at Hiramatsu. Lawrence is at work on his third novel.

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16 comments on “Horror Gaming: Outlast”

  1. ResIsBestStat says:

    Good review, but honestly I found Outlast disappointing since it was mostly a jump scare ride, although there were some thrilling moments like the chases in the game. (Especially with the big guy, you know him right?) It would’ve been rather better to focus on the atmosphere and while the documents gave great lore, the game’s plot was dumb and the notes made Miles’s personality lacking since he cursed most of the time.
    Overall it’s not a bad horror experience, but not a great one either.

    1. Lanzen says:

      Thank you very much for the comments.

      Horror is a commonly dismissed genre (not by you, in the mainstream) which is unfortunate as I think, together with Sci Fi, the nature of the genre allows for quite a breadth of story, and approaches to story. That inclusiveness by definition means we’ll find hardboiled splatter as well as thoughtful spookiness or supernatural romance under the horror umbrella.

      I agree with you that ‘Outlast’ is a ‘jump scare’ ride. I agree the plot is preposterously bombastic. There’s also a lot more Call of Modern Borefare-style ‘realistic’ swearing than I personally prefer as well. But as I said at the start and end of the review, it was clear to me that’s what the game was setting out to do. It’s not War and Peace and it’s not very original – but neither was Dead Space.

      From a review perspective, I can see that the mechanics are in place, the game is fair, the story (while very silly) obeys the parameters it sets for itself, and as a ‘jump scare’ ride it makes no delusions its anything other than, and does it well – and for 1/3 the price of entry of the major studio equivalents. As it’s third-person Splinter Cell sneaking territory, it’s therefore of more broad appeal than an adventure game mechanic-driven title like ‘Anna’ – even though I personally prefer the latter. I therefore conclude it’s a solid quality title, and hopefully the review makes clear its a jump-a-thon so those who prefer subtler approaches know so.

      I certainly empathise with your personal conclusion.

      1. ResIsBestStat says:

        I agree with you, your review did point out that the game was mostly a jump scare ride. (Although I must disagree with Dead Space, the game had a great atmosphere and there are much more subtle scares to it, I’m serious. Just don’t play Dead Space 2 and 3.) Anyways if I may, I suggest you play Silent Hill 2.(There’s a Director’s Cut version on PC) That horror game had more atmosphere than most game nowadays and a really wonky combat system, which kinda added to the horror since you wanted to avoid most of the monsters. Also since you love sci-fi and horror mixed together, I suggest you try searching a little game called Routine on google….

        1. Fexelea says:

          I think he meant to say Dead Space wasn’t original. And it was clearly and admittedly strongly influenced by other stories: http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2009/12/10/dead-space-2-the-horror-influence.aspx

  2. Lanzen says:

    Hmm, the ‘reply’ function makes comments get narrower and narrower I see… So striking back out to the left hand margin again, but still on the above discussion.

    As Fex points out, I was not saying Dead Space was a bad game – I very much liked the original Dead Space. It’s just highly derivative; Alien with 2001’s Monolith turned into an Evil Monolith. It’s a jump scare ride, but well done. I also think Outlast is well done, in the same vein and same way. If you think Dead Space had greater depth of writing, there we will have to differ. But I don’t think either game is sold on story suspense, but on gameplay suspense.

    Also, I see my phraseology is unclear – I did not mean horror and sci-fi combined; I meant both genres, separately, are widely dismissed by mainstream self-appointed cultural critics, but both have the capacity for a great breadth of story telling within them. Of course, there are hybrid horror-sci fi tales, like Dead Space, but that was not my point. My bad though, I was unclear.

    I played the original Silent Hill on Playstation when it came out. I’m old, my friend. I have played SH2 as well of course. That’s not to rebuff suggestions – we seem to be at a point on PC where older titles and new indie titles are getting exposure despite major studio dollar dominance, and it’s certainly no bad thing to spread the word.

    I have a few ideas for some retro classic horror articles, come to think of it….

  3. Emergence says:

    Lol, shouldn’t have had the curry mate. I love your captions.

  4. Icegodzilla says:

    praise the desk

      1. tigab95 says:

        Dont forget Clubo and Fatty XD

  5. Ahhotep1 says:

    Read your review Lanzen. Should have read it long ago…my bad. Between your review and watching Cas stream this awesome looking “butt on the edge of your seat” game. I wanna play!!! 😀

    Now, I understand the “run and hide at all costs” 😛

    I’m gonna remember where that desk was…just in case! Not worried about lockers. They are seemingly ubiquitous!

    “Twas fun watching the stream, Cas. The screams just made it ever soooo much more real! XD

  6. Icegodzilla says:

    locker simulator 9000 since most of the game ur gonna be hiding in a locker lol

  7. I just finished the game (the credits are still rolling) and the best is yet to come I think for Cas. Lanzen, great write up. I have maybe one thing I’d disagree on but it’d contain a spoiler (and it’s minor).

  8. Superdude100001 says:

    It is a great shame that Horror as a hole is unloved by the mainstream. I read GameInformer, and at a time was my primary source for gaming news, and let me claim that NOTHING that passes through their doors gets a rating higher than 7. (Other than the Dead Spaces, which I enjoyed)
    Mayhaps this is due to most people’s squirmish behavior with games, and the mainstream reflects that.

    Outlast is one of the greatest horror games I’ve played in a long time. Free for PS4!!

    1. Lanzen says:

      I agree, and I thought there might be others out there like me, so I thought I’d try to review as many as I could get my hands on and have time for, and review from a horror fan’s perspective, not a mainstream perspective. There are some other gems out there too, from the pensive Anna to the intense Slender: the Arrival. And yes, free for PS4 is fabulous. Still not a reason to buy a PS4 yet, but a very nice thing to see.

  9. Rioshi says:

    Pretty fun. The twitch coverage was well done too, superb shout out to Cas. Since a few notes were missed tried to explain where I could, but the game was fun enough to captivate the whole crowd till the end. That speaks for itself no?

    Well done.

  10. Castielle says:

    Well I can say after playing through the entirety of Outlast that it was worth the time spent. Mostly because of the guys watching which made it more entertaining. The game legitimately made me scream more times than I can count, which is what you want from a horror game no? Sadly I haven’t played too many other horror games, so I don’t have much to compare this too. Would recommend it to anyone who fancies a good scare, but it’s very short, so don’t pay much on PC or just get it free on PS4 with PS+

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