Thursday, 26 September 2013

Outlast Review

Outlast for those of you who might not know is a survival horror game where fighting is not an option, you only have three choices, "run, hide or die", much like in Amnesia you will crawl around in the shadows trying to sneak past enemies undetected while using the only tool available, your night vision equipped camera.
Developed by a small, yet, very experienced team, Outlast is one scary game that starts very strong, having some of the best jump scares ever seen in videogame format.

You play as independent journalist Miles Upshur, he has received an anonymous e-mail accusing the international Murkoff Corporation of performing horrible experiments to the mentally ill patients "staying" at the recently re-opened Mount Massive Asylum.
Upon arrival at the scene Miles finds the place deserted and so he makes his way into the building, a horrible sense of dread immediately strikes the player, but you're in too deep to go back now, something very wrong is happening in this place, it's your job and duty as a journalist and human being to expose it to the world and hopefully take down the super powerful Murkoff Corporation.

In the gameplay department Outlast has relatively simple mechanics, you walk around taking advantage of the shadows and objects placed in crucial and strategic points of the levels to hide from your enemies, using a camera as a replacement for the typical flashlight.
During the 4 to 6 hour campaign you will get to play and experience some truly great set-pieces, two are particularly memorable, one that ends up in a big boom, with Miles landing on top of something not very nice, the second one involves a sequence where you have to run from several enemies while locking and barricading doors behind you. This latter set-piece actually reminded me a lot of the chase sequences from Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, always a nice comparison in my opinion.
There's a big difference in the way "monsters" from Outlast work when compared to the ones from Amnesia, while the former are not as deadly, giving you more time to react and run, they make up for it with bigger numbers and an incredible persistence in chasing you down and eventually killing you, no disappearing enemies here, they for the most part are consistent and will patrol the areas that you need to visit. This works quite well for the first few hours of the game, but gets repetitive after a while, numbing the player and removing much of the scare factor from the chase sequences.

A camera equipped with night-vision is the feature that Canadian developer Red Barrels tries to use in order to distinguish Outlast from the many competitors that flood the market, believe it or not it actually succeeds.
The very limited range of what the camera can actually pick up, combined with the fact that Miles will spend most of his time engulfed in total darkness, turns this combo into a powerful asset, especially when you realize that batteries burn very quickly while the night-vision is active. To top it off, the sound effects, in particular when it comes to your character breathing, are some of the most believable to date.
Combine all of the aforementioned factors and you have one of the most claustrophobic and scary experiences to hit the gaming market this year.

Outlast is also incredibly well scored, the "chase music" in particular is exceptional, even if it gets kind of old quickly due to being repeated so many times.
Visually Red Barrels did a fantastic job with the Unreal Engine, they completely blow the competition out of the water, everything looks extremely pretty in a sadistic kind of way, you can see each and every little deformity on the bodies of the unfortunate patients from Mount Massive Asylum, small details like Miles putting his hand against a wall when trying to peak also give an extra charm to this horrific experience.
The best part of the visuals though, is how well the developers use shadows and light, a scene in particular deserves to be mentioned, you're outside and a storm is brewing, a very large open area stands before you making the night-vision penetrate even less into the total darkness that surrounds Miles, the constant rain swallows any other sounds that might give a hint to where you are, the expression "flying blind" definitely comes to mind. With each thunder strike comes a brief moment of light, not enough to understand exactly what is what, some blurry figures pop out, they don't help, instead you start second guessing everything that you've just seen, doubting your own two eyes along the process.

Outlast has a very strong start, the amazing visuals combined with the scary ambiance and terrifying jump-scares make the first couple of hours a real joy to experience, you can expect some cold sweats while playing this game, unfortunately it is one of those titles that starts better than it ends.
The conclusion to the convoluted storyline is anything but satisfactory, while I understand that the developers tried something different there, it just didn't work out in my opinion.
Despite the poor ending, Outlast is ready to compete with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs for best horror game of the year.

Year of Release: 2013
Platform(s): PC, PS4
Developer(s): Red Barrels

This game was played using the Ozone Rage ST headset
(Our Review: Link)