Outlast is most certainly and without a doubt not a game for me, but at least it was only a couple hours long and a “freebie” from Xbox One’s Games With Gold program several months back. I have one more Achievement I’d like to pop, which is thankfully right at the beginning of the game before everything is plunged into murky darkness, and then I’ll be waving goodbye to this sliver of nightmare meat from my console with boyish glee. Unfortunately, I still have a couple of other horror games in my various collections left to tackle, such as Layers of Fear, Anna, and Siren: Blood Curse, and I’m just the worst at these. Y’all remember when I promised to play Silent Hill 3 two years ago? No? Okay, good. Well, we’ll see if I can, ahem, outlast a few more.
So, moving right along to Outlast‘s plot. Freelance investigative journalist Miles Upshur is off to the Mount Massive Asylum, a private psychiatric hospital, after receiving an anonymous tip about inhumane experiments being conducted there. Because of course. Still, once there, Miles is shocked to discover the hospital’s halls destroyed and brimming with the mutilated corpses of the staff. A dying SWAT officer reveals that the asylum’s patients, known as “variants,” have escaped and are freely roaming the grounds, butchering employees left and right without mercy. Alas, Miles is unable to leave the way he came in and, besides looking for a new way out, soon finds himself deep in the mix as he comes face to face with those that roam this madhouse. It’s a somewhat straightforward story with loose details that won’t surprise you once you see what it is doing, and that’s okay. I saw that second season of American Horror Story and have enough unique and terrible images in my head to last a lifetime.
Gameplay is broken down into several distinct elements: exploration, platforming, chase sequences, and stealth. There are a few cutscenes to watch as well, but don’t expect much out of Miles Upshur other than labored breathing, as the man is nothing more than a vessel for the player, a host to see these horrific things through and breathe a sigh of relief when push comes to shove and events take a turn for the even worse. I enjoyed exploration the most, and really enjoyed it at the very beginning and end of Outlast, in the most well-lit areas of the asylum where you don’t have to bother with the video camera, and disliked all things related to chase sequences. Early on, you learn a move that allows you to run forward and then also quickly glance over your shoulder; I never used it. I hated being chased in Super Mario 3D Land, most likely would hate it in real life, and did not enjoy the pursuits here. Too stressful. Puzzles revolve around finding valves to turn or levers to pull or a specific key, and they aren’t about figuring out how to do these actions, but rather getting to them alive by sneaking around in the dark and avoiding violent asylum patients. The platforming, while not the greatest considering this is first-person platforming we’re talking about, is infrequent enough to not be a bother though I still missed a number of easy jumps.
I think I played the first five or ten minutes of Amnesia: The Dark Descent many moons ago and knew then that it was too terrifying for my weak skin to handle. Outlast is pretty similar, with a focus on carrying around a light source (lantern versus video camera with night vision mode on), being in first person, and a lack of combat, but also completely different. Whereas the former seemed to go for quieter scares and ramping up the tension, Outlast brings out all the big guns, with swelling music, screaming, jump scares galore, and a large monstrosity to chase after you down dark halls where you have to both run and create roadblocks in the manner of shut doors and barricades. There are, of course, occasions where things are quiet and uneventful, which is unnerving, but I quickly learned to not trust these sequences for too long. Eventually something’s going to grab you.
All right, lastly, or rather outlastly, there are some more things that I’m just not a fan of and found severely off-putting because I’m in a complainy mood, but your mileage may vary. A large portion of Outlast boils down to basically managing the number of batteries you have and when and where to turn on the camcorder. They drain quickly, and though I never did run out of them entirely during my playthrough, I always felt like I was close and preferred to have more in my inventory than not, just in case I needed them. This stressed me out greatly. For collectibles, there are two types–notes and documents–with notes referring to handwritten notes by Miles after witnessing something, and documents being, well, printed papers of exposition left behind for players to find. They aren’t all that interesting to read, and, more annoyingly, when you get a new one, it appears at the bottom of the collected list, which means as you collect more and more, it takes longer and longer to scroll down and read the one you just unlocked. Lastly, because I’m a wuss and scared of the dark, I spent probably something like 85% of this game behind the camcorder’s lens with night vision mode on; I’m sure Outlast looks sharp and amazing in spots, but all I ever saw was grainy blurs of faded neon-green and blinding puffs of white light.
Outlast isn’t fun. It’s kind of designed that way, but maybe a special type of person exists somewhere on this batty planet that looks at all these cruel limitations and unfriendly setting and thinks, “Aw yiss!” The developer’s main goal is to fill you with fear, and the player’s main goal is to escape scare-free. I’d rather live safely on my Stardew Valley farm with Maru and our first child Mauly, tending to my crops and searching for those rare starfruit and upgrading my tools. I’ll never run out of batteries there because, thanks to my lightning rod, I get a freebie every time there’s a thunderstorm. Take that.