When it was released less than a week before Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, most people who played it treated it as a filler in order to sate their urge for horror before the more well known game came out. This is unfortunate as Outlast is a game that is scary in its own right and for its own reasons. As Amnesia is now the giant in the horror game genre, Outlast is kind of like the underdog.
Outlast is a psychological horror game made by Red Barrels that became the talk of the town for a while, and it wasn’t even Halloween yet. In a time when horror games are inundated with titles like the Frictional Games library, Slender, SCP Containment Breach, and so on, this game has the difficult task of standing out from the crowd. For the most part, it does do well with those who have braved to play it, mostly because it actually is scary. Not subtle, but definitely scary.
The story is set in a psychiatric hospital called Mount Massive Asylum, which sits on the mountains of Colorado owned by the Murkoff Corporation. It’s not a very subdued place as it has the appearance that would make Jason blush. You play as Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist who is doing some investigating after getting a tip from some anonymous source. He has nothing to fight back with, but he can negotiate gaps and obstacles, so at least he can get away from anything that makes him quiver and lose bladder control.
Mount Massive Asylum itself is quite a serene and tranquil place, if not for the lashings of Grave Encounters about it. Most efforts at navigating your way around is done with a night vision camera, which drains its battery like a frat boy would with a bottle of tequila. Your ears are not given mercy either as the game does have the excellent sound design that is required for horror games such as this. Including the terrifying enemies that are after you, everything comes together to make you feel very unwelcome, which is the point in the first place.
Most of the backstory is told through the notes and documents you find all across the asylum, which is what Upshur would be looking for as a journalist and helps with immersion into the game. The characters in the game are not fleshed out very well though, so you wouldn’t really hate or feel sorry for them as much as you should. As for the enemies, while they’re indeed scary, but don’t really come in much variety to keep you on your toes, so you’ll see most of the same guys trying to give you a heart attack.
This game is indeed quite terrifying, and it’s not shy about it at all. Outlast takes all the tropes in psychological horror games, from the dark surroundings to the music that makes you feel uneasy, and puts mustard on it. As you play it more, you’ll feel that the scary bits are a bit overdone and perhaps even repetitive. It does seem to outstay its welcome as the game drags on; it remains scary, but feels more like a chore to play as it goes on. Maybe that’s actually intentional as being in such a situation in real life wouldn’t be so nontrivial either.
While it does what it sets out to do, it’s unfortunate enough to have Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs right at its tail in release, so comparisons are unavoidable. What it does though is show how different the two games treat their horror, with Amnesia being more subtle with its delivery by building up the tension slowly but surely, while Outlast is puts you on edge quickly and tosses surprises at you. They’re both very well made, but they do have different flavors of terror, so it’s all up to personal preference on whether one is scarier over the other.
It’s available now on PC, and is set to come out for the PlayStation 4 as well.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 8/10