Wednesday, 19 February 2014


Post-Launch Review
Developer: Red Barrels
Released: September 2013
Played: complete in 4h:24min


Freelance reporter Miles Usher receives an anonymous tip hinting that something strange is going on at the Murkoff Corporation's Mount Massive Asylum. Miles sets out to investigate, armed only with his digital camcorder, and quickly discovers that he's in over his head - trapped in the asylum with escaped inmates terrified of (or worshipping) a mysterious force.

At Launch

Outlast was well received, earning average review scores of 80%. Many reviews cited a strong opening with good atmosphere and buildup, followed by a formulaic midsection with an overreliance on jump scares, ending in a decent finale with a few twists. Overall consensus seemed to be somewhat above average presentation with mediocre gameplay.

Post Launch

A few patches were released to fix various bugs.

Outlast has an excellent opening. There's a good slow build with spooky but also sad-sounding music, gradually revealing that something has gone horribly wrong (which, granted, is kind of expected in a horror game set in an insane asylum). Early game is very atmospheric and well-constructed. There's a great bit where you're forced to walk past some mutilated crazy people, and after some creeping tension you make it safely... and then realize you have to go by them again on your way back to security.

Some of the tutorial tips are downright creepy. Walking alone through a long hallway, I'm told "remember, you can look behind you while running by pressing Q or E", or "closing doors behind you will help slow your pursuers". But I'm alone right now... aren't I? Well done, game tips don't usually make me nervous.

Unfortunately after the first thirty minutes or so, Outlast starts to lose steam. Fairly early on you can safely get a good close look at the inmates, and while they're mutilated in creepy ways, it really reduces the intimidation factor to realize that you're just being chased by scarred guys holding pipes. The somewhat frequent chases can be a bit of a rush, but you can outrun anything. Maybe it would be scarier if I hadn't played Amnesia: The Dark Descent, where the sanity mechanic makes it dangerous to even look at the monsters, so you never really know what they look like.

The camcorder, your constant companion through the whole game, is a good idea that doesn't quite work. Right at the start you're told that you can take notes by recording events with the camera, and only by recording events with the camera - you don't get the notes if you don't see it through the camcorder. You can turn it on or off at any time, and the camcorder has a night vision mode that lets you see in the dark, which is a cooler idea than a flashlight - especially since it gives everything that creepy fuzzy green glow. I want to keep the camcorder up all the time so I don't miss any notes, but the problem is that it reduces the graphics quality. I get that a handheld digital camcorder isn't supposed to be the pinnacle of film technology, but it's really quite annoying. It would've been better to just use the standard quality graphics with the camcorder overlay on at all times, so you don't have to decide between seeing clearly and game completion / backstory.
But, cleverly, there's a segment where the game takes the camcorder away from you and you're forced to go on without it. I hadn't realized how much I had been relying on the night vision mode until I lost the camcorder. Suddenly being unable to see in the dark made me feel super vulnerable and was a great change of pace after I'd started to get comfortable with the enemies.

The story seems rather predictable for most of the game. An evil corporation experimenting on insane patients, something goes horribly wrong, maybe supernatural blah blah blah. There's more to it than that, but I won't spoil it. What makes the game interesting much of the way through are the few recurring characters you interact with - the priest, the doctor, the brute, and the hunters. Recurring villains are somewhat more effective when all you can do is run - the game never has to explain why you didn't shoot them, because you can't.

Probably what I like best is how Outlast deliberately misleads you. I don't want to say what or how because spoilers, but there will be points where you think you've got things figured out, but you really don't, and it all makes sense in the end.

Recommendation: play it.

Outlast is short enough that it doesn't quite outstay its welcome. The great opening and interesting ending are enough to earn a recommendation, even if the middle segment can get slightly repetitive. Stick with it, because Outlast deliberately misleads and manages to pull off some cool stuff at the end that you probably won't see coming.

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