So I know this is something aside from my planned list of NFNC posts, but after playing this game last night I felt it necessary to write up a post.
The game in question is of course:
As per usual, this will not be a structured review (unlike my Star Trek: Attack Wing review), instead I will focus on just the game, my thoughts, feelings and findings etc.
So what is Outlast?
Outlast is a Survival Horror game by Red Barrels released back in September 2013 on PC and due for a release in early 2014 on PS4.
One thing that a lot of people will undoubtably think when they see this game is that it is inspired by the game Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and while the similarities are there and the game itself was released just days before Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, I find comparing the two does not do this game justice.
It is true, this game definitely is a game of it's time, or as I've come to see it, Gaming's "Post Amnesia" Period (more on this in my future post "Oh shit! Oh Shit! OH SHIT!!") in that it is a game that the reaction of the players is often as interesting if not more than the game itself (just check out Tobuscus' videos of him playing Slender, Amnesia, Dead Space and Outlast), but again, do not let that fact cheapen the game itself.
The reason these videos are so popular, and why they provoke such extreme reactions from the players are because they are such good mediums for extracting the fear from the players.
Now in order to scare you every game needs tactics and methods to do so, Outlast does this with a combined mix of graphics, setting and audio.
First and foremost we have the setting; an old abandoned Asylum where you as an investigative journalist must break in, get the footage of the atrocities within (with the use of your trusty hand held camera of course) and get out in one piece.
Obviously things do not go to plan, within minutes you are getting the info you need to shut the place down forever, but escaping quickly becomes a problem.
While this setting may seem to many to be tired and old, Outlast realises it beautifully, and at no stage of my current play through have I ever felt like it was disingenuous, quite the opposite in fact.
Then we have the graphics. Then you see them, the graphics are of a high quality, and it's a pleasure to look around the place. That said the game all to often plunges you into pitch black darkness forcing you to either stumble around in the dark, or more suitably using your night vision mode on the camera which as you can see from the above pictures gives a scarily realistic view of the world.
While using night vision, a suitably normal asylum (complete with severed heads and rotting bodies) becomes a truly noghtmarish vision of green. The inmates come complete with glowing white eyes and the dust billows around like disgruntled spirits, truly it is a sight to behold and makes the experience feel all the more authentic.
Of course the night vision has a drawback. Use it in light and your vision is blinded by white light, and it is the sole cause of battery drain for your camera (on that note, using the camera normally to record doesn't use any battery power! I need to get one of these cameras!) and so this makes finding batteries in the asylum almost as important as escaping the site in the first place.
It also introduces one of the scariest situations I have ever experienced in a game: the battery change!
As Murphy's law dictates, it is only when you are surrounded on all sides by pitch black, your torso waist deep in foul sludge and the sounds of 'something' moving in the not-too-far distance that your batteries run out, and changing the batteries requires the moving of the camera away from your vision forcing you to stare out into the darkness ahead while you quickly swap out old for new before returning the camera to your eyes.
It is that moment, when the world goes from absolute darkness, to the green glow that my heart stops without fail as I expect there to be leering back at me the mutilated face of an asylum inmate.
Of course this has never happened, and I will not be surprised if it never will, but it is the anticipation and expectation which is what causes the fear.
Don't get me wrong, this game is the equivalent of torture porn, or I suppose in this case fear-porn. For those of a sane mind it is not a pleasurable experience, and when played properly the very thought of sitting down at my desk, placing my headphones over my ears and exploring the asylum is enough to give my throat a lump as the dread begins to mount
But despite all the dread, the anxiety, the outright terror you experience while playing this game, it is still a thing of beauty.
This game was designed to reach into your chest, pull out your heart and laugh at you as you slowly die in front of your terminal - metaphorically speaking - and that is what it does to aplomb.
You see there are safe areas in the game, places where there are no freaks trying to kill you, and you can rest in these places as much as you want without dying, but instead they throw other things at you creating the illusion of danger, and it is this illusion that makes the game such an amazing experience, but also what opens the game up to the easiest way to make the game forgettable: Playing the game.
Let me let that sink in for a moment.
Yes, the best way to turn this into another 'boring' game is to actually play the game.
Ok, ok I know how that sounds, but by that I do not mean 'turning on the game, using the controls and experiencing it', no I mean treating it as a game rather than an emotional experience.
You see there are two ways you can play this; you can play it as a game, with the goal to get to the end as soon as possible using the most efficient method, or treating it as an emotional experience where you react in game exactly as your mind and heart are telling you to react.
The first method will ultimately cause you to play the game and complete it in one or two sessions, pushing through the fear barrier until each horror becomes white noise.
The second method has you running in fear, hiding in the nearest locker hoping to dear god that the inmate stalking you will not check the one you are hiding in.
The second method will also stretch the game out longer, as on more than one occasion your body will scream out "NO MORE!!" and at that point, that is when you need to stop playing, turn off the game and not play again until the next night.
Why should you do this? It's simple biology.
If you do this, your body doesn't have a chance to deal with the fear, it remembers the fear and will keep you at high teens levels of anxiety for longer.
If you don't however, if you keep plowing on through the fear barrier, then the next thing you know you are desensitised to it and nothing the game throws at you will scare you.
So ultimately the question lies with: Did I enjoy the game?
Seriously this game is awesome!
Would I recommend people play this game?
This game is for me an experience like when I saw the Evil Dead remake in the cinema last year. It was a fantastically emotional experience, but it was dreadful at the same time, and I can not in good faith tell anyone to experience it.
If however you do play this game, let me know your thoughts and findings.
It truly is an experience unlike any other, and I can tell you that now I honestly feel like I know how it must feel to be chased by a 6 foot+ monster of a man, while wading through waist deep sludge and with every single step fearing that I was not going to reach safety!
And on that happy note; stay safe and I'll see you Cryptside!
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley