Indie Quickie: Outlast

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? Brave the halls of the Mount Massive Asylum for the mentally insane in this terrifying first-person survival horror adventure. If you dare.

Who made it and where can you get it? Red Barrels, a team of developers with past experience working on hit franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, Uncharted and Prince of Persia, are the creative madmen behind Outlast. The game is available now on PC through Steam, GoG.com, Gamersgate, and directly from Red Barrels. Normally it sells for $19.99, but in celebration of Halloween it has been discounted by 33% for a limited time.

How much did we play?  Played the game in short, incredibly intense sessions for a few hours.

Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? The game is best suited for a 64-bit OS. Several friends of mine running 32-bit Windows 7 have run into issues. I am running a lower end Nvidia 640 GT and had no issues with frame rate, but for as detailed and gorgeously gory the game is, I can’t imagine it running on older video cards without having some issues.

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Why should you play it?

    • House of Horror: When I was in college I ran a haunted house in my dorm. It was easily a three week endeavor to get rooms planned, materials collected, and construction done, and then spend four or five long nights scaring the shit out of anyone who was willing to stand in line and give us money. We used to sell hot chocolate in the hopes that anyone who had waited long enough would be so scared they would wet their pants. Flash forward sixteen years later and I now sit at my computer afraid I’m going to have a damn heart attack playing a video game. Not just any video game. Nope. Outlast from Red Barrels. Running a haunted house is one thing. You get to know all of the nooks and crevices to hide in and jump out at the unsuspecting customers. Playing in Outlast, you basically are the customer: A reporter without a cellphone, armed only with a camcorder that has a nifty night vision attachment. No knife, no gun, nothing whatsoever to defend himself with. When you visit a haunted house, there are always signs posted that no one is allowed to touch you. Clearly the delusional patients at Mount Massive Asylum have never heard of this rule because the ones who are semi lucid all have sharp metal pointy things and want to kill whoever seems saner than them. Jump scares are one thing, but it is the constant threat of one particular patient, Chris Walker, who stalks with an unrelenting pace and will effortlessly rip off your arm or head if caught. Taunting “little pig” and other strangely calm, yet darkly determined missives of death, Mr. Walker is an example of the experiments performed at Mount Massive gone a bit too well. So well in fact that he is basically one of the reasons the facility is in such a state of disarray, killing anything and everything that tries to put him down. The scares come flying at an unrelenting pace, perhaps too much so far some players to handle. Mix in the fact that the night vision only works if you have batteries for the camera and there is an added fear of running out of power and thus having to stumble through rooms completely in the dark.

    • The Video Camera is Your Friend: Arriving at Mount Massive Asylum, based on an email from an IT security consultant advising that questionable scientific practices are being conducted, the game starts with the premise that you will snoop around, record said questionable practices, and then leave. Except that once inside there is no quick and easy way back out. The only way out is to go ever deeper into the depravity, decay and lack of upkeep or maintenance in a facility that treats mental patients as guinea pigs. Notebooks can be found in various rooms and they help to flesh out the events that have led the facility into such a state of disarray. While walking through the facility, the camcorder needs to be on almost at all times because the lighting (or lack of it) requires the use of the night vision in order to see where to go. Whenever the camcorder happens to capture a particular noteworthy moment, additional notes are made to help gain the perspective and insight of the reporter you are playing as. One of my favorite notes made by the reporter goes as follows: “Fuck this place. Seriously, just fuck this place. Dying keeps moving lower on the list of the worst things that could happen to me here.” The only downside here is that too much of the overall story is told in notebooks that are easily overlooked in a panicked run trying to stay alive and get away from the deadly inmates. The story has a lot of potential, but a lot of the minor details that help flesh out the finer points can easily be overlooked.

    • Audiovisual Nightmare: This game is gross in the extreme, but even with all the gore the game engine produces some truly gorgeous visuals. Lighting fills the rooms in such a way to completely immerse you in the experience of being stuck in a decrepit mental hospital. Walking through the early section of the game, it is clear that something bad has gone down. Doors are boarded up. Walls are covered in blood. Some patients stare blankly at static-filled TV screens. Other patients have scars running across their entire body, or worse—missing limbs or skin, or both. But the sheer quantity and imagery of such gore isn’t what makes the game truly scary. Outlast excels at scaring you with what isn’t seen. Even with night vision enabled (which sadly does seem overused to the point of sometimes obscuring the game’s richly detailed graphics), the darkened hallways, sewer pathways and expansive mental wards are a vacuum of light and vision. Adding to the scares is an extremely active audio mix. Jump scares always play out with a jolting, screeching blast of audio. At any point when one of the nasty killer patients begins to chase, the heart pounding music ramps up to a degree that is almost deafening. What pushes the sound mix over the top is the guttural noises, labored breathing and absolute panic that blubbers from the reporter you control. I could almost play the game without being scared (or at least not on edge to the point where I question my own health) if I could just turn down the sound. But that would defeat the whole purpose. Plus, there are plenty of auditory cues to help identify when something big and nasty is ready to smash your face in, or rip off your arm.

Parting Thoughts: Outlast is a damn scary game, so much so that I seriously can only play it in short sessions. At the same time, the game feels almost like a one trick pony that sometimes tries to show the same trick from three too many angles. The checkpoint system could be better as well. Checkpoints are used throughout the game, but only at moments that are almost gate-like in nature, meaning anytime you pass through an area where you cannot get back, a checkpoint saves your progress. The problem with this is the fact that progress in certain areas requires sometimes three or more steps to complete a puzzle, but if death occurs before the final part is solved, the checkpoint starts you back prior to any of the previous steps were completed. Running through darkened hallways being chased by hulking, lumbering death is only fun the first or second try. Having to re-face a horrible nightmare AND complete two, three, or four steps in order to move on is not. Outlast is definitely not for everyone, but there is no denying that it is a highly polished sick and twisted horror game.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.