OSW Review | Outlast


So, the horror genre has had a terrible few years. Resident Evil has turned into a western action game, Silent Hill is making a comeback but has been missing for years & Dead Space becomes less frightening with each instalment. Indie developers have rejuvenated lots of genres recently. Can Red Barrels do the same for survival horror?

Developer: Red Barrels (2014)
Console: PS4
Reviewed by V1

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You are Miles Upshur, investigative journalist. After receiving an anonymous tip from a psychiatric hospital employee containing information about inhumane experiments performed on patients. Miles heads to Colorado to investigate these allegations & find out exactly what the Murkoff Corporation (hospital owners) have been doing to the patients of Mount Massive Asylum. Miles must enter the asylum & use his camera to capture evidence of these alleged inhumane experiments, & bring those behind the conspiracies to justice.

Outlast has a very basic plot. There’s not much backstory, or main story if I’m being honest. You’re basically told that shit is going down in an asylum, come film it to expose those behind everything. I’m usually a sucker for story in games (much to OOC’S chagrin lol), but I think the decision to keep story to a minimum actually helps Outlast. Heading into Mount Massive, not knowing if I was going to have to deal with crazy inmates, ghosts or mutilated monsters was genuinely frightening. The opening hour or so is among the scariest I’ve played in any game (except for Project Zero on PS2. That game scared the shit out of me). There’s a serious sense of dread that I believe would be diminished if the plot was more fleshed out.

The rest of the story is told through intel files picked up & the odd exposition dump from inmates. You can also record events throughout the game & Miles will write his thoughts on what he has just seen. These are a good way of filling in the blanks without ruining scares or surprises. However, the story becomes increasingly bizarre & supernatural as the game progresses. I thought it was downright silly by the end, although the final moments are pretty cool.

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Outlast is a great looking indie title, but it just can’t compare to the big AAA titles. It features some absolutely gorgeous environments, as gorgeous as a run-down asylum can get, as well as some fantastic textures. For a game set in one place, they have a lot of variety throughout the game. You’ll get to see living quarters, visitor area, gardens, sewers, churches, hospital wards & of course, the obligatory horror game underground laboratory. Outlast also has some great lighting physics. Swinging lights, torches, fires & TV screens all cast ominous shadows that play with your mind & create a real fear, especially early on in the game. I also have to say that Outlast has great looking blood & you leave bloody footprints after walking through a puddle. It’s a small touch but it really adds to the immersion.

This game is viewed completely from a first person perspective. It never pulls the camera back & breaks immersion & there are no pre-rendered cut scenes. There are some brilliant little touches that deserve praise, such as being able to see your body when you look down, or the convincing head bob while walking or running. Miles will also place his hands on walls or doors when peeking around corners. It’s not game changing stuff, but it’s really cool nonetheless. I also love the grainy filter the camera adds. I didn’t want to miss any story points, so I had my camera out throughout the entire game. I think the grainy screen definitely added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately it’s not all good news in the looks department.

While environments are beautiful, character models don’t hold up quite as well. They look fine from a distance, but under closer inspection everything falls apart. Bad design, ugly textures & repetitive character models all look straight out of a PS2 game, & it’s just not good enough for a PS4 title (also get ready for Dr. Manhattan levels of swinging dick during the game). Outlasts sound track is also very disappointing. It’s creepy & sometimes can add to the atmosphere, but it’s pretty bland & boring for the most part. Lots of wailing & violin strings that are not memorable at all. I think this game would’ve been just as terrifying if there was no music at all. To top it off, voice acting is cheesy & downright bad in some cases (the poor script doesn’t help much).

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Outlast is a first-person survival horror game. The aim of the game is to make it through Mount Massive Asylum, solve some fairly average puzzles, record as many events as possible & collect intel scattered throughout the grounds. It’s a fairly linear affair, although there is some backtracking between objectives. Controls are very smooth & responsive. I had no issues during my playthrough & was actually impressed with how my character moved. I find most horror games have clunky, awkward controls, but Outlast feels fast paced & responsive. The ability to look over your shoulder while sprinting is very cool, & is particularly terrifying during chase scenes. There’s always the temptation to looks behind you to see where the enemy is, but at the expense of seeing where you’re going.

There are no weapons or combat mechanics in Outlast. Your only “weapon” is your camera (more Project Zero flashbacks!) & you can use it at any moment with the touch of a button. With your camera equipped you can zoom in or out, or use infra red mode. IR mode helps you see in the dark, but it also drains your battery quickly. There are plenty of batteries hidden throughout Mount Massive, but you have to explore to find them. This added balance of using IR to explore darker areas hoping to find more batteries adds another layer of tension to an already frightening game. However if you’re frugal with battery use you can quickly build up lots of spares, which kills some of the tension.

The beginning of Outlast is absolutely terrifying! It feels so fresh & new compared to other horror games. Unfortunately, it’s not long before Machine Games run out of ideas & resort to some of the most clichéd gameplay mechanics out there. Hey, collect the keys to this locked door or flip this switch to put power back on. Or how about finding three valves (Half Life 3 confirmed!) to open this door. It’s such a shame, this game could’ve been absolutely brilliant if they could’ve fleshed out their vision a bit more. However, the majority of the game play is spent running & hiding from deranged inmates, crazy doctors & ghosts, all whilst doing the above. Each chase scenario plays out the exact same & there are no deviations from the formula set in the opening of the game. Being repetitive doesn’t ruin Outlast, it just keeps it from being a great game.

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Good Points:
• Genuinely scary
• Great looking environments
• Immersive use of first person
• Lack of weapons
• Cool camera gimmicks

Bad Points:
• Scares don’t last
• Gamey objectives
• Terrible character models
• Poor voice acting
• Crap final hour

Overall: Outlast is part brilliant, part meh. After a terrifying opening hour or so, it eventually loses its tense atmosphere, becomes repetitive & filled with generic objectives. But those opening sections are incredibly memorable. Outlast is a great looking indie title, & at only 15quid, is definitely worth a try. 7/10

7-10 stars


Release Date
October 9, 2014