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Outlast [2013 -- Red Barrels

Started by Starfox, May 12, 2023, 03:22 AM

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Originally Published on September 14, 2013

This game will scare you... to death.

Well, that could be a one liner for Outlast advertising campaign. The fact is, I'm not someone easily scared or impressed when it comes to survival horror games. I was utterly bored by the blackness of Doom 3, not scared. The Penumbra series was more adequate but still lacked the 'jumping in my chair" moments for me. Outlast is the only game I played since Thief (the original one) that made me jump in my chair. As far as creepy goes... I'd say job done. Also, one advice to people having troubles with psychiatric institutions in general: do not play this game... seriously.

The story of Outlast has for basis several American intelligence projects and operations (and a good deal of imagination), like MKUltra or PAPERCLIP. PAPERCLIP was the operation by which the Joint Intelligence Operations Agency acquired former NAZI scientists after WWII in order to prevent them from falling in the hands of the USSR. Project MKUltra is surprisingly well documented despite it being a CIA operation due to the CIA overlooking the existence of about 20,000 documents which survived the order to destroy all the material linked to the project and still formed only a fraction of all the documents related to the project. It began in the early 50s and was officially halted in 1973 in the wake of the Watergate and had for purpose to determine if drugs or other methods (like hypnosis) could be used to alter the behavior of individuals and render them susceptible to mind control.

MKUltra in particular plays a pivotal role in the story basis for Outlast because parts of the project took place in asylums, most notably with psychoactive drugs or electroconvulsive therapy (and with disastrous results for the "patients"). The story of Outlast takes place in such an institution located on top of Mount Massive. But beyond the references to MKUltra experiments, rest assured that Outlast is mostly a fictitious work. And a very creepy one balancing between science and supernatural.

The main protagonist is an investigative journalist named Miles Upshur. He goes to Mount Massive Asylum after having received an email from a guy who claimed having done some work for Murkoff Psychiatric Systems there and having witnessed horrible things happening, things that according to him must be stopped. Miles is not a fighter, far from it, and his only weapon is a digital camcorder which comes with a handy night vision feature (which you'll use quite a lot, believe me). His goal is to record the truth and to spread the story so others can act. Using the camcorder is an essential part of the gameplay, not only because it allows you to see in the dark when needed but because if something happens, having the camcorder up allows Miles to record the event and put a relevant note in his journal. The night vision feature of the camcorder works with batteries that are quickly spent but that you can find through the asylum. However some of those batteries are located in some places where you definitely wouldn't like to go -- but you'll have to... eventually... BOO! There are also a lot of official documents to be discovered. Events recorded by the camcorder and official documents, those are the thing that tell the whole story. The end of the game was unexpected but clearly points to a possible "Outlast II" or whatever it will be called.

So is everything rosy in Mount Asylum, or rather Outlast? I wouldn't say so. The atmosphere is superb, the ambient music appropriate and generally well used at the right moment however the black point of Outlast is its gameplay. Because Miles is not a fighter the majority of the gameplay is about loosing pursuers, hiding in specific places and avoiding patrolling enemies while trying to achieves tasks and changing your camera batteries now and then. While there's nothing bad about running for your life through dark corridors, jumping over obstacles and looking for a spot to hide when all of this is done occasionally, in Outlast this becomes quite the habit and with the habit comes the boring sensation. Four big puzzles in the game involve the same scheme of turning valves or pushing buttons located in opposite directions with a big enemy right in the middle that you must avoid if you want to keep your arms. The first time that happened was OK. The second time I went "Not again...", the third time I said something like "you gotta be kidding me!" and the last time "Why am I not even surprised?" Due to the fact that Miles has absolutely no way to defend himself if attacked, the gameplay variations in Outlast are dreadfully lacking. Red Barrels tried to compensate with some surprises here and there but finally they managed a gameplay even less varied than the Penumbra series or Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Obviously, my advice to Red Barrels for the next game would be to seriously work on the gameplay.

But even with the linear gameplay, the oppressive feeling of Mount Massive Asylum, its deformed inhabitants (not all of them are hostiles by the way, a few might even try to help you or give you clues about the story even if a few others will definitely try to kill you for no other reasons than "it's fun") and a story well written are enough to keep Outlast well above average. The whole game only takes about 6 to 8 hours -- depending on your play style, and that explains the relatively low price for a new game -- but these are very tense hours indeed and you might not want to play this title in a completely dark room.

If you get your kicks jumping in your seat and having your heart pumping adrenaline... Outlast is certainly a good choice. At least it cannot hurt... except maybe your sanity...

Time to grab your camcorder... And check the batteries.

Guess what it means!