The Inmates are Running the Asylum
Somebody call the Surgeon General, I think Outlast needs his official warning label. “This game may cause heart attack, palpatations, stroke, uncontrollable crying, and possible loss of bowel control. Play at your own risk.” Yes, it’s that scary. Not because of the insane gore and graphic depictions of human decay (which are most certainly present), but because Outlast masterfully preys on primal fears that we all possess as human beings. Our hard-wired fears of darkness, the unknown, being chased and feeling trapped to name a few things Outlast uses to scare the pants off of you.
This approach to the horror genre is fresh and breathes new life into the corpse of horror gaming. As freelance journalist Miles Upshur, you find yourself in the middle of a corporate-owned insane asylum, following an anonymous tip from a former employee that witnessed unspeakable horrors within its walls. But nothing can prepare you for what you find. From the first moments of the game, you are treated to nail-biting sequences that set the tone perfectly for the scarefest to follow. Sure, here and there Outlast employs some cheap scare tactics that will only work on you once, but they work so well it is worth it, at least for the first time. You will see them coming from a mile away in subsequent playthroughs, but it leads you to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into carving the experience. It’s kind of like watching your favorite scary movie, you know what’s going to happen, but you watch it anyway because you love it. You may find yourself introducing others to Outlast (as I did), just for the sheer joy of watching them play the game for the first time. It’s both hilarious and immensely gratifying.
Though the “cheap scares” may wear off, one thing never does–being chased. You never know where they’re coming from. It’s dark and all you’ve got is your trusty camera. This game mechanic functions so incredibly well it’s hard to describe. The disorientation you feel as you run from a literal monster in the dark, bumping into walls, desperately looking for an exit, all through the night vision lens of your camcorder, just works – every time. You can’t fight, so running and hiding are your only weapons. You may escape an assailant and think you are safe under a bed, or in a locker, only to have them find you and bust down the door. These make for some terrifying sequences as you watch from the relative safety of your hiding spot, wondering if they will find you. And if they do find you, you better run, because your carefully selected hiding spot doesn’t mean a damn thing to them. They are out for blood–your blood.
However, there are a few things that didn’t seem to fit into the overall mold of the game. For instance, it would seem obvious that any attacker would be able to spot you from a mile away from the lights on your camera, especially one with a screen showing you a night vision image. Also, what kind of person doesn’t have a cell phone, especially in this day and age? I mean, this guy is a journalist, so you would think that his phone would be surgically implanted to his hand or something, but oddly it is completely absent. If it were me, the second I got inside that place and looked at the state of it I would be on the phone (which I would not forget) with my editor–“Hey, listen. Umm, this place is messed up man and I don’t wanna die today, so you’re gonna have to find somebody else to do this story…” And with that I would disappear like a fart in the wind. But, maybe that’s just me.
Other than those minor complaints, the game functions remarkably well. The control scheme is simple enough, following most FPS conventions. The camera and night vision functions are set to a toggle, so they are either switched on and off during play when you need them. Though, you do have to manage your battery life and scavenge for more batteries to keep your camera active, so be careful not to use it in places it isn’t needed.
The darkness of the game is part of visual appeal, as well as part of its visual issues. Though the character models and environments aren’t going to be winning any awards for graphical prowess any time soon, they do their job well enough. The darkness of Outlast hides a lot of visual shortcomings and adds to the macabre setting, but most importantly it keeps you engaged in the gameplay instead of staring at pretty visuals.
But, if there is a place that Outlast excels above all others, it is sound design. The pitch perfect soundscape suits the game so completely I can’t really think of any way to improve it. The asylum is littered with noises in the distance, attackers banging on doors are loud and intense, and the uneven breath of Miles Upshur as he gets the bejeezus scared out of him overpowers other sounds adding to the intensity. Couple that with perfectly timed orchestral score that accentuates anything that happens in the environment and scales with the action as it progresses and you have painstakingly realized world created through sound.
Is Outlast the best looking game for the PS4? Certainly not. But it more than makes up for it in quality and gameplay, and with a free price tag for PlayStation Plus members, this game must be experienced by anyone who even has a passing interest in the horror genre. So, suck it up buttercup, and get ready to pee on yourself a little. Just a little. It’s okay, that’s what they make washers for, right?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Visuals aren’t groundbreaking. But they aren’t bad either. 4.5 Control
Control scheme keeps it simple with basic FPS movement and environment interaction. The scheme works very well on a console controller. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Ambient sounds in the distance, perfectly timed orchestral crescendos that match up with on-screen action, and the rest of the creepy soundscape are pitch perfect. 4.5 Play Value
Replayability is affected some once you know some of the scares are coming on a second playthrough, but getting chased never gets old, and playing Outlast for the first time is a must-have experience. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best