Genre: First-Person Survival Horror
Original Release: September 4, 2013
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Platform(s): Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS X, Nintendo Switch
Played on: Steam
Years ago, I was subscribed to an IGN newsletter. I don’t remember when or why I signed up for it, but there is one email that immediately caught my attention:
“Is Outlast the scariest game ever?”
Without hesitating, I clicked on it and read stories of people who either left in the middle of the demo swearing up and down, or came out of it looking completely flushed of color. It was at that moment that I wanted to buy Outlast as soon as possible.
I love horror games. I am an absolute coward, but in a way that might be part of the draw for me, especially in a way that horror movies often fail to. I’m not entirely certain why, perhaps it’s the interactive element of games.
In truth, I’ve played Outlast before, back when it first came out approximately six years ago at time of writing. My first session was a grand total of eight minutes, just after the first scare and immediately after you see one of the primary antagonists. He walked by and closed a door while murmuring to himself about containment, and I was paralyzed. I was recording a playthrough at the time and announced that I would be right back. I closed the game, stopped the recording, and stopped playing for the day.
This time around, I managed to play and finish the main game over four hours collectively, in two different sessions. It’s been at least six years since the last time I played it, and so much of it stuck with me.
If someone asked me what I think makes a horror game good, it would come down to a few things: How effectively the game scares you, the atmosphere/scare balance, the types of scares employed, and how long it stays with you after you finish, whether that’s because you stopped playing or you finished the game.
And with that, I feel safe in saying that Outlast is an excellent horror game. Few games can lay claim to the honor of scaring me badly enough that I stopped playing within ten minutes of booting it up and only one big scare in. Similarly, the setting of an asylum, while admittedly cliché, provides a sense of sterility that further promotes discomfort for a lot of people, especially those who strongly dislike hospitals, and starting off in the administration block promotes that sense of normalcy that most tend to think of when they think of hospitals or psychiatric wards, at least from my experience anyway. And while the finer details of the game faded over time, some of the biggest moments haunt me even today and left me feeling more tense than I remember feeling originally, probably because I knew what to expect and how I’d react to it.
That said, I can understand why some people would be frustrated by later portions, especially toward the end of the game. I won’t spoil exactly what happened, but I found myself dying repeatedly in the last couple of segments. However, I will admit that a lot of that was probably my own fault, given that I’m prone to overthinking things something fierce. Regardless, it stand as a criticism of horror games in general: they’re either too long and leave people feeling more frustrated than scared by the end, or they’re too short and, while they do provide the scares, they leave you wanting more.
Despite my recent self-inflicted struggles with Outlast, I feel like it strikes a particularly nice balance. Even if I forgot a lot of what I was supposed to do, once it came back to me I was able to get through with comparatively little issue and notice a lot of smaller details that I would have otherwise missed.
For a first offering from Red Barrels, I have to say that Outlast really delivers. I bought the game wanting to be scared, and I was left shaking more often than not. Maybe not to the extent that SCP: Containment Breach left me sleeping with a light on and afraid to open doors in my house or jumping at the slightest motion in my peripherals, but enough that I screamed so loud that my sister once thought someone was trying to break into the house, despite my being a floor up and on the opposite end of the house, with all of the doors and windows closed.
Outlast is scary. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it really lives up to that disclaimer that Red Barrels provides at the beginning of the game. I acknowledge that what scares someone varies from person to person, but I don’t think I’ve met anyone who hasn’t found Outlast scary in some capacity or another. And the Whistleblower DLC, while following a different character, occurs simultaneously, and provides more of the scares along with some new ones.
And with that, I think I’m going to give this a recommendation with two simple words: