Outlast is a first person horror game. You play as Miles Upshur, an asthmatic trapped in an insane asylum, hunted by crazy naked men. Will he learn the truth of the nefarious experiments? Will he escape? Will he survive? Will you give a shit?
I can’t help but wonder if I’d have enjoyed Outlast more if I hadn’t previously played Alien: Isolation, SOMA and more recently, Resident Evil 7. It’s not a bad game as such, just . . . not as good as any of those titles.
I completed Outlast on its Normal difficulty in 4 hours. It’s not a very substantial game, and the replay value is low. I can’t say I’m honestly interested in playing through it again. But there are harder difficulties and collectibles to discover if you like that sort of thing.
Miles is a journalist investigating the mysterious Mount Massive Asylum. He’s decided the best time to do this is in the middle of the night and without a phone. He’s not particularly bright, and given his ridiculously and hilariously heavy breathing, it seems he also forgot his inhaler.
He’s armed with a trusty camcorder from 1991 which runs on AA batteries and needs to be regularly ‘reloaded’. I don’t really see the point of the battery mechanic. It’s a minor irritation more than anything and the game certainly wouldn’t lose anything without it.
You’ll need the camera to traverse the dark environments of the asylum using the battery draining night vision mode. Its creates a neat kind of ‘found footage’ style, but the reliance on the camera and the limited range of its night vision can become tedious.
It’s no surprise that one of my favourite parts of the game was when Miles lost his camera and had to retrieve it. Finally, the game could use its rather good lighting and shadow effects in a very effective and tense sequence. The game really does get the visual aspects right, as it does the sound. And sound, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is a key part of a successful horror title.
No, it’s not the visuals or sound of Outlast that I have an issue with, it’s more the general gameplay. Outlast is very much a ‘hide and seek’ game or, in my case, a ‘run like f**k from A to B’ game. It’s incredibly linear with heavily scripted sequences. There are small areas with a little more freedom to explore, but these all involve the same gameplay pattern.
There will be two switches, two valves, three fuses, two buttons or whatever within a limited environment that you need to turn, touch, press or collect whilst being hunted by something. It uses this gameplay sequence repeatedly, even during the final ‘boss’ part of the game.
The problem with these sequences is that they’re just a game of trial and error. The idea is that you should sneak from one objective to the next, but in reality it’s far easier to just leg it because you can easily outrun your foe. Once you know the ‘correct’ and only route (because there’s lots of locked doors you might try by mistake) it’s just a case of running (and wheezing) your way from A to B.
You can’t fight back, which I don’t really have an issue with. I think, as we saw with Isolation and Resident Evil 7, that you can still make a game tense whilst giving the player the ability to defend themselves – but that doesn’t mean every horror game has to. Outlast certainly doesn’t, but if it’s relying on stealth and evasion, then it needs to provide far more engaging and meaningful mechanics than ‘hide in locker’, ‘hide under bed’ and ‘run like f**k’.
There’s nothing really to Outlast’s gameplay aside from running and occasionally hiding. It’s a straight shot from A to B with the odd (admittedly effective) jump scare mixed in. I can’t deny that it’s damn tense at times. Some of those early chase sequences really had me on the edge of my seat. The problem is, that’s all it really has to offer. It just repeats the same sequence, albeit in a slightly different location with a slightly different objective.
In terms of story, Outlast starts well but ultimately loses its way. It really goes off the rails during the last section of the game. You find yourself being chased by a stupid ghost thing and, once again, just running from one objective to the next until you can press the ‘game over’ button. It’s dumb. It’s not tense. It’s not fun. It’s certainly not scary.
I wonder if I’d have enjoyed Outlast more if I hadn’t played RE 7 the day before. Seriously, I started playing RE 7 on a Saturday, finished it on the Sunday, started a second run on Sunday, finished it again on Monday, before starting, playing, completing and now reviewing Outlast all on Tuesday.
Nice visuals and sound. A few genuinely tense and unsettling moments. Outlast is a decent little horror title, and easily worth the couple of quid I picked it up for. I don’t want to be too harsh on it. It’s really not that bad. Unfortunately, it’s really not that good, either. 4 hours. Little replay value. Dumb story. Totally forgettable. Try RE 7 first. Or Alien: Isolation. Or SOMA.