The last image I expected to burn into my mind was Tony Abbott’s penis, but lo and behold, about two hours into my Outlast play-through, I was treated to such a nightmaric exposure. The clone was standing behind a caged door staring at me, his manhood casually dangling in what little light illuminated the decor of an insane asylum. “I want his tongue, and liver”, he said. Three hours later he was chasing me through dimly lit halls, knife in hand. He must have discovered I voted labor. How he found out, I do not know, but it curdles my insides just thinking about it.
Unfortunately those were the only moments I felt truly terrified during Outlast’s six-hour campaign. Admittedly the first steps I took into Mount Massive Asylum (yes, actual name) were filled with anxiety, the video camera’s night vision poised to catch any glance of the evil spirits that lurked within. My early steps through that place were conducted with trepidation – falsely believing I could avoid all contact with death. But eventually, through no fault of my own, I found myself running for my life as some evil, hulking thing chased me through the decrepit mansion for blood. Growing tired of the chase I turned around to face my hulking adversary, and sighed in disappointment as all anxiety subsided.
The problem with Outlast’s attempts at horror is double-pronged. You’re regularly surrounded by mutants that may or may not attack you, so you learn to expect the worst at all times. The other problem is creature design. Outlast’s creatures aren’t creepy at all – which would have been fine if they weren’t shoving their ugly mugs in your face all the time – but they do, constantly reminding you that they are not what is to be feared, only the death which they bring. So with no option to attack, enemy encounters present three possible scenarios; run, hide or die. It’s a formula that works in the opening hours of the game but quickly grows stale as time passes on.
The only motivation to see this story through till the end then is for your protagonist Miles Upshur, a journalist with no care for his own life. He winds up exploring this mansion for the insane while video recording all that call this place home. What begins as a piece of journalistic curiosity quickly devolves into a claustrophobic struggle for survival. By providing an escalating set of life-threatening circumstances it’ll have Miles, and yourself, wishing for a glimmer of outside sunlight from the confines of your dark prison. The joy in exploring this mysterious place – rummaging through abandoned documents, glaring over solitary confinement cell-blocks, and bolting away from a Hostel-inspired madman – is where Outlast’s true experience shines through. It might not terrify but will sure-as-hell unsettle you, and with the game’s rather impressive graphics (high res, well-textured, hyper-real environments) you’ll be unsettled in style.
Mechanically it’s a stripped back gameplay experience akin to horror titles like Amnesia and Slender. You’ll be lowering water levels, collecting camera batteries, and avoiding the sight paths of any that would do you harm. Doors can be slowly inched open, lockers used as makeshift hiding spots, and bedframes pushed to block points of entry. As with most horror titles however, the focus is on how the game makes you feel, not how it plays. For me then, a self-titled aficionado of the horror genre, I was disappointed by the rather shallow emotions it roused within.
Unfortunately the experience isn’t free from technical issues either: Music and sound effects regularly blur out character dialogue in the middle of major plot points, and enemy AI out to kill you is occasionally oblivious to your presence. At one point the homicidal Tony Abbott just stared at me while I clearly made away with my escape (I imagine he was still dumbstruck that he managed to ‘get in’).
Ultimately Outlast is an interesting horror experience, though it’s one that draws too much inspiration from its competition while rarely offering anything unique. For fans of the genre it’s worth the $20 price tag, but if you only play the best it’s easily missed.
- Reviewed On