Never before has a video game pushed me to such a level of anxiety and fear as has Red Barrels Outlast. This nerve-wrecking and intensely hostile journey through what can only be described as hell on earth almost never ceases to take its tight grip of terror from around your throat.
One minute you’re begging for this nightmare to end if only you can escape this asylum of absolute horror, to the next desperately hoping you can somehow find your way back in to this dreaded place. Upon hearing about how intensified the experience, no form of expression truly prepares you for the ride ahead. You will discover that you do not want to finish this game. You will not want to fully investigate the dark halls and rooms which offer those much need batteries for your trusty camcorder. Outlast is an amazing experience which quietly speaks to your bravado challenging your resolve. For most, Outlast will be that game that forces you to compromise and accept that being a coward is sometimes ok. It is that scary!
You are an ambitious journalist named Miles Upshur who receives intel from an unknown source about a psych hospital known as Mount Massive Asylum which is ran by the questionable Murkoff corporation. Upon entering the asylum the game methodically begins to express itself.
From the outset you begin to understand that Outlast is a game that while you’re playing the experience, the game itself is also playing on your emotional capacity to endure. Once inside Miles discovers a place that is completely out of sorts as patients known as Variants mysteriously roam the hallways, stare at you awkwardly, speak to themselves or even sit or lay in a fetal position as though terrified. These Variants appear to have been experimented on like lab rats as their bodies grossly victimized express open bodily wounds and deformed arms and sometimes legs. Many of these patients appear to be non-threatening however, keeping you on your toes you occasionally find orderlies, doctors, security guards and even military officials brutally butchered.
Around every corner you may find a torso missing a head, arms and legs, intestinal trails laid out on display. Head to the rest room and arms and legs are sometimes found in toilets as though someone was trying to flush limbs. Interestingly, while the game does offer a healthy and impressive dose of blood spatter throughout, it doesn’t over do it.
Eventually Miles is introduced to the bully, I like to call him or Chris Walker, a sort of hulk of a figure who becomes your worst nightmare when you discover that Mr. Walker has a thing for ripping his victim’s heads from their bodies. Mr. Walker’s signature expression of terror is actually found in his chain and its sinister dragging and clanging sound as he is constantly on the hunt for you. When he is near, more often you will not see him as to stay out of his sight, however you will be paying close attention to the sound proximity of his chain.
Unique to the Outlast experience is the fact that while being confined as I like to call it, as Miles which is what it can feel like, you are utterly useless in defending yourself. Sure, you will spend much of your time investigating found documents, writing down your own thoughts by keeping a written record of events and peaking around corners. Miles must place his confidence in running for his life, jumping over objects and hiding under beds. When occasionally confronted by an enemy this becomes his only benefit. Miles doesn’t get a weapon, ever! Despite being chased by crazed patients with clubs, sticks and a pair of katana like scissors, with some nutcases happy enough to enjoy hunting for you completely naked, you will never have the upper hand in a stand-off, ever. Just run!
This design makes the game special, forcing Miles to place his trust in his reliable camcorder. Unfortunately, Outlast doesn’t make thing convenient for the player. The game almost has an organic sense of humor daring you to search for those much needed batteries to power your new best friend. In fact, the camcorder doesn’t need batteries to be on, it needs batteries to juice its night vision functionality which allows Miles to see in the pitch black dark. Playing the game on the normal difficulty I found myself out of batteries and stuck in the dark only once causing me to have to stumble in the darkness to find my way, miraculously I found a battery and from that point on I began using my night vision quite feature sparingly.
Eventually Miles encounters Father Martin who is an inmate who believing himself to be a priest. Father Martin has a cult following among the Variants who is convinced you are sent by God to bear witness to his unraveling with your journey through the asylum as only a test. Yet the elements at play in the story are ultimately much bigger than Father Martin.
This terrifying journey leaves much of the discovery process in the hands of the player. Miles never discovers a map of the asylum assisting with where to go next to complete the next objective. That would be too easy. Developer Red Barrels wants to scary the crap out of you as you make your own trial and error decisions of discovery. Thankfully the games level designs are added with areas which are unreachable or blocked assisting players with identifying the obvious.
It is safe to say Outlast is one of the best looking and technically developed survival horror experience all around. The dramatic graphical tone which saturates each level is passionately showcased. Terror seemed to be coming from everywhere. The games lightning is fantastic. It is well depicted and deceiving forcing you to enter more of the dreaded darkness. Personally I dreaded walking into the darkness with only a camcorder aiding in revealing my next fright. The games attention to detail from the camcorder making its buzzing sound when in night vision to Miles and his fearful and frustrating breathing wishing he doesn’t somehow compromise are position, yet you understood his concerns. The game promoted the idea that this was somehow a very real experience.
If there are any shortcoming in the graphical department it would most certainly be found in the games character designs. Characters lacked a high level of detail making them inconsistent with the games highly polished environments and atmosphere elements.
The gameplay is founded on player discovery. Outlast forces you to investigate various rooms in order to find objects such as keys and power fuses unlocking new areas driving the story forward. While this approach is rather basic, the majority who jump into Outlast will find the task of having to find an object which will power the elevator or simply open a locked door more than satisfying in this case. Aiding in this process of simple gameplay mechanics is terror. Outlast defines terror by offering a constantly ominous and baneful soundtrack which rivals any horror movie to date. Elements such as the sound of your own footsteps, the crackling of wood, your own heavy breathing which can easily be mistaken for an enemy who is breathing down the back of your neck to the powerful sound of lightning as it explodes just before you peak around the corner, footsteps of nearby Variants which you cannot quite make out whether they are enemy or not. In Outlast a simple task is more than just a simple task, it is an emotional workout.
Outlast is the scariest game I have ever played by a mile. Playing on your emotions at a constant rate, all you want to do is survive this amazingly horrible nightmare. The enemies that seek to do you harm are just the appetizers to the main course of scare offered by the games incredible sense of despair and atmosphere ingredient. While character designs could use more work, this is more than forgivable after walking away from the asylum. Or do you actually walk away, I seriously dare you to try and figure it out yourself.
Platform: PS4, PC
Publisher: Red Barrels
Developer: Red Barrels
Genre: Survival Horror
REVIEW SCORE: 9.0