One of the best games that I have personally played over the past few years was the original Outlast. The lack of any expectations of the game may have had something to do with this as I went in a little bit blind to it – all I had to go on at the time was the creepy image that appears above on this blog post. So I took a chance on it, downloaded it from Playstation Store and by God, I am so glad I did.
I don’t mind admitting here that for the vast majority of my time playing Outlast that I was petrified! It made me jump (a lot!), it grossed me out (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever visited the prison part of the asylum and seen the inmate performing an ‘intimate’ act on himself over some corpses!) and it ingrained a persistent feeling of dread throughout the game as you never, ever knew just what was around the next corner or through the next door.
It’s worth saying at this point that I took quite a bit of a risk on this game as I didn’t know anything about it at all other than it was a survival horror game. For some reason I saw the artwork for it on the PS Store and immediately knew I had to have it – this could have had something to do with the perceived horror game resurgence at the time and not having the opportunity to play anything outside of the established Resident Evil series (more on that in another Blog Post!).
Now, when I describe Outlast as a Survival Horror game, this is meant in the purest sense of the term – at no point in this game do you ever possess a weapon! That’s right you heard right, there are no weapons whatsoever here, all you have is your trusty video camera with which you need to log everything and which also has a very handy night vision mode for stepping into completely darkened rooms or passageways. Unfortunately the night vision mode drains the battery of your camera (normal mode doesn’t drain them apparently – if only they made mobile phones this way!). For this reason, wherever you happen to be in the game, you need to scour environments for battery packs which all seems simple enough in theory but when the rooms are dark and you’re being chased by some kind of monster or lunatic they are very easy to miss. Bypass too many battery packs and you’ll be up the proverbial creek without a paddle as you won’t be able to see where you or, more importantly, who is chasing you!
Having no weapons at all to fend off enemies does, in my opinion, really ramp up the tension in Outlast, I found I was getting really tense whenever an enemy appeared on screen as you have to find somewhere to hide pretty sharpish or, in one particular encounter, creep silently around sets of shelves containing bed linen and towels while your enemy is creeping round the other side of said shelves looking for you. My heart would beat so fast in all of these types of encounters that there were times I was legitimately worried that my health was at risk by playing the game! Quite literally not for the faint hearted!
Taking this approach to weapons in the game really helps keep the tension right through until the very end of the game when you’re literally just running to the endpoint of the game as if it was your very own life that was on the line and not just your characters life.
The story element of the game is good too and it takes many twists and turns before you come to the particularly surprising ending. It does use the old video game stand by of collecting audio and video diaries to further the story but as I already mentioned, they do add up to a lot of twists and turns in the story so you actually don’t mind collecting them all to try and find out what happens next.
To me, Outlast must have been one of the surprise hits of 2014 as it has gained many favourable reviews from horror game fans and really refreshed the whole scene to me – it’s no surprise that we had titles like Alien Isolation where weapons were at a premium against an unkillable Xenomorph and even Resident Evil switched to first person view and left you without weapons for a portion of the game. It can be no surprise that Outlast has since become a staple of the horror game community and that it has now spawned DLC for the first game and also a full blown sequel with plans for a third game in the pipeline too. Once I have played through Outlast 2 then you can expect a feature about that one too…not that I love Outlast or anything you understand! Play it! Play it now!!