I was visiting a friend over the weekend, and he showed me a game on his PS4 called Outlast. He got it as part of a free promotion since he has a paid PSN account, but it is also available on Steam for like $20. It’s a survival horror game, and boy does it live up to that genre.
In Outlast you play the part of an investigative reporter with more guts than brains. He takes on an investigation into a nearby asylum that was abandoned in the 70s and recently reopened by a sketchy corporate R&D department. What could possibly go wrong? As you’d expect, everything. Once inside your exit is shortly blocked and you have no choice but to delve deeper into the hospital and its mysteries to escape.
I didn’t play a lot of the game (just up through the end of the first Act, or maybe Scene), but there are a few things that make Outlast standout from other survival horror games. The first is that the dev team completely understands the importance of both environmental atmosphere, and active tension. They do a great job of creating an oppressive, dark, terrifying atmosphere. Everything from the labored sound of your character’s breathing, to the utter blackness of some rooms, it’s all very effective at instilling fear. Additionally they do a good job of drawing out the expectation of action, increasing tension until right when you think you can’t take it anymore, then relieving it with a scene or sight that leads you deeper into the darkness. I should point out that it is gory and brutally violent, but it fits the setting, and does not rely on the gore to be scary (something I have always found cheap and ineffective anyway).
Second: they understand that the heart of fear is powerlessness. At least as far as I played through you have but 1 weapon in the game: your camcorder and it’s night-vision function (which drains battery at an alarming rate). That’s it. No crowbar or gun, no special powers or allies. Nothing but a grainy screen with which to see in the dark, and the speed of your own feet (which tires you fairly quickly). Now, powerless does not equal helpless; if you’re quick, and paying attention to where you’re going, you can survive. But damned if it isn’t a difficult, heart pounding, feat to do so.
I was playing this game in the middle of the day, with my friend in the room, and I still ended up quitting after my first death. I could have gone back and kept going, but honestly, I needed a break. It is that intense. So, when I’ve got a bit of cash on hand I’ll grab it off Steam and see if I can play it alone in the dark. And if being scared shitless is your thing, I suggest you try it as well.