Outlast (PS4) Review: The Art of Tension

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The power we’re afforded when playing most first person titles is significant, and almost always enough to overwhelm our enemies. Whether it comes in the form of over-sized guns, explosive magic, or even omnipotence, gamers are used to being in the driver’s seat. After all, most don’t journey into another world to feel weaker than they are in real life.

In Outlast, the script is flipped. Our protagonist, freelance journalist Miles Upshur, seeks out a psychiatric hospital based on an anonymous tip, armed with nothing but his notebook and a camcorder. Like any good horror story, Upshur chooses to investigate the insidious asylum at night against his own best interests.

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Darkness is not your friend.

Consumed by darkness for the vast majority of the campaign, your camera’s night vision becomes your only source of light, reminiscent of the flickering effects in The Blair Witch Project. Outlast’s use of the dark is not an afterthought, and in fact it is the central component in its identity. During one particularly chilling section of the game, your camera is misplaced, leaving you to wander the halls of the asylum guided only by lightning flashing through the windows. Treasure every moment you have with light, because they are few and far between.

As you move Upshur throughout the building, filming its various downtrodden sections for later reflection, he scribbles furiously in his notes, giving you a window into his deteriorating psyche. In the beginning, his notes are thorough, detailed accounts of your surroundings. Nearing the end of the tunnel, they’re a frantic mess, the diary of a man who has been sent over the edge.

In the absence of light, sound becomes the star of the show, and the soundtrack is beautifully crafted by the folks at Red Barrels. Without clear vision, every noise becomes a test of your courage. Was that an innocent droplet of water, or is there something creeping behind you? These are the questions you’ll ask yourself as you get further into the labyrinth. Outlast’s blaring strings come to a crescendo when you’re being chased, and those notes don’t become any less foreboding as you near your journey’s conclusion.

The groans and creaks of the building, the heavy breathing of Upshur, every minute detail contributes to the goal of scaring the life out of you. You’d think that as the game winds on, the scare tactics would become second nature, and dulled as a result. But in fact, the opposite is true – the more curveballs the game throws at you, the higher your blood pressure rises. Although Outlast relies heavily on classic jump scares, they’re mixed well enough that they don’t lose their impact.

Your nerves will be tested even if you’re a veteran of the genre. Atrocities pile up as you learn more and more secrets about Mount Massive Asylum, and it’s probably not a bad idea to take a step back and give yourself a break every so often. Be forewarned – this game is not for the squeamish. Throughout the hospital’s corridors are blood trails, scattered limbs, and numerous sights that will leave the average person clutching their stomachs.

Are you brave enough to discover the secret of the Walrider?
Are you brave enough to discover the secret of the Walrider?

Outlast doesn’t pretend to be a graphical powerhouse, and that rears its head at unfortunate times. During several sections that featured more NPCs than usual, the frame-rate stuttered and even dropped significantly, normalizing after about 5-10 seconds of choppiness. In a larger, open-world title, this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but it’s disappointing that such hiccups took place in a game relying so heavily on immersion. Enemy variety was also minimal; it would have been nice to see more varied pursuit. As it stands, the chases in Outlast didn’t change much from beginning to end.

Perhaps the biggest issue in Outlast is its reliance on a gameplay mechanic that has infuriated gamers for decades: backtracking. Although a more optimistic critic might view Outlast’s various in-game tasks as puzzle mechanics, they offer little in the way of satisfaction other than their role in helping you move to the next section. This felt like a deliberate attempt to stretch more life out of a short title, and eventually became an annoyance.

Nitpicking aside, this is a solid entry in the horror genre that follows in the footsteps of games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, asking players to hide and survive rather than attack. In many respects, you’ll have to fight your instincts to get through Outlast. This month’s free game for PlayStation Plus users, Outlast is an absolute no-brainer for those who subscribe to the service, and an incentive for non-subscribers to start taking advantage of one of the best values in gaming.

[schema type=”review” url=”Entertainment Buddha” name=”Outlast | Review Summary ” description=”The Awesome: Tense atmosphere, fantastic audio, spine-tingling horror The Not-So Awesome: Backtracking, graphical stuttering” rev_body=”Outlast is a gripping, suspenseful title that provides a true horror template for the modern gaming industry. A thrilling journey from beginning to end with just a few minor bruises. ” author=”Kyle Neubeck” pubdate=”2014-02-12″ user_review=”8″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]

*Review Statement: The author of this review downloaded this title for free as a member of PlayStation Plus. 

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Kyle Neubeck

The author Kyle Neubeck

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