Written by sPINDRAFT
OK I just want to get this out of the way right off the top – Holy Shit!!
That’s the best explicitive I can give for a game that shatters every parameter of the true survival horror. This game is crude, disgusting, bold, explicit, visceral and extremely bloody and it does not consider for one single moment to ever deviate from this position. Outlast has jumped gut first into the madness of extreme torture and death and left it splattered all over just about every surface you encounter during your ill warranted episode of tresspassing into the dark wards of Mount Massive Asylum.
You are Miles Upshur, an independent journalist with a great inside lead on the disturbing things that rumor has taking place in this remote hospitol in the countryside of Colorado and you aim to expose the truth at all cost (you just don’t realise yet what this cost will entail). Before I go much further I would like to say that most of the more professional blogs and/or reviews I have skimmed through seem to be in agreement that this game stands in a place all by itself from the build, graphics, sounds, atmosphere, physical presentation and myriad other points that many independent releases can only dream of reaching (thats right, though made up of ex-members of Ubisoft and EA Montreal, Red Barrels is very much an Indie outfit).
On the other side of the coin are the forum runners, which I generally have mixed emotions about, who want to generally bash any new idea, etc. that comes along. This is a small group within the forum communities who say that the game is bad because it is too gory, it is repetitive, it has horrible scenes and so on and so forth. Everyone has a right to their opinion but as for me I do not want the same old polite setting and much applause is given to Red Barrels for not squashing their project in fear of offending someone. If you don’t like the movie change the channel – real simple (there are videos you can watch before you buy a game).
Now back to the fun and blood, ‘Outlast’ has got to be the bloodiest damn game to come along in recent memory and it’s not just a bunch of pinkish, red blotches painted on the walls and floors like a bad texture overlay, this stuff is for real.
I mean it looks sticky and dark like real blood, it sounds sticky when you walk through it (you even leave bloody boot prints), the left over body parts, like partial limbs, integrate nicely as if they were actually truly connected to whatever mass used to be where the pool of blood and gore now sits and the interanl organs are just plain disgusting (it caused physical cringing as if withdrawing from the deadly danger that they represented). Whatever was going on here that ultimately led to the misery that is splattered all over the place in the form of darkness, broken decor and shredded bodies is now your home because you have gotten yourself trapped and the only way out is to go deeper into the depths of the horror.
The graphic presentation in general, not just the blood and guts, is phenominal and this is an indie relesase (I have to keep reminding myself of this). From the moment you start up the game you are presented with an astonishing view that will lead to the only reponse appropriate for such a game – Holy Shit! – and since you havn’t even been inside yet you will have no idea how truly apt this remark is – it lives here as if it was one of the patients itself (or at least the spoken remnants of one of Mount Massive’s long dead ghosts).
There is such an attention given to graphic detail and presentation that I cannot definely describe it, it is truly amazing. I played the ‘Slender’ games not long ago and I remember having a similar response to the graphics upgrade in the second game ‘The Arrival’ which has a very intense and real prersentation but ‘Outlast’ has somehow found a way to surpass even that. ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’ was graphically well done but compared to ‘Outlast’ it has an almost cartoony feel to it. To date (at least when looking back on every horror game I have physically seen) this game transcends survival horror graphics, taking it to the level usually seen in the top tier RPG’s, Actions and Shooters, a truly amazing piece of work.
Now the die hards might argue that one of the things that makes indie survival horror great is the sometimes messy or blurry graphics, or even the downright cheap look, and this is not an unfounded argument but it is also nice to get a hold of something so vividly done that it does not just give the impression of fear it actually sucks you right inside its space and makes you experience its reality first hand, as if you are actually inside its virtual version of hell and it aims to drag you kicking and screaming through every evil torture it can dream up (or not breathing, the choice is yours).
Another frontal assault that ‘Outlast’ throws at you is its awesome twist on the run and hide scenario, I mean if this has not been taken completely to the next level than I am bound to say that you are doomed to play ‘The Eight Pages’ for the rest of your gaming life (all hope is lost). In Mount Massive you are not simply a third person observer of the world you find yourself walking in (which is what most games tend to feel like) you are actually made to feel like one of the physical residents of this place.
You walk among the remnants of the patients here never knowing who or what is going to change its opinion of your presence in their world and if one does jump you must physically deal with it until you either loose, get free and run away or it breaks loose and runs away; words here cannot acurately describe how utterly scary this position is.
There are some goons in this landscape who are pre-defined bad guys but you won’t figure this out until you meet them a couple of times and believe me it will only take twice to know that you want to avoid these creeps at all cost. Problem is the AI will chase you relentlessy, every time you think you have covered your trail or blocked them from following you they find another way around – pursuing you merclessly – and it is in this hell that you find the true greatness of the player interface. You can twist and push away from your attackers, trick them into rooms and slam the door on them (this only buys a small bit of time) push heavy items in front of doors, climb into and out of ductwork, jump over destroyed portions of the stairs and walkways, hide in lockers (if your quick), shimmy along ledges and I bring these up not because thay are necessarily new ideas but because of the way ‘Outlast’ is able to implement them in an intuitive way. You are actually living this drama in real time, making these split second decisions of life and death as if the suburban kingdom outside your window has just went ape-shit and your very life depended on it (and belive me it does).
The story that unfolds is told just as much from the people (and I use this term litely) you meet along the way, namely their physical and mental conditions, as it is from journals you find scattered around that reveal documents of the state of affairs at Murkoff Corporation from both sides of the equation (and someone has written an equation for this mess as well, you will see it in game).
On the one side you have the brilliantly damaged minds of those seeking to accomplish the goals of their research no matter the human or moral consequences and those that no longer believe that what is going on here is entirely right and just.
There is a religious undertone that begins to reveal itself as time goes along slowly setting itself up as a major player in the games direction but this seems to be a by-product of the story for much of your journey, it is some time before you actually begin to take a mental note of this (by the way – watch the clocks – you are perpetually stuck in the nine o’clock hour for much of the game; at the end you are converted to the four o’clock hour, not sure of the meaning or relevance here) .
On a deeper note ‘Outlast’ does derive some of its inspiration from historical reference, the most powerful being the fact that whatever the Murkoff Corpoartion was up to has its roots in ‘Operation Paperclip’, the OOS program initiated to spirit Nazi scientists out of Germany after WWII. Also the Walrider is of German folklore being one of the names given an Alp which attacks in peoples dreams. It will sit on the victims chest becoming heavier until the sleepers breathing becomes restricted and they awaken in terror.
The horror is very palpable in this demented game world that Red Barrels has created for our mental derailment and once again I applaud their tenacity for sticking with the gruesome even if it does bring some weight to bear from those who cannot stomach the death throws of minds too smart for the good of humanity.
My only hope is that with the amazing production levels of games like ‘Outlast’ we will not see the independent horror genre swallowed up by the big budget demons that have driven artistic creativity, outside the box (comfort zone) thinking and ideas that do not involve the endless parade of mind eating zombies (I am officially tired of the whole zombie apocolypse thing) into the nether shadows in favor of that thing called instant commercial success. This is an amazing time to be an indie horror game fan and Sept, 2013 will go down as one of the greatest release months in the history of the genre – with ‘Outlast’ leading the way. Long live the Indies.
HAG Score – 9.8