Outlast (Xbox One)
In recent days, I can’t think of a genre that has been so utterly undernourished as Survival Horror. Long gone are the days of Silent Hill 2 – where intelligent audio design and a lack of firearms lead to deep paranoia and genuine horror amongst the gaming circle. How reassuring it is to note then, that Red Barrels debut title attempts to champion everything that makes the genre so important, so compelling and so terrifying…
Story: You play as Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist who seeks to uncover the truth behind Mount Massive Asylum. Acting on a tip from an unknown source – the player will traverse the blood-filled corridors of gaming’s creepiest estate, recording every unspeakable horror in full glorious HD (although once inside, you’ll be pining for the exit faster than you can say “whistleblower”…) The overarching narrative is fairly sparse, yet it provides the gamer with just the right amount of intrigue to propel them deeper into the mystery. In a similar vain to BioShock’s pioneering audio logs, finding notes and documents dotted around the asylum assist in bridging the gaps in some of the story’s shortcomings. The setting is as cliché as a horror game can get, what happens within the confines are not…
Gameplay: The first thing that strikes me about Outlast is its indisputable respect for the gamer. This is a title designed with fluidity in mind so that player progression feels natural and personal; there’s no handholding with this one. I appreciate that you’re more or less given free reigns to accomplish your missions – you can try sprinting your way through the narrow corridors and dashing into the nearest hiding places to avoid being slaughtered, or you can play it stealthy, methodically, slowly.
In wonderful survival horror fashion, your only weapon is your camcorder. It has the ability to see in the dark (although your visibility range is extremely limited) and can zoom in and out if you’re unsure whether or not a knife-wielding maniac looms in the distance. You can never be too reliant on your camcorder, however, as it drinks battery fluid faster than Bear Grylls drinks his own urine. Sometimes you’ll run out of those little suckers and your life will be a living hell – you’ll be trundling along in the darkness only to come face to face with Chris Walker (the biggest, meanest inmate in the asylum) who will tear your heart out and present it to you like a gift. The game is at its scariest when you’re only just evading the baddies. The near misses jolt the heart and get the adrenaline pumping, however once you’ve actually been killed by an enemy the horror element diminishes slightly and the momentum begins to slow in pace. A small niggle but a niggle nonetheless.
I have nothing but the upmost respect for Outlast; it feels like the spiritual lovechild of many great horrors. It has the same groundbreaking vibe as Slender but with none of the ageing novelty. It plays like a hybrid of Amnesia (in so much that you’ll spend most of your time running and evading the inmates), Condemned (escaping crazies in the dark) and BioShock (perhaps the greatest compliment I can bestow on any game). You’re often running from point A to B to unlock the exit for point C, trying to survive at any cost – although the protagonist quite wittingly states midway through the game that ‘dying is moving lower on [his] list of the worst things that could happen.’
Graphics: Outlast looks its haunting best on the PC. The difference between PS4 and Xbox One is unnoticeable, although they comfortably hold their own alongside other next-gen titles (an impressive feat, considering Red Barrels are an indie studio with just a slim percentage of the finances available to the big blockbusters). I read a criticism recently of Outlast for its ‘poor’ character models and for its ‘lack of variety’ in setting and I have to disagree wholeheartedly with both. I was amazed at the sheer variety of locations available in just one setting – you’d think an asylum would eventually become repetitive but you’ll find yourself covering every blade of grass inside and outside the confines of the four walls. Whether you’re in a courtyard, in the sewers, in a medical branch, in a canteen – the variety on offer is astounding.
Arguably the worst looking part of the game occurs when it’s attempting to make its boldest leap in tone and style – this is towards the end when you head outside for the first time. The rain is absolutely torrential and due to the pitch-black darkness outside you’ll find your screen dissolves into a haze of blurry white lines and flashing lights. Aside from that, the camcorder HUD is unobtrusive and the hiding places are always frequent, well designed and easy to spot in a tight situation.
Overall: There’s not more I can say about Outlast that hasn’t already been said. The game is a great ambassador for the survival horror genre and for that it deserves the upmost praise. The Red Barrels team are indie geniuses and I’m already salivating at the prospect of playing their new DLC, The Whistleblower. The controls take some getting used to, as does the prospect of not having a weapon to defend yourself with – but overall the game is as flawless and as engrossing as a horror could be. The length is a little on the short-side – but that is to be expected of a game that has been on Steam sales and offered for free on PSN for most of its life. It’s on the Xbox One marketplace at a relatively steep £15.99, however I don’t see that as too unfair – seeing as the Xbox market will finally be able to experience one heck of a horror title. You’ll have a terrifying ride if you decide to pick up Outlast, but boy will it be worth it…
Final Score: 9/10