It takes a lot to scare people in this day and age. From the gore-packed movies and TV shows to the uptick of violence in video games, people have become desensitized to being affected by these fears.
I walked into Outlast feeling the same confidence I felt walking into any horror movie. Sure, I may jump once or twice, but in the long run I was just hoping to feel a bit anxious as I played.
In 10 minutes Outlast stripped me of my confidence and left me a shell of my former self.
The game tells the story of Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist on the job to figure out the possible nefarious deeds going on at Mount Massive Asylum. Upon entering the asylum, Upshur discovers things are much worse than he thought. The patients of Mount Massive are in control of the asylum and “treatments” they were receiving has left them maimed, crazy and violent. On top of all that, there are cryptic messages written in blood on the walls referencing something called the Walrider that seems to have something to do with everything happening at the asylum.
I was pleasantly surprised by the story in Outlast. I went in not expecting much in the way of narrative, instead wanting to hunt for those jump scares. What I found was that unraveling the mystery of what the hell happened in the asylum became just as imperative to me.
Outlast does this in a fun way by providing you a good amount of information by just playing the story but then fleshing everything out much more through notes from Miles and documents from the Mount Massive staff. Miles’ notes in particular add a lot to the atmosphere and help to bring the voiceless character to life through his hand-written reactions to things he is recording.
While the story was a pleasant surprise, the name of the game in Outlast was experiencing the asylum and boy did it deliver in that category. Outlast strips the player from any means of defending themselves, instead arming them with a camera and a night vision addition.
It’s crazy how quickly I forgot that I was unarmed and began to feel like the camera was a weapon in of itself as I peered around corners and used the night vision and zoom features to survey my path ahead.
When you inevitably are spotted during your travels through Mount Massive, your options are run or die. You have options to hide in lockers or under beds to truly lose your pursuers. These are high tension moments that will lead to mistakes as you run to where you thought a locker or bed was, but instead lead you into the hands of the enemy. Moments like that offer the most genuine thrills and scares in the entire game and will leave you in a puddle of sweat and a smile on your face.
This game wouldn’t be half as scary as it is, however, without the stunning sound design in the game. Outlast is a loud game and playing with headphones on offers a truly immersive and horrifying experience. From the creaking of Mount Massive during a storm to the inmates having some deplorable conversations as you try to sneak past them, this game will put you in the moment and will have you praying for a respite of any sort. I found myself cringing as my character clanged his way through an air vent, worried the sound would bring inmates to my location.
It’s worth making a quick note that Outlast offers one of the only interesting uses of the Dualshock 4’s lightbar that I’ve seen. As you use your camera’s night vision, the batteries in it will begin to die. At a certain point your camera light will flicker as the last of the battery power is used up and then it goes out for good until you put in a new pair of batteries. The lightbar flickers in time with the camera and when your battery runs out the lightbar goes off as well. The effect it that as Miles is plunged into darkness, you as the player are as well.
Outlast is an experience worth having, especially if you are like me and think you are past the point of being able to be scared. It is a game that shouldn’t be missed and blends a surprisingly interesting story with great gameplay and sweat-inducing sound design.