Over-sized castle? Check. Stormy weather? Check. Main character trying to remember his own life because he suffers from a hereditary mental disease passed through video games? Check. Horror games have fallen into a flawed, cliche filled system that has been slowly ruining the entire genre for a while. In 2010, Amnesia: The Dark Descent became the banality that reignited everyone’s love of unoriginal, rehashed horror settings. After dozens of Amnesia clones. the genre began suffering again, the trusted method of shock horror was no longer working. So what happens when eighteenth century settings, oil lamps and cupboards are no longer frightening the player? You take horror into the twenty first century. You take it, to Mount Massive Asylum.
Now, we cannot ignore that Outlast is indeed a game full of the traditional clichés we all love to hate. The thing is, those cliché’s are put there to literally sell the game, it’s essentially a marketing ploy and when you’re in, you realize those clichés aren’t the ones you remember from Amnesia. The scariest aspect of Outlast is the fact that, the traditions of horror games or films you expect to see are there, and they’re quite pivotal too, it’s just, they’ve changed. It’s that change that makes everything so horrifying in this game. In leads you into a trap of making you think you know what’s happening, it allows the player a breath of confidence before winding them. It’s for that reason the game constantly has you on edge. Games like these tend to see the main character sneaking around, trying to stay hidden from hideous creatures of the night, Outlast does a complete u-turn. As nerve-wrenching as it can be to sneak around from the enemies of the asylum, they aren’t the things you should truly fear. The most, heart stopping moments, don’t chase you around, it doesn’t jump out at you, it greets you like an old forgotten friend.
You know, what makes Outlast exceptional is it’s ability to keep the terror real. It uses where you are (an insane asylum) and abuses those surroundings to torture the mind of the player. That’s the sign of a well thought out horror story. The ability to take advantage of the setting as opposed to creating super natural beings out of thin air is a credit to the writers and the designers. Mount Massive Asylum plays host to one of the better story lines out there. The player finds a variety of recordings and notes throughout the game and because of this you are left exploring. The story engrosses you enough to make you almost ignore the eerie nature of the building you’re in, but the game will always remind you, even if it’s subtle. It’s an incredibly understated skill to make a player forget about the frightening game around them because their indulged in the story, but simultaneously create a terrifying atmosphere that lingers around meaning the player is never truly safe.
The game strives to cause fear through its use of realism and with its gorgeous graphics and incredibly lifelike sounds heard throughout the game. One of Outlast’s biggest qualities other than its terrorizing gameplay and haunting storyline is its immersive visuals. Despite the game being first person only, you can still see the main characters wear and tear. From blood stains to his clothes to an absolutely brutal hand injury, the game makes not only the character seem wounded, but also makes the player feel battered. Beyond its graphical and audio excellence, Outlast does leave a few unwanted things littered around Mount Massive Asylum. The ability to peer round corners and see through doors was probably the biggest immersion killer when it came to technical poltergeists, that and the enemy AI never seemed to have a consistent detection meter. Sometimes you could get right up to them other times they could see you from the other side of the building. The problems became more noticeable the longer the game went on, but it only stalled the game on its eventual rise to greatness.
Outlast is an outstanding achievement. In a generation where games try hard to copy one another for a sniff of success, Outlast completely blows away everything you knew about the horror genre. The interesting take on generic horror clichés combined with an intriguing yet atmospheric gameplay style means Outlast is not only a phenomenal game but it takes an entire genre into a brand new era.