Outlast Review: The disclaimer should have been 'May give you a heart attack'
The survival horror genre has changed. No longer does it only consist of giving you a gun with limited ammo and forcing you to fend off zombies or disfigured creatures of space. Thanks to games like the original Amnesia, players are not encouraged to fight to survive by any means necessary; they're urged to run and hide instead.
Outlast, by developer Red Barrels, might certainly be the scariest game I've ever played. The fact that this review is posting days after the game's release is actually a testament to its terrifying nature, since many nights I simply refused to keep playing due to being scared sh*tless.
Outlast puts you in the shoes of Miles Upshur, a journalist who, thanks to an anonymous tip, goes to explore the mysterious Mount Massive Asylum. Why he decides to investigate it at night, in pitch dark, is anyone's guess, but alas, it does make for a great horror setting. Armed with only a camera that has a useful night vision mode, it's your task to find out what exactly is going on in the Asylum and survive whatever horrors lie inside.
Common sense has taught me never to enter places like this, especially in the dark
Outlast's premise, grounded in reality, is relatively easy to believe -- more so than an Asylum filled with haunted spirits would have been. There is also a very tangible sense of danger. The Asylum is filled with crazy, deformed 'experiments' which will have you running or hiding for your life. The game mechanics are built to instill fear in you, from being able to peek around corners to looking back behind you as you run. The fact that you now know you're able to do these things should terrify you.
It also helps that the game is absolutely gorgeous in the most gruesome sort of way. These are really high-quality graphics, which easily make the environment filled with limbless SWAT officers, mangled bodies and trails of blood seem that much more authentic.
If you think surviving the halls of the Asylum is scary, just wait until you have to do it in complete darkness. Miles' night vision mode takes the level of creepiness to new heights. Sure, at least you can see your surroundings while in night vision, but your viewing distance is significantly cut. The fact that you can't see down the entire hall, unsure whether someone is waiting for you by the end of it, creates the type of tension that can make you want to take a breather before continuing. In fact, much of the game is like that. I found that no matter how many lights I had turned on around me, or whatever comedy show I had turned on in the background to relieve some of the tension, I was caught off guard at almost every turn, jumping or screaming without warning. Mind you, this is coming from a guy who enjoys horror and torture porn movies.
This guy's not having a good day
However, the most brilliant aspect of Outlast is its sound design. In the past I've praised the sound design of Amnesia, which filled me with dread even when there was no immediate danger. Outlast takes that dread and multiplies it. The ambient sounds of the Asylum are sometimes enough to make you take off your headphones and just take a breather. The sound the game makes after unpausing tricks you into thinking that you're in immediate danger. Every time. Seriously, it's unnerving.
Unlike Amnesia, which was very grounded in puzzles, Outlast throws in some generic 'missions' that require you to find a keycard in order to progress past a locked door, or activate a certain number of switches in order to power on generators. I like this style of missions more, since solving puzzles in Amnesia always meant you were technically safe, and you weren't being pursued. This is certainly not the case in Outlast. Don't ever feel like you're safe. That will be your downfall.
Outlast is certainly one of the scariest, if not the scariest, game I've ever played in my life. It's bursting with AAA-quality design, a brilliant and somewhat believable atmosphere, and enough jump scares to make you want to pause the game for a bit to maybe watch the latest cute cat video on YouTube before jumping back in.