Red Barrels, the developers of Outlast, have some pretty impressive credentials in their founding members, with Ubisoft refugees that have worked on everything from Assassin’s Creed to Prince of Persia. But now they’ve broken away to do their own thing, and one of their new releases is a PC/PS4 horror game called Outlast, which was tucked away in the indie section of Sony’s massive, sprawling booth.
Outlast plays it safe with its horror tropes. Somewhere out in Colorado, a loan journalist foolishly enters an asylum armed with only a night-sight enabled video camera, in order to investigate a juicy lead. It’s here as a first person horror game, that the roots of the game design become obvious; this is more Silent Hill: Shattered Memories or Amnesia: Dark Descent than Resident Evil or Dead Space. Combat has been removed from the mechanics entirely, so the only options for the intrepid reporter are to run or hide.
The demo—which was hands-on, complete with earphones—explains most of the mechanics quickly. This is essentially an adventure game with horrible death, and not a whole lot of light. Inexplicably, someone has left a bunch of batteries lying around in this asylum (or maybe their alarming frequency was there for demo purposes) so keeping the battery meter at healthy levels wasn’t too challenging. It was important to manage battery levels since much of the demo level didn’t have functioning lights, so relying on the night vision of the camera was often necessary just to navigate the maze of hallways.
Entering the building reveals the usual hints of something Weird & Wrong happening in the halls. It’s unusual enough having to clamber around the side of a supposedly abandoned building just slip through a window, but when bodies are discovered sitting in chairs or hanging from ceilings with “jump scare” music blaring as the door opens and the body swings forth, it’s obvious something else is going on.
As with The Evil Within which was also on show at E3, there’s an element of pursuit to this game. While wandering the halls, discovering bodies and collecting clues as to what exactly happened here, a monstrous, deformed killer appears. The killer then gives slow but relentless chase, and it’s up to the player to run and find a decent hiding place. As with Deadly Premonition which features a similar mechanic, go-to hiding places consist of lockers and under beds, although it’s possible for the homicidal maniac to actually check out these locations and pull you out if you’re discovered.
For the most part, Outlast manages to succeed at providing a tense atmosphere. More than one player commented on the effectiveness of the creep factor, and even I yelped and flinched a couple of times at some of the jump scares. That fact that there’s no weapon of any kind and no combat means that all encounters are high risk, and the game reinforces this by giving players the ability to play in appropriate paranoid style, with features like peeking around corners, or controlling just how quickly and quietly a door is opened. The sound is another plus point here, with the appropriate creaks, bangs and echoing rattles in the distance, along with tense music that shrieks up several notches during jump scare moments.
It’s good to see that the more unnerving, uncomfortable sort of horror gameplay is starting to make a return to consoles. Aside fromSiren: Blood Curse, most big budget console games claiming to be horror are really more shooters with a touch of nastiness to them.Outlast is a smaller, downloadable title to be sure, but the atmosphere and feeling of powerlessness are already making for a promising start. Outlast is slated for a PC release later this year with a PS4 release in 2014.