In honor of the recently released Outlast 2 (April 25th, 2017), I decided it was time to put on my big boy boots and sit through the first of the critically acclaimed horror series before actually buying the “Delayed Masterpiece” – that is, the new installment in the series. It did not end well for me. I’ll admit, I’m a big guy (I can be scared too) and sometimes even a simple jump scare can make me yell out like a child that’s burned their hand on an oven. But, Outlast put the fear in me. And, it dug it in deeper than a surgeon’s scalpel with no anesthetic.
Outlast was originally released exclusively to PC, meaning it’s been out for quite some time, and I’ve entirely avoided it for a single, terrifying reason: you have no option to fight. For me, my favorite thing about horror is the will to carry on. A desperate struggle against insurmountable odds. If I can die fighting in a game, I’ll be happy with dying because at least I gave it my best. You do not have that option here. Outlast gives players the role of Miles Upshur, a freelance reporter who takes on cases nobody else will touch. And let me tell you, this was probably a case he should have avoided entirely. From the get go, before the game even starts, you are informed that Miles is not a fighter. He’s a small – assumingly timid – and quiet man with nothing but an infra-red nightvision camera to capture evidence, motivated from a “whistleblower” e-mail that simply tells him something is horribly wrong at Mount Massive Asylum. The controls introduced to the player within the first 30 seconds are as simple as any game: Your analog sticks walk and look. You have a single interaction button for opening doors and grabbing items like files and batteries. You can run, jump and also vault waist high objects from stairs to tables. Since Miles is not a fighter, he makes up for his inability with the grace to run as an olympian. Furthermore, you are much quicker than enemies and smaller than them, allowing you to hide in small, yet horror-generic, hiding spots such as lockers, underneath beds and under desks.
The game starts with a nice but creepy drive up a winding, brush-lined dirt road. You know it’s going to be bad when you see the massive stone slab that says “MOUNT MASSIVE ASYLUM” in shining bronze letters. As you and your eyes are treated to a taste of how well and realistic the graphics are, your car pulls up to a security checkpoint. Of course, when you pull up to the security gates, nobody greets you. The security booth is darkened and empty. That in itself is a bad idea, but you are given free reign after seeing that no security guards are coming to pester you and turn you back down the road. You make your way in (illegally) through an open window, and as soon as you enter Mount Massive Asylum, Hell swallows you.
Mental illness can be a terrifying thing, but Outlast overtly implies that people can be even more deranged in their actions rather than their thoughts. The walls are sprayed with blood and darkened ichor. Limbs lay scattered on shelves and displayed like trophies. Lights are in disrepair, always flickering, or burning out entirely and doors are locked, or barricaded, with hushed, terrified whispers of patients just trying to survive on the other side. The entire building is drenched in pitch black darkness, forcing you to use what precious battery life you have in your camera in order to see through the night vision lense. As far as item management goes in the game, which is oftentimes a staple to horror games, there really is none except for watching your battery drain and hoping you have enough batteries. The fear of being without sight as danger breathes down your neck is something I never want to experience again.
Players are introduced to simple horror game aspects very early in. Find the Key Card, open the door and continue forward. Turn on the generators, open the door, continue forward. Every once in a while, something happens between tasks that either introduce you to your next objective or bring you to another portion of the Asylum, sometimes introducing a new threat or hopefully an ally. Simple concepts, with even simpler controls, but the terrifying encounters coupled with your inability to strike back, and only being allowed to run or hide make it even more tense. The enemies are varied, too, and well written. I can’t think of anything scarier than the idea of someone overpowering you and forcing their sick, twisted sexual fantasies on you. I’m absolutely sure a pair of sadistic brothers are going to haunt me in my nightmares tonight. Additionally, patients can be seen wandering the halls, all screaming about the insanity of a certain “Doctor” who kills and mutilates for his own pleasure. You can, however, encounter living patients in safe rooms who pose no threat to you at all. These moments give you some relief and take away the stress of the minute, but it all comes rushing back once you see that they have been surgically disfigured or that they tend to stare at people who aren’t there, muttering quietly to themselves about insignificant things.
Outlast is Stealth-Horror to the max. You’re constantly pitted against insta-kill basket cases and the darkness is your best friend along with the worst enemy. My final thoughts in regards to the well crafted indie horror are two simple words: “RUN AWAY.” As a seasoned horror veteran, it pains me to say that when my 30 minutes were done, I was actually glad to turn the game off because then I was truly safe from the vacuum of fear and anxiety that was Outlast, only to find myself wanting to be locked back in the doors of a fantastically crafted fear party.