Outlast, an up and coming first person horror game by Red Barrels is prepped to launch on September 4. In this survival horror experience, players take the role of a journalist that’s investigating the Mount Massive Asylum. This home for the mentally ill is long since closed, but has recently been re-opened by the transitional Murkoff Corporation. The corp has been operating under strict security – a prime target for a journalist equipped with nothing more than a night vision enabled camera.
In gameplay videos thus far, Red Barrels has revealed that players will be stalked, chased, and horrified by the patients that are now free to run the halls of the asylum.
In an interview with IGN, Philippe Morin, co-founder of Red Barrels, said that players “will find out what’s been happening to [the] patients, what kind of experiment have been [done] to them, who’s behind those experiments” and other story beads.
Morin suggested that the underlying narrative of Outlast was key to the game, saying that they want to develop a strong back story that would set up future content ranging from DLC to sequels and prequels.
Unpredictability is a cornerstone of the horror in Outlast. “You only get a glimpse of the asylum in the demo.” Morin said, “But at some point you’re going to wake up in the cell block and there’s going to be tons of patients around you. We really wanted to play with you not knowing what to expect from these patients. You see somebody down the corridor, you don’t know if they’re going to attack you, if they’re going to just ignore you, talk to you?”
This is very exciting. The core of horror is lack of control and the unknown; when a game becomes formulaic then that spark is lost. This was a major downfall of the last third of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in my mind.
Maybe one of the best parts of Outlast is the level of immersion. This isn’t a first person game that tries to overlook the fact that you have a body. In the various athletic things players will be doing (climbing ladders, peeking around corners, squeezing through cracks, being thrown around by patients), players will have full view of the PCs body. It’s a small feature, but it makes a world of difference.
This is where I become a little worried. In the gameplay demos of Outlast that I’ve seen, there have been instances that make me cringe; the biggest and worst offender being that Red Barrels is extremely eager to show off their antagonists.
Within the first 15 minutes of the game, players not only see, but are forced to look at one of the patients that will act as a reoccurring enemy. It makes sense that they want players to know what the threat is, but focusing a camera on it feels extraordinarily ham-fisted. As stated before, not knowing what’s coming is a staple of horror. Assigning a face and clearly illuminating it irrevocably breaks that tension.
Another red flag that shot up in my head was the fact that the game very shamelessly indulges in startle scares. In an early room a door swings open to reveal a dead body hanging from the ceiling and a disembodied voice screams without warning. These kinds of scares, while technically effective, often feel cheap because the game is literally throwing something shocking at you without earning the emotional response it wants.
These worries aside, Outlast looks like it has great atmosphere and sound design. Presuming it doesn’t get carried away with trying to have its cake and eat it too, it could be a fantastic addition to any horror hound’s collection.