Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Outlast Review: Next Big Horror Game?
Outlast is a game that we at Leviathyn have followed for some time now. Since its announcement, we have interviewed the co-founder of the development team, Red Barrels, where we found out more about the game. Now it has been released and we got to play the full game. This is an unrelenting horror game that forces you into sheer terror at every corner, that much can be told by the trailers of course but what is the entire game like?
The protagonist is Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist who has been given a tip off that the recently re-opened asylum, Mount Massive, has something sinister going on. Run by the shady Murkoff Corporation, the asylum looks very plain from outside the gates, but once you enter the building that all changes. Going through the gates there are jeeps scattered across the front of the building, left abandoned. It doesn’t bode well for your journey in. Having to find a way into the building was curious as it required platforming. Miles must climb through a section of scaffolding that leads up to a window. It was an odd experience at first because I was not used to seeing hands and feet in a horror game, least of all using them to climb around the environment.
Outlast is a beautiful game. There are some moments where graphics get a bit choppy but the lighting and the movement is very slick and helps immerse you in this character’s world. Certain lighting sections will force you into using your trusty camera (more about that below) while others will give for creepy silhouettes which is just as good. The shadows and the glint of an enemy’s eyes sends chills through me when hiding in a tight area. All hallmarks of a good horror game.
Something that has been seen before is the use of a camera. Slender: The Arrival used the same sort of feature but here is is expanded upon greatly. Using the camera’s night vision capabilities, you can see in the dark to a certain degree which is as helpful as it is a clever device to scare you even more. While in this mode, your battery will drain at a surprisingly quick pace. Seriously, it can be unforgiving to a point where you are left with one battery worth of juice (batteries are scattered around the environment, but can be easily missed if you don’t go out of your way to search for them). Naturally the dark is where we are most vulnerable and Outlast uses this to great effect. While traversing around the linear hallways, the occasional head will pop out and scream, scaring you half to death. Sometimes these enemies will attack, other times their mental state is so weakened they just cower away from you. Some characters will chat to you about the goings on, giving you extra background and also showing you their various levels of insanity, while others will engage in some very dark humor such as cutting out someone’s tongue because they were bored of licking their own stamps. Not knowing who will react to you in what way is a brilliant and terrifying experience that keeps you on your toes, made all the more dramatic by the sound design of the game.
Music is always a major part of any video game or film in the horror genre. Here there is the sense that there has been nothing held back in this department. When hiding from enemies, loud, short bursts of music make your heart beat ten times the normal pace and if you are caught and forced to run, the game brings the sound up to a screech which coupled with the adrenaline-inducing chase sequences, make for an unforgettable experience. Even in the quiet sections where there aren’t any dangers (they are few and far between) there is the ever present sense that something could happen. When even the music can scare you by its sheer presence, you know it is good.
Enemies normally appear in a one on one type scenario. They will search doggedly for you and will roam the hallways, forcing you into hiding in lockers, under blood-stained beds and in toilet cubicles. This is something I actively enjoy in a good horror game, vulnerability. You cannot fight these insane characters, only hiding from them is a viable option. Enemy types are varied but seeing as you see them on their own, one at a time, they would have to be. They range from the stereotypical, brutish figure that many who know have seen the demo will recognize, to a couple of naked men who talk about you in third person, who want nothing more than to make you slowly suffer with no reasonable explanation as to why and who seem to have no use for clothing, only your internal organs. Yummy. One major issue I found with the game was the characters who weren’t stand outs, who just had peripheral uses as either tension builders or jump-fodder tended to be either the same character model or VERY similar. These people also have a penchant for saying the exact same sentence over and over… and over until you leave them alone. We could pass this off as them being mentally unstable but I don’t think that is the reason.
Control-wise, the game is the conventional WASD for movement and to interact with the doors and other objects the left mouse button is used, while the right mouse button toggles your camera filming. The controls are really nothing out of the ordinary which helps as sprinting away from crazed bad guys, vaulting over tables and other obstacles would be near impossible if the controls were obscure. Pressing Q and E when close to walls allows you to peek your head around the corner to see where pursuers are while the same buttons are used when running away to check over your shoulder for the distance that the enemy is away from you. Closing and opening doors can be a slight bit fiddly when an enemy is close behind you but isn’t exactly game breaking.
One very strange part of the game is the missions, they are frustrating. They seem to be run of the mill type objectives, leaving the real experience to the environment and characters rather than what you actually affect. An example is having to turn on two buttons and a breaker switch to turn on power for the security station. While there is another enemy with you, it just seems to ruin the tension a bit, letting you know very much that you are in a game. They seem a lot like filler to me till the next encounter.
Outlast is a game that has been crafted well but with a few niggling problems. It is both beautiful and frustrating simultaneously but it does what it sets out to do which is genuine horror. Red Barrels obviously has good developers in its midst who can create a great game and it will be exciting to see how they and their game will progress in the future.