Outlast – survive with a camcorder – Review

Gare – Monday, January 20, 2014 11:27 PM
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Outlast is often labeled one of the scariest games in recent years – granted, such a title had been given to several other titles by a variety of people, which is why we decided to plunge headfirst into its world and find out whether or not the first game from developer Red Barrels studio is truly worth the superlatives.

Without a single weapon, with a camcorder

In Outlast’s story, freelance journalist Miles Upshur visits the out-of-the-way asylum of Mount Massive in order to record and expose all its secrets with trusty camcorder in hand. As it turns out, however, the asylum is the place of living hell: grotesque, murderous inmates are on the loose, having already massacred most of the staff, and soon enough, Miles himself will have to fight for his life as well as a way to escape their clutches.

In its basics, Outlast follows the road paved out by Amnesia: The Dark Descent: players will have to explore the dark unknown without a single weapon or way to defend themselves, surviving only on their wits and ability to run, sneak and hide in the shadows. We’ll push cupboards to block doors (a mechanic that will no doubt ring familiar to fans of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth), hide under beds or inside cramped lockers and air ducts until the danger passes. Furthermore, in areas ruled by pitch black darkness, our only chance at navigation and survival is the night vision function of our camcorder – this function, however, drains the machine’s life, making batteries a limited and important resource.

Afraid of the dark

At this point, the inevitable question arises: exactly how scary is Outlast? This is somewhat difficult to determine – how much terror a game can inflict on someone varies from player to player. If I had to rely on my own experiences, I would have to say that the game – with a select few exceptions – largely failed to revive the same level of fear I had previously experienced in titles such as Penumbra or Amnesia. Outlast’s environments are dark and atmospheric – they’re largely what one would expect from a horror title of this kind. However, the inmates constantly on our tail, and the major chase scenes involving them, somehow failed to live up to my expectations and deliver the level of dread I was expecting.

This could stem from a number of things, but I cannot help but suspect the general lack of variety and unpredictability in Outlast’s gameplay. Although the game starts off in a stellar way, its first few scares and chase scenes feeling tense and sufficiently traumatizing, the novelty soon wears off. We learn the AI, figure out how best to avoid them and their ever-unchanging chase antics; as such, scenes that would have been otherwise tense become a repetitive, borderline tedious experience, especially after having already gone through similar scenarios several times earlier in the game. Similarly dull are the apparent “puzzles” present in the game, consisting mainly of finding keys and lost fuses; those wishing for a return of Amnesia’s well thought out riddles and relatively free exploration might end up disappointed by the utterly unimaginative and linear experience provided by Outlast.

It's scary... sometimes

In Outlast’s defense, however, it needs be mentioned that it did manage to come forward with a memorable segment or two during its story – a select few disturbing moments and frantic, desperate escapes that I tremendously enjoyed. This is further enhanced by a peculiar state of affairs within the asylum, in which not every single inmate is after Miles’ life, creating a feeling of vulnerability, never knowing who might ignore our hero and who might jump up to strangle us. Sadly, despite its few moments of greatness, Outlast still fails to make use of its potential.

In the end, flawed as it may be, Outlast is still a competently put together game. However, despite its strong beginnings, its magic didn’t quite work on me in the long run. Its short length, therefore, comes as an advantage: the story – and its repetitive hide and seek antics – are finished before they could get truly irritating. It will no doubt terrify many, but for more seasoned horror veterans, it regrettably offers nothing that hadn’t already been done better.


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