Well, I happened to pick up a new toy at the toy shop during Steam’s pre-Christmas blowout sale. A survival horror first person title by the name of Outlast that was at the right price for me to try. Though I was very close to actually giving up on the title before sitting down once more and finally beating it after writing a section of a Partway Review. So it’s time for me to call a game people like a game I do not like and explain why in a somewhat disjointed analysis of what I found to be lacking in the final product. With research papers being the scapegoat for my quality or lack thereof.
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
When constructing a narrative over the length of time it takes to make a polished game that makes use of modern hardware, it can be fairly easy to think through it more than you actually need to. Outlast sends you into the eyeball of a head of Miles Upshur, a journalist who is sent to figure out what’s up with a mysterious mansion, but naturally ends up getting caught into things bigger than he ever thought, namely things that are not quite zombies or mutants, but may as well be. Yet, Outlast makes use of the narrative constructed from bits of text mindset, and in turn makes the story more winding than the one sentence description I gave, though in the Indigo Prophecy way. With the final hours or so of story being something that made me tilt my head, though it was very likely I was just not paying attention to the sporadic dialog from a priest who I believe to be the cause of many a lobotomy.
Oh, but story is only somewhat important to being a scary game, with the atmosphere being the foremost factor, as I sure as heck don’t remember anything that happened in Amnesia’s plot, and I played it only a few months ago. Sadly, the reason why I chose to cease my playthrough before grudgingly giving the game another shot was largely due to these factors, or rather the lack thereof. Outlast is a very dark game, or rather a very black game. With entire areas lit pitch black, requiring the use of a video camera to see much of anything, albeit in low quality green and black night vision with a very short battery life to worry about. The later mechanic is actually rather interesting, but much like Metro 2033, where I was dashing about a wasteland with my gas mask off the majority of the time, it may as well have just periodically gone black and save me the trouble of mashing RB.
Even then, the fact that you can still barely see what is, at most fifteen feet in front of you does not help with the navigation through this asylum anymore than the amount of clutter around in it, resulting in me being more bored than anything in my escapade. Not that there was much to be afraid of aside from loud noises, probably due to how once an enemy kills you three or so times, death loses its ompf. With men made up of stitched together skin, and occasionally baring the wackiest penises I’ve ever seen, acting as a lingering threat that must be avoided at the cost of needing to replay a section. Only posing challenges in how hard it can be to figure out just where the blazes they are and how their vision works with the darkness.
So it is essentially a survival horror where I lost much desire to survive the threats, helped by regenerating health and the only lasting stat being the number of batteries in Miles’ pocket. While in terms of horror, the halls near the end of the game are decked with blood and bodies and my only reaction was internal debates as to why I felt apathy. A particularly amazing feat when so much could be done with a single corpse in terms of horror. Hell, due to the lack of detail provided on Miles’ part, I saw no reason to feel an emotion as he got parts of himself chopped off, as he is only given character through about five paragraphs of notes and a paragraph explaining why he’s in the madhouse.
Though, one can argue that to be a problem with horror in games. It is requiring on people to feel scared of a scenario that they fully control and manipulate, especially when they are fully aware of their surroundings, and are more frustrated by how they must do an activity again because they couldn’t parkour away from a muscle-man. Said system is actually rather minimal in its implementation. All it amounts to is hiding in either lockers or under beds, going through small areas, and vaulting over waist high walls. Beyond that, the most involved thing is opening doors or flipping a valve, because puzzles are a necessity if all you have is suspense.
The sequences are certainly well animated considering the first person viewpoint. Though when looking at enemies not properly place their feet on the floor in their not too keen looking walk cycle, or down at Miles’ static body when he is supposedly at 180 heartbeats per minutes, the illusion is certainly cracked. Not that any sense of believability is kept in terms of narrative, as the final section of the game that I won’t flat out spoil out of some sort of code I don’t want to break, but results in a secret underground government ice base.
If I had to describe Outlast in a single image, it would be a very dark and hard to see graph depicting a slope of negative two. With enjoyability located on the Y axis and time on the X axis. As the scares, direction, and even destination all grew more obscured as time went on. It is a game where I was constantly lost, and could barely see anything while hoping to avoid a threat that instead of being even remotely intimidating, was annoying at best. Tied in with an uninteresting environment, and I’m not sure what all the hubbub about this title was even suppose to be, as the game is one I was happy to beat because it meant I could go play something else. Or in other words, it outlasted its welcome. Hardy har har.
The title is on the pitiable side of things, as it is where the starting intentions, whatever they may have been, have apparently gone very wrong over the course of development. Resulting in a game that, if it could emote, would be sad.