There are few games that can instill fear in me even after I completed them, and Outlast seems to be one of them. I haven’t played the game since around 2015, and I hardly remember any of it at this point. I guess that could be a good thing and a bad thing because I am about to confront the horrific patients of the Mount Massive Asylum to uncover its secrets once again.
What better way to spend the month of Halloween than opening up old wounds and confronting monsters that won’t stay down? I just hope that the game can continue to hold me in suspense and cause me to jump out of my chair still. Give me those physical reactions of fear, please!
“Patience. Cornerstone of Enhanced Interrogation”
Outlast follows freelance journalist Miles Upshur as he investigates the Mount Massive Asylum. The plan was a quick 20-minute adventure to secure some footage and relay it to the public, but the patients of the asylum made that impossible as they trap Miles in their house of horrors for the night.
The game was developed by Red Barrels and combines elements from games like Amnesia and the found footage genre. All Miles has to defend himself against the mentally insane is a camera with terrible battery efficiency. While Miles is trying to find an escape, he is also dedicated to finding as much dirt on the asylum as possible.
He collects documents from offices and makes his own notes as events are captured on his camera. It makes sense to have the camera trained on objects at all times, but you are risking using up a sizable amount of batteries in the process and without any juice, the camera’s night vision is useless. And trust me, you want that night vision because the asylum is incredibly dark. Actually, I would say the darkness is one of the best and worst things in the game.
Often, the levels are completely hidden in darkness and while this can lead to some suspenseful confrontations with patients who seem to pop out of nowhere, there were times where I felt that it went overboard just a tad and I struggled to even know which way was up.
The real horror of the game comes from the lack of power that Miles has in his confrontations. Miles is easily the weakest person in the Asylum, and he is up against people who have lost all sense of reality or consequence. The only course of action that Miles has is to run and hide from dangerous situations. This means once you see the chain dragging Chris Walker round the corner, you need to book it.
The tensest moments are when you are running through hallways trying to break eye contact with the killer behind you while searching for a locker to hide in. If the patient sees you crawl under a mattress or into a locker, they can drag you out kicking and screaming. Even if they don’t see you, they will often guess the locker next to you, which caused me to wince on more than one occasion.
“Words Lie, Blood Is Red, On Red”
Learning to sneak by the patients is crucial in order to successfully navigate the asylum, but sometimes the little maniacs pop out of nowhere and chase you through the darkened hallways while you cry for a locker to appear. It’s a good idea to have an escape route planned at all times if you can manage it. I found myself making mental notes of where the last hiding place was before I began to venture out into new territory.
There was one time where I thought that the enemy AI was being a little too nosey. I was trying to recover a laundry chute key in order to get another key that would allow me to advance higher into the asylum. However, this particular patient would not leave me alone, and I felt he was teleporting across the floor in search of me. On multiple occasions, I was forced to run all the way back to the area I started in.
It became repetitive and annoying, but thankfully, that was the only instance where it felt ridiculous. All the other enemy encounters felt controlled and well designed. Outlast is approaching 10 years old, so the AI isn’t exactly as sharp as it might be in a more recent title. Considering the simple “haunted mansion” design that Outlast goes for, it all works in the end.
One of the best things that Outlast is able to do is create legends with its characters. Despite the darkness, there are several audio cues and silhouettes that alone are enough to bring you to your senses. Characters like Chris Walker, Wallrider, and Richard Trager.
Chris’ chains will rattle when he is nearby, and his big lumbering form mumbles to himself as he searches for your hiding place. Or Richard Trager with his long snippers that had already cut two of your fingers off in a previous scene can just be heard snipping the air while he searches for you.
Outlast builds these characters up through your interactions with them and the documents that you find around the asylum. It all helps to make these characters more menacing and real when you finally have to avoid being caught by them.
Richard Trager is especially terrifying because the first time you meet him, he is already torturing you. He lacks any empathy and finds pleasure in others’ suffering. I don’t think Miles should have been able to escape Trager, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth at that moment. The plot must move forward after all.
The scene is easily the most grotesque in the game and leads to one of the most suspenseful “run and hide” moments. Miles must find the key to the elevator to escape and hide under mattresses while Trager searches him out. All the while, Trager’s other prisoners are screaming in agony, which only serves to remind you what you are running away from.
This is a good time to note that Miles is terrible at hiding. Any little bit of running or stress will leave Miles out of breath which is horrifying when you are hiding in a locker, and Chris is staring directly at your hiding place while your breath comes out in gasps. It’s so loud it almost breaks immersion like how can enemies not HEAR him? The breathing goes back and forth between being overly loud to the point of being obviously noticeable and an added stress that makes my own heart leap out of my chest.
“Somebody’s Been Telling Stories Outside of Class”
Once you reach the top of the asylum, you reconnect with your only ally, Father Martin Archmibaud. He is strapped to a cross and is overseen by two goons who have been silently stalking you throughout the game. It feels like you are about to be betrayed and ripped to shreds along with Martin, but he says that you have further to go in your journey.
Martin kept Miles alive because he wanted everything in the asylum documented. Not to expose the experiments but to show the glory that is Wallrider and his devoted followers. Miles records Martin’s death and retrieves the final key for the elevator. This key will bring Miles to the basement of the asylum, where the final mystery will be revealed. It’s a wonder why Martin couldn’t just send you there from the start instead of making you fight your way to the top of the asylum but oh well.
The moment you reach the basement, you realize that the game has completely changed because everything is well lit. The fear almost completely stops at this point. I say almost because the other big villain of the game is finally going to shine. Wallrider is the mysterious shade that Miles has been seeing every now and then during his long night at Mount Massive.
Chris Walker charges through a door and seems about to take his final revenge on Miles when Wallrider pops out of nowhere and picks Chris up like it’s nothing. Chris is then shoved into a vent like he is beef being ground for hamburger, and you are left to think one thing: Wallrider is a much bigger threat than Chris Walker ever was.
Your only objective now is to kill Wallrider so you can finally escape the asylum. The rest of the game is mostly you running through well-lit hallways turning valves, and learning about the secret of Mount Massive. It only takes about 20 minutes if you are being casual about it, but I feel like it still takes away from the overall horror of the game.
Up until then, we had been running through pitch-black hallways trying to avoid the clinically insane, only for the end of the game to be us playing tag with a man-made ghost. It’s sort of a letdown, but there are a couple of scary-ish moments during this segment if you have never played before. However, the peak of the scares ended as soon as you entered the basement. It almost feels like Cabin in the Woods in that way but without the satire.
Outlast is a great horror game to play at least once in your life. Its simple premise allows for some genuinely horrifying moments, but its lackluster ending and, at times, tedious gameplay might prevent you from returning to this one very often.