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Hands-on: Outlast Tests Your Survival Horror Limits

One of the indie titles on display at the Sony E3 booth was a game called Outlast. I stopped by to play Red Barrels’ heart-pounding descent into horror on the PS4.


While waiting to play the game I chatted with a couple of the Outlast developers. With their goal being to “make this game as scary as possible,” I was told that the game relies heavily on paranoia, drawing upon the hair-raising Amnesia: The Dark Descent for inspiration. I was also told that they designed the game with somewhat unpredictable AI. Even while playtesting the game multiple times, enemies would do the unexpected and create organic scares. This means that few of the moments in Outlast are predetermined, scripted events. Scenarios employ an “ease in, ease out” where a scripted sequence will introduce a new enemy and their motivation, then concluding with another scripted sequence. In between these two segments, the AI will take over and direct the enemy’s actions for the majority of the gameplay segment.


In Outlast, players take on the mantle of independent journalist Miles Upshur as he breaks into a remote asylum for the criminally insane in Colorado. Miles is after a compelling news story after receiving an anonymous tip that something was happening at the asylum. This is the situation in which I assumed control of Miles and began playing. Being a journalist, Miles’ constant companion throughout the game will be his trusty camera, through which he views almost all of the horrific events taking place within the asylum. The camera is his only tool, allowing him and the player to see in the darkness. The downside of this is that the camera runs on batteries. If you run out of batteries, your ability to see in the dark is drastically reduced and you are left very vulnerable. One of the hooks of Outlast is that there is no combat. You cannot fight the enemies, you can only run, hide, and pray that they don’t find you.


After checking the front door of the asylum and finding it locked, Miles decides it would be a great idea to break in through an old set of scaffolding which leads up to a window. Upon entering, he sees blood all over the floor. For some suicidal reason he is undeterred and pushes on, despite seeing bodies and obvious signs of something that has gone horribly wrong. By the time Miles figures out that the asylum is one of the worst places on earth to be it is too late and he is trapped in the depths of the asylum with some of the worst and most twisted criminal minds on the loose. Not all of the enemies will want to kill you immediately. This trades on the paranoia that Red Barrels wants to provide. Some of the inmates will have different reactions toward Miles ranging from benevolence to apathy to murderous hatred.

Probably the question that most survival horror fans: Is Outlast scary? Horror, like humor, is a subjective thing. However, in my time with Outlast I physically jumped, was unnerved, and made involuntary noises. The atmosphere is taut and nails the feeling of being in an abandoned building full of lunatics. As for the lunatics in question they were incredibly effective as nightmare material. In my estimation: Yes.  Outlast is very scary and you can look forward to being terrified and entertained.


Outlast will debut on PC at the end of summer, while the PS4 version will release in early 2014. Currently there are no plans to bring the title to Xbox One.

Feature originally appeared on 06/15/13

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