Drop a blog on it! (Outlast)

October has come into effect and all are partaking in the month’s themed festivities, by watching, reading, playing (and whatever other descriptive verb applies) our favorite horror media. Spooky themed marathons abound, at the very least for those of us who thrive on nerdy pastimes. Not too long ago I began doing this myself. So, here we are again. Last week I kicked off the month with Symphony of the night, but having vanquished Dracula it was time to move on to something else. Something more…green let’s say.

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Outlast came out last year sometime in September and promised us scares, spooks and chills galore, and all from a studio comprised of ex triple A developers. I’m sure plenty of you have either played this, or watched our own Patrick klepek do so by now. So let’s briefly look back and go over this game’s strengths and weaknesses.

The conceit of Outlast is that you, Miles Upshur, are a reporter who was anonymously tipped off by an inside source from an insane asylum in the mountains of Colorado. Miles is known for going for the more dangerous scoops, so obviously he jumps at the chance. When he arrives things turn bad fast. Trapped and with nowhere to go but deeper in the madhouse, he looks for clues as to what exactly happened there. Journalism, right?

Generally speaking, the conceit of a protagonist constantly carrying around a camera can sometimes seem a little hokey, but here it makes sense. The player is a reporter and is trying to get video proof. It also serves as a tool for alternative purpose, given the camera has a night vision setting. This comes in handy given how freaking dark it is most of the time, and the ability to see what your enemies can’t can be pretty useful. That green tint of the screen can give a welcome sense of relief, but like all things it can’t last indefinitely. You have to find batteries to keep that fleeting sense of security going, but fortunately you’re never in short stock of them for too long.

He probably just wants to give me the batteries I missed down the hall.
He probably just wants to give me the batteries I missed down the hall.

The game does a great job of building atmosphere. What was once a mission to find incriminating evidence of an asylum probably up to some bad stuff, turns into a journey to escape hell itself. Venturing throughout the halls of Mount Massive Asylum you slowly learn what happened in this dammed institution and the mystery of seemingly supernatural occurrences turn from speculation to reality. Damaged souls abound within the hellhole and though you occasionally come across docile individuals, most of the time you’re running away from the ones that aren’t.

There are a few “characters” in Outlast that give the asylum a face of sorts. Just like in resident evil 2, there’s a giant hulking monster that comes out to say hello throughout the game. Eventually you also come across a demented doctor who looks just like the crypt keeper. Offering you a brief glimpse at freedom right before whisking you away to somewhere a little less desirable. My favorite set of characters were a seemingly sedate pair of brothers that talk of how they want to kill you every time you come across them. They’re usually behind some sort of fence or cell that keeps them from reaching you, but they’re effective nonetheless in unsettling the hell out of you.

The sense of dread you experience for most of the game is fantastic. There are no weapons in the game at all. You’re powerless. When you encounter a threat all you can do is run and hide. This de-empowerment of the player is a trend that’s very much taken over the genre nowadays, and one that generally works. Running around an asylum full of dangers, you already have an immediate discomfort for the situation. It’s amplified by the reality of your own helplessness and the knowledge of an impending doom you have no means to counter. While games like Dead space are scary in their own right, at some point you find some respite in the weapons you have, even if ammo is scarce.

The encounters, for most of the game, work really well. The terror you experience running away, bursting though doors and hiding under beds/ in lockers to find that brief safety from enemies is an effective formula. Unfortunately it can wear thin after a while. Over time the routine becomes predictable and it’s repetition of the “Find three things” so you can move on doesn’t help keep things interesting either. The dread becomes more of an annoyance in that case. Oh, and there's also plenty of reading to do in between the running for your life and all.

For the most part, Outlast is an effective haunted house filled with genuine thrills and terror. The story ends up getting weird near the end (And by weird, I mean bad), but it’s a really cool game that’s worth checking out for anybody looking for some fun scares. (Perfect for this time of the year) I haven’t played the Dlc, but I did watch Patrick play through it, and it looks really good. In fact, it’s probably a better rounded experience than the main game itself even.

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