Outlast Review: An Uncompromising Horror Vision


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In one early scene in Red Barrels’ indie horror game Outlast, I awoke in a padded cell in the Mount Massive Asylum. A few seconds later, I was scanning the darkness of the cell block beyond with my camcorder’s night vision mode, trying to identify threats in the darkness. As I inched closer to a wire grate that separated the hallway from the block, I saw two hulking men.

They were each fully naked, and in low tones, using the language of polite society, they calmly discussed a plan to catch me, kill me, and divide up a number of my organs.

“Let’s give him a running start,” one muttered. “Agreed,” said they other, as they stared at me with glowing, neon-green eyes. As the camera beeped a low battery warning, I quickly jammed fresh AA’s into it and raised it back to my face — and the pair were gone.

I hurried off into the darkness in another direction, knowing I was likely to run into the pair again as I explored Mount Massive’s halls and slipped through gaps in its decrepit walls. When I finally did — they killed me.

In fact, I died a lot in Outlast. I had my skull crushed, I fell to my death, I had my head and ribs beaten in by planks of wood sporting exposed nails. I was stabbed, eviscerated and exploded. Oh, and on numerous occasions, a huge guy tore out my throat with one hand.

Each of those deaths was accompanied by heart-pounding intensity, gore, and panic. It’s a horror vision that I found remarkably uncompromising. Outlast pulls no punches, and it holds no hands. It tasks you with surviving Mount Massive Asylum using only your wits and fleet-footed retreats, and while at some point its tricks become known and possibly predictable, it packs a singular, powerful presentation.

Outlast
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Released: Sept. 4, 2013
MSRP: $19.99
Available on Steam

Mount Massive Asylum is the site of something terrible. Tipped off that the ostensibly evil Murkoff Corporation is performing some sort of illegal research at the facility, investigative journalist Miles Upshur takes it upon himself to break in with a camcorder and gather evidence. Of course, upon gaining access, Miles is immediately trapped, and finds that horrifically mutilated patients have broken free and murdered everyone as an apparent result of Murkoff’s experimentation.

It’s more or less a classic horror movie setup, and Outlast utilizes the tropes of modern horror cinema to great effect. Chief among these is its found footage-style presentation: The game is an entirely first-person affair, with almost all of it viewed through the flip-out screen of the camcorder. Its Miles’ one and only advantage — he can use it to see in the dark, so long as he has batteries. And that advantage can allow him to hide.

You have no other options in Outlast. There are no weapons available in the game; you’ll neither battle, nor defeat, any adversaries. Your only hope is to evade them long enough to lose them by sprinting, vaulting over objects, and scrambling into dark corners or beneath objects. That conceit leads to something resembling a stealth style of gameplay, and you’ll spend a lot of your time pressed up against walls in the dark, waiting for whatever it is you hear in the distance to make itself known.

Moment to moment, I found Outlast’s stealth-based death-around-every-corner gameplay to be extremely tense and, most of the time, exceptionally frightening. The controls themselves are generally tight and intuitive: you really do feel like you have the tools at your disposal to run for your goddamn life, and maybe get away. Running away might be counter to usual video game ideas of empowering players, but Red Barrels has made sure that while you can’t fight, you usually can sure as hell run.

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5 Comments on Outlast Review: An Uncompromising Horror Vision

Gary

On September 4, 2013 at 10:41 am

Someone needs to make Mitch do a walk thru of this game :)

MPSewell

On September 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm

This review makes me so happy! I’m a huge fan of horror games, even if I do have trouble actually playing them and finishing them (because I tend to get *really* immersed in good atmosphere).

I was hoping this wouldn’t be another run-of-the-mill game where their idea of “horror” is one or two jump scares.

Ron Whitaker

On September 5, 2013 at 5:54 am

@Gary – I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but you might want to visit this link…

http://youtu.be/wk7I2A6wYCE

Kenshi

On September 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

This is an accurate, fair review of the game, much more so than Gamespot’s which tragically administered an unyielding 7 rating. In my opinion 90 is too high– a score of 85 is more reflective of the game quality. I appreciate that the reviewer pointed out the excellent use of sound both as a device to add dramatic tension and as strategic signal to evade nearby enemies. You’ll have to play it to better regard how well this was executed.

Diversity in geography, enemy design, and sex (where are the women?) would’ve improved on an otherwise outstanding survival horror experience. In respect to narrative, I can’t understand the creative choice made to steer the story from it’s initial realism into a supernatural direction. As a result of these fantastical measures, once you reach the end of the game, the force of horror which the game elegantly constructs is unsatisfyingly diminished.

mark

On December 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Hey everyone im trying to map out my ps3 controller so i can play outlast on my PC please help please