At first glance, Outlast looks like another entry in the new school of survival horror, and for the most part it is. The complete inability of your avatar to defend themselves from the game’s monstrous entities leads to a far more stealth-based experience, a sort of “first-person hider” where you use any nook or cranny you can cram yourself into to avoid your inevitable death.
Your avatar in this case is Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist who gets an anonymous tip that something is afoot at Mount Massive Asylum, a mental hospital owned by the Murkoff Corporation. Upshur sneaks into the asylum, where he discovers that things are even worse than his tipster let on: the hospital’s staff has been slaughtered, and even the SWAT team sent in to clean up the situation has been mutilated and murdered. Upshur then has to try and get the hell out of the asylum, avoiding the Variants that stalk the hallways of the asylum.
Where Outlast sets itself apart is in the kinetic value: while a lot of the game is spent gingerly stalking around the asylum avoiding the Variants, there are times that you have no choice but to run like hell, vaulting over obstacles and sprinting away from the disfigured denizens of the hospital. It makes for a very different sense of survival than its counterparts on the market, forgoing a complete slow-burn experience for one that feels a lot scarier in the jumpy sense.
The other, truly grueling aspect comes from the use of your in-game camcorder and its night vision capabilities. The self-mutilated Variants are horrifying enough in the light, but seeing them in a sickly green hue with glowing eyes makes them almost completely inhuman monsters. This leads to a balancing act for the player, trying to find batteries for their ever-draining camcorder (a device that oh-so conveniently uses standard AAs) and keeping themselves abreast of their foes.
The Unreal engine powered visuals are beyond gorgeous, leveraging the horsepower of the Playstation 4 to make a believable, beautiful environment—at least as beautiful as a blood-soaked mental hospital can be. There winds up being some redundancy on the character models, but the overall audiovisual experience is near-perfect, much like the PC iteration of the title that was released last fall.
If there’s one complaint about the game, it’s the strange reliance on some stale videogame logic to extend the gameplay. The first major puzzle in the game, restarting a generator, requires the player to start up two separate fuel pumps that are kept as far apart as possible in the hospital’s basement. It serves no purpose other than to keep the player in the dank cellar as long as possible, and while it offers some genuine tension, it still feels a little forced. However, this is a game about supernatural goings-on (well, kinda supernatural) at an insane asylum, so reality really isn’t a primary concern.
What developer Red Barrels has achieved with Outlast is a truly remarkable thing. They’ve taken the defenseless survival horror subgenre, which can trace its roots all the way back to Clock Tower, and made it something far more frantic than any of its counterparts can claim.