Indie Game Spotlight: ‘Outlast’

“Outlast 2” will be released on April 25, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Red Barrels Studio)

Andrew Sciascia
Connector Staff

“Outlast” is the dark, horrifyingly gruesome and stress-inducing adventure that took the gaming world by storm with its stunning story and gritty design in September 2013.

With its long awaited, and seemingly unrelated, sequel just under a month away, now seems to be the perfect time to give it the one last moment in the spotlight it so rightly deserves.

Coming to PC in Fall 2013 and making spring and summer releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, “Outlast” not only revived roots of the survival-horror genre, but also turned the world of streaming on its head. Each and every streamer scrambled to buy their copy and record themselves and their horrified reactions. And for good reason.

In this brutal and intense experience, the player takes the reigns as Miles Upshur, a journalist who on a lead from a Murkoff Corporation whistleblower finds himself at Mount Massive Asylum, a mental hospital in the mountains of Colorado on a dark and stormy night. What could go wrong? Everything. Upshur finds himself biting off far more than he can chew at Mount Massive by traversing its dark and dangerous facilities, uncovering its disturbing secrets and, more importantly, avoiding the facilities’ unstable, abused patients the “Variants.” And avoid you will, because the unique gameplay style and mechanics do not allow for anything else.

This game takes a step away from past installments of the “Resident Evil” series, which established the survival horror genre and recently centered itself around action. It even stands at odds with the more recent “Resident Evil VII: Biohazard” which returned the series to its ammo-pinching survival-horror roots. “Outlast” provides the player with no mode of self-defense whatsoever. Miles enters mount massive equipped with a notebook and a portable camcorder. The main use of the camera is for Upshur to record his findings, but when equipped with batteries it is functional as a night-vision device as well. The player cannot be all too dependent on the night vision, however, as there are several moments in which Miles is separated from the camera and forced to traverse the depths of Mount Massive’s terrifying and dangerous interior in absolute darkness.

But, what can the player do to survive? Almost nothing. The player has the ability to crouch, hide under beds and in lockers and shut doors behind them. That is it. Miles Upshur is defenseless, and it is felt in every moment. Stealth is key, because when caught by his pursuers the chase is on and should he be caught the subsequent death sequences are bloody, and downright difficult to watch. In every way, Upshur’s inability to defend himself makes the game scarier and more tense. Every movement the player makes takes calculation and is typically done with breath held. The consequences of being caught and the sparse yet effective jump-scares are enough to make the most mentally strong player jump out of their seats screaming.

As the player progresses through the facility they are faced with a variety of different villains and directions that aid them in moving forward. The game is difficult and every enemy provides a different challenge in a different location.The player will constantly need to adapt to the circumstances and solve puzzles or retrieve important objects such as keys. As the story progresses through its countless thought provoking and surprising twists and turns, supplemental pieces of backstory are hidden in files. Finding these, despite being unnecessary, provides more depth to an already deep story arch. The tension inspiring core mechanics and gameplay style, mixed with a stellar story are all tied tightly together in one very important bow.

Presentation is another area where the game shines bright. “Outlast” could not deliver its gritty, tense vibe to the player without a stellar score and beautiful graphics and level design. Each location in the asylum is new and different. The dimly lit hall, crackling televisions and dilapidated, paint chipped walls or rusted metal bars on windows truly immerse the player in their hellish prison. The music is layered wonderfully over and provides an ominous and foreboding feel to the gritty backdrop. It enhances the emotional moments and brings the audience to the edge of its seat in the tenser moments.

The ending provides an unforeseen and well thought out sci-fi twist. And, though the story is relatively complete on its own, purchasing the “Whistleblower” DLC is highly recommended.
Adding several hours to the already deep and complex story, “Whistleblower” weaves in its own protagonist, Waylon Park, who initially tipped of Miles to the messed-up things occurring in the asylum.
This added piece to the story ties off all loose and runs tightly concurrent with the original campaign, despite that fact that Miles and Waylon always appear to be just steps ahead of or behind one another.
It is one of the few games in which a DLC addition is without a doubt worth the price, and it is truly worth it when you recognize you will be supporting independent developer Red Barrels.

With a sequel coming soon, a look back at the original is highly recommended. Red Barrel’s did a stupendous job with their fresh take on the survival horror genre; making a weak and cliché premise fresh, enthralling and hellishly terrifying. “Outlast” is a stunning indie game that’s not for the faint of heart.

Final Grade: A+

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