You know a game is far too frightening when you stop playing in the dark on your 42" LED TV and start playing via remote play on the PS Vita in order to dampen the impact. You can call me a wimp if you like, but considering the lack of a truly pant wetting title in the past few years, Outlast comes as something of a surprise.
I'm not really sure what it is about Outlast that got me the most. The fact that you can't defend yourself is pretty frightening, although it's not helped by the fact that the night light on your character's video camera adds a scary green tinge to an already creepy surrounding. Add in the ever present music which adds to the tension tenfold, as well as the fact that your character is in the middle of nowhere in what seems to be a mass murder scene and it all gets a bit tense really.
To take a step back a little, if your unfamiliar with the game, Outlast tells the story of Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist who receives a tip-off from an anonymous source about Mount Massive Asylum, a psychiatric hospital owned and operated by the Murkoff corporation. The game takes the guise of a first person shooter, although there are no guns or weapons of any sort, instead all you are armed with is a notebook and a camera with the aforementioned night light. This is what makes the game really, it's a very different experience in that, when you see a crazed inmate who wants to kill you, all you can do is hide and hope that he doesn't find you. This may not sound like much fun, but when hiding or running from a pursuer, you can't help but be pumped with adrenaline and fear. Outlast is certainly not a game for the faint of heart.
Once inside the Asylum you begin to realise that things aren't quite as they seem. It's very dark and there are is a lot of blood and bodies. Indeed one of your first encounters with a dead person is not a nice experience as you open the door to the library only to be met with a corpse hanging down from the celling on the other side. You can't help but jump out of your skin when these unexpected encounters happen, although they are nothing compared to the fear of hiding in a locker as the murderers search for you.
What I've really enjoyed about Outlast is the complete lack of control over the situation. Games usually empower you as a player. You're normally the one who can save your character by blasting the enemy into pieces with a near unlimited amount of weapons, however in Outlast you are incapable of combat, therefore all you can do is try to hide or escape, by climbing ledges, vaulting over obstacles or by crawling under beds. Even still, some enemies search the room, so if you're not hiding well enough you'll probably be caught and slaughtered. Brutal!
If there is one drawback to Outlast it's that sometimes the impact can be taken away. For instance, in one task you are asked to switch on some generators to turn the power back on. In my case I failed at this quite a few times due to being caught by the enemy. This was mainly because I found it difficult to run and escape before it caught up with me. After a few failed attempts at turning on the generators, I soon discovered that the fear of the enemy and the situation in general had turned more to frustration, therefore taking away some of the fear factor. It perhaps would have been nice if the developer had less of these more mundane tasks in order to eliminate any frustration and keep the fear factor flowing, other than that though, it's pretty hard to complain about the experience.
Presentation wise Outlast looks pretty great. The character design, especially of enemies does let it down a little, although the environments are well designed and the night-vision setting is a stunning addition, which really makes the game what it is. The sound is also fantastic, adding real tension to what is already a very frightening experience. As mentioned I had to switch to Vita to lessen the impact, which is quite sad really, but hey. On the plus side, remote play works absolutely fantastic as by putting some headphones on and sitting in a darkened room, Outlast on the Vita will frighten you just as much. It loses no impact whatsoever (well unless you play it during the day with the volume down like I eventually did).
Outlast does have some issues with repetition should you fail at the tasks, which in turn will take away from the experience a little, however don't let that put you off because if you like horror then this game is most definitely for you, especially given the fact that it's free on PlayStation Plus. Be aware that you might need an adult nappy if playing at night, but apart from that you are good to go.
Words by Joe Anderson.
@_wotta | PSN/Xbox LIVE: wotta
(Version Tested: PS4 with Vita Remote Play)
+ One of the scariest games of the last few years
+ Environments looks great
+ A very tense and atmospheric experience
- Occasionally repetitive
- Enemies look less impressive at close quarters