Fear is a unique emotion that not many people can master. Some people can control their sadness, joy and love, but not many people can control their fear. But what is even harder, is creating a game that successfully utilizes an emotion that is so subjective. Not everyone is afraid of the same thing, some people are scared of heights, zombies, the dark or the bogeyman. And that’s what sets this game apart from many other games. This game is not an example of horror, it is the very definition of it.
Miles Upshur, the dumbass you get the privilege of playing, receives an email from an IT guy, saying that the company he works for, Murkoff Corporation, has been performing inhuman and unethical experiments on the clinically insane. Believing this could be the story of the century, Upshur packs his bags, pops some new batteries into his camera, sharpens his pencil and rides off into the unknown. His destination – a super dodgy mental asylum, at night, with bad lighting, screaming “DO NOT ENTER!” What does he do? He enters, camera at the ready and starts filming.
The first thing you see, well, after the car ride over, is a massive front yard that is both dark and eerie and filled with dead trees, overgrown grass and the entrance of the spooky asylum. The outside setting alone is enough to spark tension in even the most steeled human. The flecks of light, the green night-vision of Miles’ camera, roaring thunder and unexpected flashes of lightning, really helps set the tone and style of the game well before your first encounter with the loonies. Creeping slowly up the gravel pathway, shadows immediately appear and vanish. Human silhouettes in the windows of the nuthouse watch you idly, and run away as soon as you get near. The flapping noise of crows as they fly away mixed with the lifelike crunch of Miles’ footsteps on the gravel emphasizes that fact that he’s alone and quickly slipping into something he won’t get out of as easily. Soon you’ll find a way in, and wish you never did.
If you’re easily frightened, this is not the game for you. It’s very scary, unsettling and frightening. The darkness, background sounds, grainy feel of the camera, empty expressions of some the “locals” and perfectly timed special effects, makes this game a stellar survival horror.
Fear aside, the effortlessness of everything present, makes diving in so easy. The control system is extremely simple and has little to zero learning curve. It’s set in the first-person perspective, so you can experience everything as it happens, as if you were Miles. Visually, you’ll have access to Miles’ camera, which has two modes. Standard and night-vision. If Miles sees certain events through the recorder, he will write down his thoughts and take notes – this is the only way we get to see what is happening inside the mind of our mute hero. You can also zoom in and out, which helps when trying to figure out your stalker’s route. In night-vision mode, the only thing that’s different is that you are now able to see in the dark. Not much, but it does help. It also sucks up battery power, so you’ll need to hunt for any batteries in the gloomy Mount Massive Psychiatric Healthcare Facility. If you don’t have the camera equipped, you can see as you normally would. There’s no grain, so everything is clear, and it’s in this mode that you can really see the detail in everything around you, including the scarred crazies.
As one would expect from a horror game, the Mount Massive mental institution houses a licorice all sorts of crazies. Throughout the game you’ll be the target of many “mini” enemies, armed with butcher knives, clubs or some form of weapon. They are pretty scary, but not as bad as the main stalkers. You’ll face three (well, four) stalkers whom I call, The Giant, The Naked Twins and the Mad Doctor. The Giant will be the main antagonist of the game and is probably the most intimidating. For example, if you get caught, he doesn’t rip your head off, he rips your body off.
So what can you do to fight these stalkers? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Actually, it gets worse. At one point in the game, you lose your camera and you have to find it, in the dark, while one of the stalkers is after you. The trick to staying alive is to run like your ass is on fire or find a place to hide and lay low for a while. You can hide in all sorts of places: beds, lockers, gaps in walls, even dark corners helps. The funny thing about hiding under beds and lockers, is that the enemy will look in every other locker or bed, except the one you are in. It makes no sense and is probably the most illogical part of the game, well, except for the ending – the story gets really WTF-ish about three-quarters of the way in.
The game is relatively short, but covers an arrangement of different locations. You’ll run around the asylum, a rather big – and bloody dark – garden, sewers, hospital ward and an underground laboratory. No corner is safe for Miles, so it’s best you guard and steel yourself when playing this game.
In the end, Outlast is a truly remarkable horror game that manages to wrap fear around its finger. Stealth is used very well, and so is the lighting, or lack thereof. It’s brutal, unforgiving and memorable. It doesn’t have much in the way of replayability, but even if it did, would you want to replay it? That is a question only you can answer, if you manage to finish it.