Too alive – Thoughts on the game Outlast

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Dark, disturbing and utterly terrifying. I don’t think I’ve been quite so scared playing a game than I have been with Outlast. It came to a point where being killed was a blessed relief from then suspended tension. Things were always going to get bad for our hero, I just didn’t foresee how bad things would get.

What is Outlast about?

In Outlast you play Miles Upshur, an investigative journalist who is looking for his story within the walls of the Mount Massive psychiatric hospital. He has been given a tip-off from a whistleblower within the Hospital about some shady goings on. It is here that you begin the story – parked up outside and looking for a way in. But of course It’s not long until things go pear-shaped and your quiet entrance becomes a frantic search for escape.

The game is played from the first-person perspective of Miles. Seeing it through his eyes really added to my emotional investment of it all. With all the lights turned off in my living room, the small shafts of light in-game were my only illumination.

The further through the hospital you advance, the more dark and twisted the story becomes. So too do the creatures searching for you in the dark become harder to best. Made excruciatingly difficult at times with the complete inability to fight back.

An inability to fight back.

One big aspect of Outlast, that sets it apart from most, is in its fighting mechanics… or complete lack thereof. It is impossible to fight back or even defend yourself in Outlast – all you can do is run, hide and try to sneak past whatever lurks in the darkness. This fundamental rule is what makes this game so unique in all the games I’ve played. Other horror games, like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, allow you to collect weapons and ammo in order to at least try and fight back. However, in Outlast, you must use only your wits, and more often than not your cowardice, to survive.

Throughout the halls of the quickly-deteriorating hospital, you’ll find all manner of places to hide. Under beds; behind up-turned mattresses; toilet cubicles; lockers. One time I even found myself staring directly at my enemy, only under the cover of the pitch black. These hiding places aren’t guaranteed sanctuary though, as those hunting you won’t think twice about tearing a door from a locker or searching under beds.

Because of the zero fighting, all of the controls you play with are geared towards your movements. Whether it be glancing behind you as you sprint away from a pursuer, peering round a dimly-lit corner, or creaking a door open as slowly as you can. Opening a door is actually one of the initial things that got me so immersed in the game. You have the option of just opening the door normally, which results in a thud, or holding down the button and easing forward with the controller’s analogue stick.

Utterly Terrifying

No game has made me so consistently scared of playing it than Outlast did. There was never a moment when I felt any degree of safety, with every room and corridor serving only to raise my fear and anxiety levels. The amount of times I went into it saying “it’s only a game – if I die I can just try again.” was many. But I simply couldn’t disengage from the game on an emotional level. In times between playing it I’m sure part of me staying there – trapped inside the hospital with Miles.

With the game being split into chapters, I found myself unwilling to play past more than one at a time. The constant state of tension really took its toll on me after a while. Although saying that I did do the last three chapters in one sitting, which I’m actually pretty proud of.

I’ve talked about the darkness and the things that lurk within, as well as your complete lack of defences. But fear not, for you do have one item by your side throughout your time at Mount Massive that may just save your life – your video camera.

Just a man and his camera

Your only accessory that you take with you on your journey is a digital camera with its night vision mode. This camera is your only friend in the dark, often pitch black, hallways you find yourself exploring. I found myself, at least half of the time I was playing, with the camera up to my face – night vision turned on. One memory that sticks with me is being trapped in a prison area, all prison cells opened, with a huge bulking creature searching for me. Using the camera to search the blackness was the only thing that got me out of there.

But the camera’s battery won’t last forever, which is why you should always be keeping an eye open for the game’s only consumable items – extra batteries. The game doesn’t really make the prospect of exploring every nook and cranny inviting. But I strongly advise you to look around for those batteries. Luckily I never ran out of them but there were many times when I came damn close.

As well as batteries you’ll also come across numerous documents, which shed some light on the history of the hospital and what went on before your arrival. These are an interesting read if you want to deepen your understanding. If not, just run.

Not for the faint hearted

If you are of a nervous disposition you will NOT want to play this game. I’m not easily spooked but this game had me in a constant state of anxiety. Sometimes to be caught and have your heart ripped out is a nice way to break that tension… sometimes. All in all I really enjoyed this game, but it’s a game that look back at with enjoyment – when I was experiencing it I was petrified.

It’s for this reason that I can’t decide whether I want to play the Whistleblower DLC and the recently-released sequel. I mean I want to… but do I really want to?

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Categorised as Games