Recently, I’d begun to worry that my new, responsible adult lifestyle had stolen my ability to take joy in something as arbitrary as gaming. I sat unaffected after playing games such as Bioshock Infinite and Dishonored, which my friends all assured me were masterpieces and genuine contributions to the art form. The idea that my once cherished past time of being engrossed in the story, gameplay and environment of interactive digital media was weighing heavily on my mind. I was close to hanging up the gamepad and buying in to something more practical, like pilates. Well, I just finished my first play-through of Outlast, and pilates can go fuck itself.
Let’s get this out of the way before we bother ourselves with the particulars: Outlast is an indy game that is better than most any AAA game out right now. It is the cumulative efforts of true artists. “Is Outlast $60?” I hear you asking. No.. As of this article, it is selling for 19.99 on Steam, and that’s not even on sale, and they’re giving it away this month on the PS4. That sentence is preposterous. The fact that a small studio so Out-cLAST (I’m sorry) its big-name competitors is astounding and they deserve your money. Seriously, just buy it. Don’t bother with the rest of this tripe. Its not worth your time.
You’re staying? Okay. I guess I have to write more.
You play as the breathy yet non-vocal Alex Upshur. You’re a journalist and a little birdie has informed you about a shady mental institution called Mount Massive. Despite this sounding more like a dubstep club, Alex takes his notebook and his outdated camcorder to investigate. Almost immediately, and predictably, things turn a little hairy, as you discover the viscera and stench of dead bodies strewn throughout the entirety of the compound. Once you get a little further inside, you are greeted by the still breathing inhabitants of Massive, and things get dark.
The gameplay in Outlast is incredibly simple. You have no method of attack, and so your only avenues of avoiding danger are hiding and running like hell. The game seems to want you to use a gamepad, but I found very little problem using my mouse and keyboard set up to navigate the environment. In terms of movement, you’re given the standard walk/run/jump/crawl/climb, all of which are animated beautifully and actually contribute to the overall atmosphere of the game. Very few games do this well, and that is a shame, because Outlast proves that it can make you feel like you are inhabiting the body of the protagonist. When you see your bloody hand on the floor ahead of you, pulling you forward while crawling, or grasping the corner of a wall you’re looking around, you can almost feel it. Its all very tangible.
The second gameplay element is your camcorder, which records your action when equipped, and can also see into the dark using your infrared light. Dark is its own character in this game. It paints many of the environments in the game heavily. It is your best friend, because you’re the only one who can see in it throughout the adventure, allowing you to elude most of the NPC’s as long as you utilize it properly. The camcorder eats batteries, and you have to find them.. In the form of double A’s, I guess (which is the only thing that really removed me from the experience, if even for a moment). No worries though, as they are of little importance and you rarely think about them later in the game.
The graphics in the game aren’t the most polished in the industry, but they do their job beautifully for this application, if that job is scaring hot liquid stink from your nethers. Lighting is a fundamental piece of the landscape, and the combination of great ambient lighting along with your infrared camera attachment really sets you up to either succeed gloriously or end horrifyingly. While the game might not be stressing out higher-end gamestations, the artwork and character models are pretty outstanding. Red Barrels has a few really sick fucks on their staff, and they help make this game truly gut-wrenching visually.
The sounds are top-notch. Alex’s heavy breathing and muffled grunts are very unsettling when running away from an enemy. The floors creak eerily, doors are kicked in with a thick “crack,” and the voice acting is absolutely stellar, particularly from one NPC named “Dr. Rick Trager.” Even the sounds of batteries being slid into your camera are expertly done. This all just adds even more to the already heavy atmosphere.
The story is a very interesting one, albeit a bit ham-fisted towards the end. Regardless, it offers a good, solid reasoning and foundation for the goings-on in the asylum: the horrible medical experiments, the fall of leadership within the compound, and the state of overall decay is all handled with relatively little exposition, letting the player absorb the facts without having to pour over excessive documentation in-game (although there are several documents strewn throughout). The game is very linear, with few options to explore beyond the obvious boundaries given, but that doesn’t make a good chase feel any less improvised. The game leads you in many directions, but it rarely feels that way.
In the end, Outlast is a sum of its parts, and as a survival horror game, that sum is about as good as it gets. Its absolutely terrifying, and once you get your wits about you, an absolute blast to experience. I’ve not played a more immersive game in recent memory and it may be one of the most fulfilling gaming experiences in my lifetime. It is truly unique in its exceptionalism. This proves to a jaded industry that a simple, linear, relatively low-funded entry can be one of the best in terms of depth and enjoyability.Decree: Buy it. If you own a PC or PS4, you have no excuse. Game Rating: 9.5/10