- Street Date:
- February 4th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- February 26th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Red Barrels Inc
- Red Barrels Inc
PS4 version reviewed. 'Outlast' is also available on the PC.
There is no shortage of video game genres. 'Call of Duty' and 'Battlefield' lead the first-person shooter pack, while heavy hitters like 'Uncharted' and ' Tomb Raider' have nearly perfected the third-person action adventure game. And let's not forget RPGs, turn-based strategy games, point-and-click adventures, fighting games, racers (simulated and arcade), puzzlers, and platformers; the list truly goes on and on. No less significant is survival horror, a genre that many associate with the likes of the original 'Resident Evil' and 'Silent Hill' games, where the focus is on resource management, puzzle solving, and flight over fight. Over the years, the horror genre has seen a metamorphosis in gameplay style and mechanics, where running and hiding has been replaced with heavy combat and intense action; a change met with a mixture of praise and frustration from fans and critics alike.
Now though, through indie and other smaller developers communities who have embraced the essence of true survival horror, a steady stream of titles that more appropriately fit the genre's origins have been released, including Frictional Games' 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' and 'A Machine for Pigs', Parsec Productions' 'Slender: The Eight Pages', and most recently, Red Barrels' 'Outlast.' Originally developed and released for the PC in September 2013, 'Outlast' has now found its way to the PlayStation 4 as one of February's Instant Game Collection titles, but is it a continued step in the right direction for survival horror?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Outlast' drops you into the shoes of ambitious investigative reporter, Miles Upshur. Working from an anonymous tip, you begin this nightmare driving to the closed gates of Mount Massive Asylum, determined to uncover the hideous secrets certain to propel you to fame and notoriety. From a first-person perspective, you are armed with only your handheld camcorder and a pocket full of batteries. The mystery of Mount Massive sets the stage for an adventure into the depths of human depravity, tense action, and untreatable madness generally found in the imaginings of John Carpenter, Stephen King, and Clive Barker.
The facility's dark and disturbing history is unraveled through a variety of case files, bloody wall scrawlings, and the insane ramblings of the asylum's inhabitants. The animals have taken over the zoo – killing all administrators and security guards - and you quickly realize that your ambitions as a reporter may have finally gotten the better of you. What started as an investigation alters course and becomes a desperate struggle for survival.
In true survival horror fashion, encounters with the insane boil down you with a single choice – run, hide, survive; hide in a locker, under a bed, or in the darkest corners. Your camera has a built in night vision mode, giving you a slight advantage over your crazed hunters. They may be physically overpowering - able to end your life with a few hits - but they are unable to see in total darkness. As a result, batteries (and battery life) become essential to your survival. Like finding a health pack in any other game, finding batteries extends your ability to navigate the labyrinthine corridors, sewers, and wards; all of which attempt to confuse and disorient you.
Because 'Outlast' places great emphasis on the hide-and-seek game mechanic, I enjoyed relying on some sensible abilities such as leaping over path-blocking tables, closing doors behind you to slow down your pursuer's progress, and using the quick-look to check over your shoulder to gauge how close or far death may be. It invokes a heightened sense of tension in an already consistently tense and desperate situation. Building and maintaining tension is what 'Outlast' is all about.
Still, as often as my heart would race – whether from jump-out-of-your-seat scares or a brutish mental patient chasing you down – I couldn't help but question the inability to use something (anything) as a meager form of protection. I understand the intent the developers at Red Barrels had when creating 'Outlast', but at some point rationality kicks in. A pipe, lamp, or even a loose floor board, anything that could be used (however ineffective) against your human aggressors would have been appreciated. I'm not suggesting 'Outlast' include a combat mechanic, but when faced with such desperation, my suspension of disbelief, even for a video game, began to wear thin.
While 'Outlast' did a fantastic job of keeping me on the edge, I was disappointed with the inclusion of some rather tired and overused video game tropes. How many times have we had to start up 'X' number of generators, locate keys and/or keycards to unlock doors, and turn on or off a variety of of valves? Thankfully, these directives never took me completely out of the game as there was always the presence of a greater threat. However, I do feel the developers missed out on an opportunity to take 'Outlast' to the next level by displaying more creativity with a better array of puzzle solving.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The development team at Red Barrels created an environment that is both believable and incredibly disturbing to be witness to. Their attention to detail is admirable and clearly took great effort to complete. The chaos and horror that is Mount Massive Asylum is on full display across every square inch of the game, and there is an immediate sense that the building you are trapped in could very well be centuries old.
Adding to the sense of destruction created by the escaped inmates, 'Outlast' excels at the over-the-top use of blood and gore. The warning provided at the beginning of the game is no joke. Beaten and bloodied bodies can be found everywhere: impaled on spikes, missing limbs and heads, or split in half. The sheer amount of blood splatter alone would make Dexter Morgan grin from ear to ear. Leaving behind footprints on the floor after running through a pool of blood was a nice touch and begs the question – were the inmates smart enough to track my movement by the trail I may have inadvertently left behind?
Although the environmental effects are quite impressive, the up-close-and-personal details of the inmates are a bit on the rough side. Facial features and animations are fine from a distance, but closer inspection reveals a lack in detail and realism.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
As impressed as I was with the visuals of 'Outlast', the audio representation is the real high point of the game for me. Whether playing through a surround sound system, or with a nice set of headphones (recommended), 'Outlast' gets under your skin with a purposeful sound design. When being pursued, or finding a brief hiding place from your attackers, Miles' breathing and heartbeat becomes louder and louder, and I often found my own heart rate and heavy breathing aping that of what was occurring in-game. It was both exhilarating and oddly disturbing.
Because so much of the game takes place in darkness, surround sound effects become integral to your staying alive. You know you are being hunted, but are unsure of your hunter's location. Hearing a door creak open, footsteps through a flooded room, or chains rattling as they are moved aside delivers an incredible sense of dread and foreboding. These audio effects, when combined with a near-perfect musical score, are some of the best I've had the pleasure of experiencing in quite a long time.
When the madness finally comes to an end and you've changed into your last set of clean underwear, you'll have the opportunity to replay 'Outlast' on much higher difficulty settings. While I am not brave enough to make such a feeble attempt, playing the game on Insane Mode – where checkpoints and game saves are non-existent – is sure to test the skills and patience of even the most accomplished gamers.
Personally, I believe a game like 'Outlast' provides the greatest replay value when experiencing it with a friend or family member for their first time – as either participant or spectator. Similar to sharing a horror movie that you've already seen, watching their reactions to the scares you already know are coming can be priceless.
I applaud Red Barrels for embracing the origins of survival horror in a time when horror games in general have become synonymous with high action. The emphasis on running and hiding over standing your ground and fighting adds to the constant sense of dread. While I would have preferred some amount of defensive abilities, the overall experience was frightening, disturbing, and incredibly tense. 'Outlast' is not a game for everyone, and I believe even horror aficionados will be affected by the images and gameplay.
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