E3: 'Outlast' Delivers Atmospheric Horror
'Outlast' is an indie survival-horror game.
CREDIT: Red Barrels
In recent years, traditional horror series like "Dead Space" and "Resident Evil" have chased after the lucrative action gamer market, and become little more than third-person shooters with grotesque enemies. It may be up to the indie market to save traditional horror gaming, and "Outlast" — with its powerless protagonist, labyrinthine environments and terrifying setting — looks to do just that.
For those who have never played a horror game, the appeal might be difficult to see. After all, most games are about indulging power fantasies as a space marine or a city builder or an adventuring archaeologist. Like horror movies, though, survival-horror games (so called because very limited resources, like ammo and healing supplies, add a survival element) can communicate important messages about the human condition by inculcating an element of fear and helplessness.
Based on its E3 demo, "Outlast" has no problem on that count. TechNewsDaily had a chance to go hands-on with the title and delve into the (seemingly) long-abandoned Mount Massive Asylum. Getting into the asylum is easy enough, but escaping its atmospheric, blood-soaked halls is much more difficult. "Outlast" invites players to solve the asylum's mysteries while trying to get back out alive.
The game begins outside the asylum's doors as a brief tutorial teaches you how to navigate the world in a first-person perspective and use your camera. At first, the player does not appear to have many options at his disposal. He can walk, run, jump, climb, lean around corners, pick up batteries and use his camera to zoom in and illuminate dark places. Compared to more action-oriented survival-horror titles, where a protagonist has an entire toy chest of special skills and weapons, "Outlast" is decidedly minimalist.
As soon as you enter the asylum, you'll notice that the whole game is incredibly dark. Save for the occasional dimly lit hallway, you'll rely on your camera to navigate the pitch-black world around you. Collecting batteries will keep you going a bit longer, but these valuable items are usually in short supply and don't last long.
Traveling through broken windows, creaky air ducts and dusty sitting rooms is unnerving enough, but combined with the pervasive darkness, the grainy camera filter, an eerie soundtrack and a number of well-timed ominous noises, the experience is downright harrowing. What's worse is that, like any good horror story, "Outlast" doesn't even show anything scary until long after your excitement has built to a fever pitch. [See also: 10 Best Video Game Soundtracks]
After entering a series of innocuous doors and finding nothing behind them, opening the final door sends a headless corpse swinging at you, complete with a string section crescendo in the soundtrack. Further in, a man impaled on a pike coughs up blood and implores you to leave before it's too late.
Without giving too much away, leaving the asylum is not quite so simple, and the only available path is to go deeper in. What lurks in the basement is, unfortunately, one of the horrors that the dying man warned you about. Your options consist of running and hiding, which is easier said than done when your batteries are dead, you can't find the exit to the maze-like level and you can hear the creature's labored breathing around every corner.
"Outlast" has the potential to be something very special: a survival-horror game that brings actual terror back to the equation. However, what's fun in the space of our brief hands-on could become tiresome over the course of a full-length game. Running from monsters and scrounging for batteries is an intense, scary experience, but it could lose some of its luster repeated over hours and hours of play.
You can check out the game when it releases this summer for PC, or next year for the PS4. Provided you're not too scared, of course.