Again, I’m just getting around to another popular game. Outlast was released last year and is a part of the new generation of horror games with a focus on avoiding horror as opposed to fighting it. Interesting choice of aesthetic aside, Outlast continues to display problems I have with modern horror games along with a new one.
You play as Miles Upshur, a journalist looking for a big story. After receiving a tip that something is going on at a mental asylum, you take your trusty camcorder and go sleuthing. Arriving, you find that the inmates have taken over and that something really wrong has been going on here.
The entire game is played first person and you’ll be making use of Miles’ camcorder both for story and for exploring. Recording specific events will unlock story notes while the camcorder’s built in night vision mode is your only source of light.
There is no combat in Outlast and your own means of getting out alive is to hide and run away from the inmates who are stalking you while completing any necessary objectives to get by.
Graphically Outlast looks good with lighting dancing around and the carnage manages to tell a story. The enemies are definitely human, but have been mutilated to give off an inhuman form. As a horror game, Outlast nails the environment and enemy design but the lack of gameplay makes things annoying than scary.
The focus on stealth means that there is only one way to deal with any inmates which leads to running around in the dark trying to find that one locker to hide in or bed to crawl under. I’ve talked about this before, but I’m not a fan of horror games that remove the “fight” from fight or flight as it leaves out an important part of surviving.
I would have liked to have seen some options for dealing with or avoiding the psychos other then wandering around and hoping that you don’t get caught. Such as throwing objects for distractions.
But even without options, the actual hiding from the psychos feels more gamey than surviving.
For instance, when one of them decided to show up in the basement, I was hiding in one of two open rooms. Despite not seeing me enter either one, he knew immediately where I was.
Enemy detection also didn’t seem right. I know that enemies are psychopaths, but their paths don’t feel erratic as a human would be, but as an AI guiding them. I’ve had cases where I would avoid detection and watch someone go to the left then the second I start to move the psycho would turn right around as if on cue and caught me. The basic rule is that if you’re in the dark, you’re safe however a lot of the areas feature narrow hallways making it hard to actually stay hidden.
And again, you have no other option for dealing with enemies then to run. The game suggests you can close doors to slow down chasers, but you can’t do it while running and this leads to the ever popular game of trying to quickly turn around and close the door while a murdering lunatic is bearing down on you.
The “puzzles” are really just small sections that task you with completing objectives while someone is on your tail. To make things even more gamey, the second you turn on one objective, the enemy no matter how far away they are will know to go to your location. While the game does make great use of visual effects like lighting, sound could use some work as there were times that I couldn’t hear footsteps until the enemy was extremely close to me.
Adding to frustration, your only source of light comes from the night vision mode on the camera, turning the screen into a hazy neon view when in the dark. Which happens quite often and I could feel myself getting a headache trying to play as opposed to being scared.
And to make things worse, night vision drains the battery from the camcorder and requires you to hunt down little batteries in the environment to replenish it. The thought of not only having to rely on something that was hurting my head, but then having to find ways to keep it going was not what I would call a good time. If you had a choice of lighting like a flashlight that makes it easier to see and be detected and the night vision for sneaking, it wouldn’t be so bad.
The point where I finally had enough was when I was stuck wandering around outside with no idea where I had to go.
I ran out of batteries and couldn’t find any and was left just staring at the ground until the barely lit up the screen started to give me a headache and I said “screw this.”
Outlast has some great production values and an interesting premise, but when I’m fighting back a headache instead of worrying about surviving, something just isn’t right.