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Outlast is a terrifying game. It revels in filth and gore, and does everything in its power to make the player feel powerless and uncomfortable. And it does so masterfully.
Players take control of Miles Upshur, a journalist who will take on any big story, no matter how dangerous it could be. Miles quickly gets in over his head investigating the mysterious Mount Massive Asylum, and the only way to escape is to move forward.
The asylum is filled with dead bodies, brain dead husks, giant men who will chase you down, and other characters who torment you throughout the entire game. Each one of them is modeled with gruesome detail. The asylum itself looks amazing, and the work first time developers Red Barrels put into making the entire world seem real is awe inspiring.
The only tool Miles has is his video camera. Batteries must be collected throughout the game to use the night-vision, as its the only way to see in the dark, they are critically important to find. Without using battery power, you can continue to use the camera, which allows Miles to write down notes that add flavor to his side of the story.
Outlast uses a found footage aesthetic to create a sense of claustrophobia and pure terror. I thought it would distract from the scares to be directly controlling the video camera, but the actual result is much better: the camera gives you a sense of tunnel vision, letting the horrifying enemies creep up on you with ease.
There is no combat in Outlast as Miles can only run or hide, so he’s never safe, and he never has any power over anything in the game. The atmosphere comes together to make your anxiety relentless.
Outlast would not be half as terrifying without some of the best audio design I have ever experienced. The music is eerie and minimalistic, and ratchets up the tension, and then defies expectations. The sound effects are fantastic as well. As is the staple in Found Footage Movies, Miles can always be heard breathing fearfully behind the camera, and every movement rings clearly in the mostly silent halls of Mount Massive Asylum.
Unfortunately, the biggest misstep Outlast makes is in its story. Miles gets trapped in the asylum and tries to get out. There are evil things inside naturally, and a greater conspiracy of course, but the game never rises above telling the most rote and cliche-ridden story possible. There are documents to find, and they go a long way to coloring in the backstory of Mount Massive, but the game never presents a reason in it’s narrative to keep playing. The only reason to push on is the thrill.
Outlast is not for the feint of heart. The game is completely overwhelming with its terror, and you will be hard pressed to find a scarier game on any platform, but if you want a game that transcends the horror genre, then Outlast may not be for you. There are no compromises in the PS4 version, and as a game included with Playstation Plus, the only reason not to at least try it out is being too scared.