Outlast is a first person horror game that borrows from the classic Amnesia, and seasons it with new features that give it some personality.
In Outlast you must survive the madness of violence and death that prevail in an abandoned asylum. With an acceptable plot, really good controls and plenty of butt-clenching moments, Outlast promises to be the scariest game ever created. But is it?
Blood, guts and gore
Outlast is scary - at first. The game does well at getting you into the shoes of the protagonist, Miles Upshur, and making sure you have a hard time (which is kind of the point). The story is a common one, but it's very effective on screen, especially for the many realistic scenes of blood and gore. Outlast is not a game for the fainthearted: it's gross, it's violent and really gets under your skin.
Now, Outlast makes the one mistake you should never make in any horror game: routine. The first time everything is new, terrifying, unpleasant and distressing, and it truly is a scary game, the sort that makes your hair stand on end and your pulse race. But after the first impact, Outlast slips into routine. Its "scare" resources run out pretty fast and so every challenge in the game is a slight variation on the above, which means that they're overcome in almost the same way each time too: "Go there, activate a button or lever, and repeat".
Outlast is a very linear game.l It's rare to find a section of the game where you move freely, open doors or enter rooms that you shouldn't. This linearity has two clear objectives: the first is to keep you scared. If the game didn't have control over what you do or where you go, it couldn't activate certain unexpected events that make you jump out of your chair.
The second effect of this linearity is that if you look thoroughly at Outlast you'll see that it is just a giant puzzle. Each section of the game has a specific order, and if you don't do it that way then you probably won't survive. Finding the "invisible path" - the bit that involves crawling on all fours, hiding in lockers or under beds, dodging deformed enemies or running for your life in intense chases - is the key to progressing through the game.
Outlast isn't trying to (or doesn't manage to) psychologically terrorize you beyond that first hour. Once you're past this initial trauma, Outlast is just about guts, blood and mutilation, accompanied with multiple frights, all the while at top, terrifying volume.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing because, among other things, Outlast knows when to activate these sequences and make you scream for your mommy. But unlike other games like Amnesia (pretty much the reference game for the genre) where you're truly gripped by fear throughout the game environment and the plot, Outlast is just going for easy "BOO! SCARED YOU!" moments.
One of the highlights of Outlast is the controls and how they affect the game. Although it plays like any other first person game, our movements on the screen are very realistic: how the body sways, our hands support us on the floor or round corners, how we run and look back, etc.. All the controls transmit realism, human movement, and put you firmly in the shoes of poor Miles.
A video camera will be your only tool in the game. It serves to let you see in the dark through its infrared mode, but the batteries run out when you use it and you must find replacements through the level. The use of the camera offers many agonizing moments in Outlast, although it's unlikely that you'll run out of battery because the game balances the difficulty level with giving you batteries when you need them most.
Remarkable graphics and powerful sound
Outlast uses Unreal Engine 3. It's well used and generally very good. Even better, any midrange computer can push it to its limits, but still enjoy excellent performance.
The game combines light and shadow and the infrared camera to excellent effect (the camera filter is very realistic). The blood on the walls, the dead bodies scattered about the place, the guts - as well as some of the nicer things you'll see on your travels - are also worth mentioning.
Overall, Outlast has some remarkable graphics, which are overshadowed by irritating little problems which are typical of Unreal Engine 3, like physical objects not existing (those curtains that look like walls ... aarrgh!)
When it comes to sound - the real star of all horror games - Outlast is very strong. Dialogs are terrifying, with otherworldly voices and screams, footsteps, things breaking, all focused on giving you a terrifying experience.
Outlast is a great game for scaring the bits out of you, and has moments that'll take you a while to forget. The whole production is quite remarkable, and although it's a very linear game, it doesn't take away from the excellent level design. The controls and some of the scenes really stand out.
Is Outlast the best horror game of all time? In the end it depends who's playing it and how sensitive they are. But in any case, if you like the genre you should definitely give it a try.