Rated M for Mature
Developed and Published by Red Barrels
The work of a journalist can occasionally bring him face to face with some pretty unnerving situations, few more so than Outlast protagonist Miles Upshur. Arriving at the intimidating Mount Massive Asylum following an anonymous tip-off regarding immoral activities taking place in the supposedly long abandoned institute, it takes only a few minutes of trudging around the grounds to recognise one thing:
Outlast is scary as hell.
Armed only with a trusty video camera with night vision accessory, your job as the player is to enter the shoes of Miles as you attempt to uncover the hideous truth behind the goings-on at Mount Massive, all the while avoiding a horrifying death at the hands of the various mutated inhabitants of the eerie building. Taking its cues from 2011’s groundbreaking Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast capitalises on fear by providing Miles with no method of combat whatsoever. If you’re spotted, it’s time to leg it, hiding inside the nearest cupboard, under a bed or cowering in a corner, all the while hoping that your pursuer stomps on by rather than investigate your little safe place.
The feeling of actually inhabiting the body of Miles is incredible. Vision bobs naturally during movement; look down and you’ll see your feet, and every interaction with the scenery sees your arm reach out with a palpable sense of depth and involvement that is seldom matched in the first-person arena. Walk close to a wall and a hand will appear, gingerly resting against the surface, allowing you to peek around the nearest corner with the press of a key. It’s a fantastically realised embodiment — something which also extends to the audio design as Miles’ constant heavy breathing, panicked wheezes, yelps and moans worm their way into your brain and straight towards the incessant pounding in your chest.
Mount Massive Asylum is a scary place, the dilapidated innards of which are frequently rendered pitch black, necessitating the use of night vision. This, too, is equally wonderful — flicking to life at the press of a button with a satisfying click and audio wind-up and bathing the surroundings in a staggeringly authentic representation of such a filter. A number of times you’re apt to flick this on in order to get a proper look at where you are, only to find yourself staring straight into the illuminated eyes of a monstrosity. Moments like this occur frequently during Outlast and rarely fail to elicit a startled yelp or instant of unbridled panic. Worse, still, is that the camera’s night vision function relies on a finite supply of batteries that must be periodically swapped to maintain it… and running out of a battery mid-chase in solid darkness is an unfathomably horrifying occurrence.
Brought to life with Unreal Engine 3, Outlast has to be one of the best-looking games to utilise Epic’s popular game engine. Character animation is solid, and getting up close with the grainy camera zoom on one of the multitude of grotesque ex-patients can feel real to a shudder-inducing degree; yet, the lighting and surroundings are where it truly comes to life. Red Barrels go all-out to scare you with the scenery, and boy do they succeed. Corridors illuminated only by light through staggered windows and especially an external sequence that sees the impenetrably night-clad surroundings briefly illuminated by lightning flashes are the very things of nightmares.
Of course, stare too long and the puppetry of the developers behind the curtain becomes all too apparent, with some ropey enemy AI that can see them trudge right past you at certain points at which Red Barrels fully expect players to immediately bolt in the opposite direction, and scripted jump scares and Quick Time Events are occasionally on show — the terrifying impact of which is obviously diminished with more than one play through. The variety of enemies also feels relatively truncated, failing to capitalise on a visit to Mount Massive’s women’s ward. Regardless, at around five hours of play time, Outlast never outstays its welcome, and honestly, nobody would blame you for being so sweat-soaked and beleaguered by fright that you wish it were even shorter. The gradually unfolding story remains engrossing and twisted throughout, even if the ending is disappointingly relegated to a mad panicked dash for various switches.
Ultimately, nearly every element of Outlast comes together with impeccable flair — a combination of superlative graphics, a true sense of being and brilliant sound design delivers an interactive experience in sheer, unrelenting terror like no other. Turn the lights off, crank your headphones up and step into the shoes of Miles Upshur as soon as you can. Outlast is ready, waiting, and all too willing to scare you absolutely shitless. Just try not to wake the neighbours with your screams.
The game is currently only available for PC but should also be hitting the PlayStation 4’s marketplace early next year.
4 1/2 out of 5