The horror genre in the video game industry, specifically survival horror, has been lackluster or nowhere to be found as of recent, particularly with many of the blockbuster franchises of this past console generation that were originally founded on horror now becoming action-oriented games or twitch shooters. For example, Dead Space 3 chose a different alternative from its previous entries of having the player stranded in space with nightmarish monsters lurking on your ship to instead having you fight them in the open daylight, arguably hindering the feeling of terror altogether. For Resident Evil 5, developer Capcom altogether removed the survival horror roots that made their franchise famous in exchange for a game that focused instead on action and bullets. A few years later, Capcom tried to insert some of those original survival-horror roots in Resident Evil 6, but ultimately was unsuccessful and critically panned.
Â Where survival horror has found prosperity in the gaming industry is through indie developers; small, lower-budget teams often overlooked by the general gaming crowd. However, gamers looking for traditional survival horror have now been turning their attention to indie games. The most infamous game, and also now regarded as one of the most terrifying games created in the past decade, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, developed by Frictional Games for the PC, has brought both revitalization and returning success to the struggling genre, with many developers of blockbuster franchises now looking into returning to their core basis of survival horror. However, with the newest indie horror game, indie developers are here to take charge.
Welcome to Outlast, the latest indie video game to embrace survival horror. Developed by Red Barrels for the PC and PlayStation 4, you play as Miles Upshur, an independent journalist investigating Mount Massive Asylum, a home for the mentally ill in the mountains of Colorado that has been running under complete secrecy. From an inside tip given to you expressing concern over rumored, controversial practices taking place at the asylum, you decide to see for yourself the operations taking place.
What you find in Outlast‘s 5-hour campaign is one of the most petrifying experiences a video game has ever offered. Remains of bodies are found everywhere, walls are painted in blood, and much of the asylum is in darkness. Though this is a commonality of many games in this genre, Outlast takes it to a new level of trepidation with visually stunning graphics, if not some of the best ever seen in a downloadable title, rivaling many of today’s big-budget franchises. However, Outlast is also dark. Without light, the asylum is impossible to venture. To find your way around, you are only armed with a night vision camcorder running on batteries. And they die fast. A key gameplay element to Outlast is constantly searching for batteries, as your camcorder conveniently devours them. Without your camcorder, you are vulnerable to the unseen. Literally. There is a tension found in Outlast rarely found anymore in modern horror games as you will constantly be rushing room to room to find new (and even used) batteries to use.
What else is devoured in Outlast? You, the player. Allow me to be blunt: Outlast is the most terrifying game I have personally played. Never have I played a game where I felt like taking breaks every half-hour because I found myself trembling. The ill patients of Mount Massive Asylum chase you, search for you, and it’s almost guaranteed they will find you no matter the circumstance. Most games in the past gave you an option to hide from enemies. In Outlast, this is a game where if an enemy finds you, you will be running and there is nothing you can do to fight back. Miles Upshur is not a fighter, and there are no weapons in the game. It’s a game where you’re required to be truly cunning; hiding under a bed or in an office locker isn’t going to always save you as the monsters can and will find you if any mistake on your part is made. Sometimes outrunning your chaser is the only option. Sometimes delving deeper into the darkness and unknown is your only option.
It is also this gameplay element that creates a problem later in the game. While the game is unpredictable, terrifying, and intense throughout the 5-hour nightmare, it also becomes somewhat repetitive in its own way. While an enemy’s appearance is always a surprise, what they do is not. They’re going to chase you and search for you. Yes, never is there a moment where you’re not under trepidation, whether it’s because of the brilliantly done atmosphere or the petrifying gameplay that gives you a feeling of helplessness, but expect to always be running. A lot. It doesn’t hold back the scares, but instead it becomes easier and easier near the end of the game to conjure your actions under fear, which you may also be thankful for. In Outlast, you will be screaming and jumping in your chair more than any game probably has before and it’s masterfully effective with a story unexpectedly darker than you would imagine, even for a game such as this. For gamers or individuals looking for a crippling, horrifying experience, Outlast will exceed your expectations: 5/5.