After years in the video game wilderness, it looks like the survival horror genre is finally being welcomed in from the cold. It’s unlikely to ever reach the heady heights of its PSOne / PS2 era heyday, bit with indie titles heading up the charge and Shinji Mikami back to deliver on the triple-A front (not to mention the fantastic looking Alien: Isolation), survival horror is once again becoming a major part of the gaming landscape.
While a handful of decidedly mixed previews for Mikami’s, Evil Within have left both my fingers and toes crossed that the final build will live up to my sky high expectations (Mikami’s, Resident Evil 4 is after all, one of the greatest video games of all time), thanks to an array of imaginative indie developers, the here and now is certainly home to its fair share of quality survival horror titles. Key amongst these is Red Barrels, Outlast, a game that, when at its best, is arguably amongst the scariest video games of all time.
It’s a shame that Outlast doesn’t quite live up to its early promise, but despite a handful of poor design choices and an ever growing sense of repetition, this is a game that delivers more scares in the first half (the considerably more entertaining first half) than most games could ever dream of. Sure, nothing here is especially new, and the majority of scares would unquestionably go down in the ‘jump scare’ category, but whether they be cheap, clichéd or unimaginative, they sure as shit are effective.
With no weapons to speak of and little more than a battery sapping camera to light the way, Outlast represents the very definition of survival horror. Physically, you can do little more than shake off the weakest of foes, but other than that, this is a game in which running and hiding are your only realistic options.
That might not sound too exciting for those accustomed to the gunplay of Resident Evil or Dead Space, but I can honestly say that the simple process of hiding under a bed or locker in Outlast, can, and often will provide more tension than either of those series ever have.
Due to the limited gameplay mechanics and repetitive enemies, this seven hour long game does become repetitive and more than a little stale before its rather ludicrous final act does its best to tarnish your memories of the game for good, but for 3 to 4 hours, Outlast provides consistent scares and some of the most disturbing moments I have come across in the medium.
As a reporter stuck in an illegal insane asylum, your mission quickly turns from reporting to surviving as you make your way past inmates and increasingly unpleasant monstrosities in a bid for freedom…..and a Pulitzer I would imagine. The standard gameplay is mostly fantastic, while the handful of set pieces really do crank up the tension. It’s just a shame that there isn’t enough variety with the length of game stretched unnecessarily thin over its relatively basic set of mechanics.
If this had been a four hour game and a little more refined, I might be talking about Outlast as a genre classic. As it stands though, it can comfortably go down as a slightly rough diamond that, for the first few hours at least, is as scary, tense and exciting as anything I have played in the past few years. The downgraded PS4 visuals (the PC version is considerably slicker to look at) are a real shame while the constant battery collection for your embarrassingly unreliable camera does feel like a somewhat forced mechanic, but despite these issues and yes, despite that ever growing sense of repetition, Outlast is a game that simply must be experienced by anyone who considers themselves a fan of survival horror.
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