Halloween Special: Outlast

To celebrate Halloween this year, I picked up a few horror games on the Steam sale to tide me over. Not that I’m a fan of horror games, but one night of jumpscares a year is enough. Last year, I tried Five Nights at Freddy’s but ran out of power at 4am on Night 2, with two animatronics advancing on the office, and noped the hell out of there.

Thankfully I’ve played a bit more of a horror game this year – in fact I’ve played more of 3 – so here are some of my thoughts on Outlast.

The premise behind Outlast is very interesting: you are an investigative journalist, poking around a mental asylum with only your trusty video camera by your side – this comes with a handy night vision setting, so you can use it to look through dark areas. You can’t fight back, you can only run and hide. It’s unsettling to play a game where you can’t really do anything, when you would usually expect to have a Glock and a steady hand. 

Exploring the asylum is nerve wracking, fearing what might be around the corner and running at the first sight of trouble. Just what you’d expect if you were actually there. 

You’re on a timer when you’re in the dark, as the camera battery will drain out so you’re relying on memory and hope that there isn’t something waiting for you in the corner. Batteries are scattered around, but they’re tiny and easy to miss. You are expected to ‘reload’ your battery as well, another clever twist on the usual format.

The story is dripped to you piece by piece as you explore and point your camera at different bits of intrigue and record something. Only once (in my playtime) was something jumpscared into my notepad. It would be nice if there was a little more direction for what you’re meant to be recording, because my camera was up and down all the time – but, in the thick of it, how would you know what’s important?

Outlast is a tense and confined experience, forcing you to stare through a camera lense to see where you’re going to hiding in a locker when a patient is on the prowl. It turns a number of usual concepts on their head to present the story to you, taking the player out of their comfort zone – but, for this experience, it works. You are just a reporter looking for a big scoop, all you have is a camera – even in America you’d be pushed to lug around a gun for protection, let alone finding ammo in a hospital.

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