Spooktober Entry #8 – Previous Entry: BUTCHER // Next Entry: The Coma: Recut
Here’s a title that needs no introduction.
Outlast, one of the catalysts for YouTube Lets Plays. This, Cry of Fear, the SCP minigames and some other non-horror crap, designed for the Lets Player in question to make stupid faces and extreme clickbait. Outlast seems like the only title out of all of these examples that was to be a game first-hand, with a point and an arc, it’s gratifying to watch it unravel.
Red Barrels are responsible for the existence of Outlast, a team of former devs from Ubisoft and EA, at least in the Canadian divisions. Looking for their exact involvement in previous titles, I could only find that the only named staff on the board worked on Splinter Cell and the best Prince of Persia title, The Sands of Time. It’s a total genre shift, it seems, but it simultaneously doesn’t matter, as we’ll discover.
Outlast tells the story of Miles Upshur, freelance privacy invad- I mean journalist, who receives an anonymous tip that there’s some unethical and immoral going-ons at Mount Massive Asylum, a remotely-locked hospital that might as well be a castle for the bloody Grim Reaper. Upon his arrival, he notices that the patients are actually well-treated and are in fact, well on their way to becoming a lot better and well-adjusted to modern life. After being caught trespassing, Miles is forgiven and given free rein to visit whenever he wants, and apologizes for any misundersta- What do you think happens?
Of course, every single patient has escaped, a la Halloween 2, and now Miles is stuck in the aftermath of it all, unable to escape without sanctifying proof. Of course, one quick look at four SWAT officers impaled in a library, covered in each others blood and guts would be more than enough to just run away and get the military to glass the place. Alas, here we are, stuck in the middle of it all, and it isn’t even midnight.
Off-topic slightly, but the progression of events and time in Outlast always make me chuckle, somewhat. You’ll be battered and bruised by the end of the first night, but no matter how many times you get knocked out by fat guys wanting to use you as a toothpick, it’s always pitch black with the sun absent. Not that it matters, since the game could be a music video to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”, and it’d still be as terrifying as ever.
Even if you haven’t played Outlast, you know of its reputation, which is usually summed up in two words, as “fucking terrifying”, and I can’t help but mildly disagree. That’s mildly, mind you, the game still has plenty of moments where the absence of jumpscares and supernatural elements definitely helps, but Red Barrels run through the set of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, is a horrifying case of overrated happenings.
First impressions of Outlast can be seen as a false flag. 10 minutes into your playthrough, and you’ll be met with 4 different jumpscares, all of which are set up in an obvious manner, but still get the player regardless. While these jumpscares are executed in a way to lull you into a false sense of security, there is the amazing amount of zero jumpscares throughout the rest of your journey, and I’m glad I’m not making that statement up.
The real horror comes from the formula that Red Barrels have presented, which stales over time, despite the inclusion of different behavioural patterns from the AI. You’ll be locked in a playground of sorts, filled with screaming patients and rooms covered in excrement and blood, and you’ll be tasked with escaping, all the while an assailant will be looking to make you their doll. These can be anything, from the hulking brute of Chris Walker, the twin cannibals from the Prison, or Rick Trager. Let’s talk about Rick.
Rick was a former executive of Murkoff, the corporation behind the madness you’ll witness (also the reason for this games downfall), who is incarcerated in the Asylum due to knowing too much. You’ll encounter him halfway through the game and attracts you to the screen via his perverted, yet comedic and uplifting tone. It’s no good for the player, as Rick proceeds to cut two of your fingers off, but for the fleeting moment he’s here, Outlast turns into something special.
Too bad he gets killed off eight minutes after he’s introduced, despite easily being the best character in the entire game. Now, we’re stuck with some fat man-child called Chris Walker, who stops becoming threatening when you realize that you can clip him into obstacles easily. Red Barrels’ reliance on Chris Walker is disappointing as the mechanics of stealth in gameplay are easily broken when the fat bastard can sneak up on you without a sound being made.
Is the gameplay fun regardless? I don’t know honestly, I don’t like when a game breaks its own rules for the sake of difficulty or to retain the style its known for, but the chases are executed perfectly, when they’re not glitching on you. If they could replace Chris with Trager, then the game would be infinitely better, since the game would have a personality, along with being a harrowing insight into mental health.
Throughout Outlast, the horror doesn’t come from supernatural or stupidly elaborated nightmares, it comes from the reality of mental health being unleashed onto a normal wavelength. You see these broken personalities portrayed throughout, making small appearances and big waves despite their minimal presence. The Pyro, arguably the briefest appearance in the entire game, is easily the most effective non-moment. With a few sentences, and his breakdown after you literally rain on his pyro-parade, you feel for him.
Another effective part of the game is the non-ending, which consists of a prominent figure in the game, Father Archimbauld, sacrificing himself via self-immolation and a hearty mix of crucifixion. This selfless and ultimately depressing act was carried out in the name of the Walrider, and who is the Walrider? See, here’s the thing… I don’t like talking about this element of Outlast. It defies everything the game set up, what is told and what it conveys.
What could’ve been a horrific insight of the grounded reality of mental health the game seeps itself in, ends up being an insanely stupid dedication that ruined the Condemned series. Instead of leaving the asylum with more than enough evidence to bomb this place, you enter an underground facility which has awakened the Walrider. And the Walrider himself? Walrider is a German fable, who is replicated in this game, being made entirely out of nanomachines, son.
Ignoring the fact that this was hinted at throughout the entire game, and the fact that his visual appearance is a black skeleton with green eyes, I just have one simple question: Why? Why was this decision made? You had so much potential to end on a horrifying note, Red Barrels, and you squandered it on some stupid Umbrella Corp. type nonsense. As for the ending, I don’t want to talk about that either. Emperor Palpatine tries to kill a demigod, the end.
Let’s get another thing out the way as well, that thing being the Whistleblower DLC, an overlapping prequel of sorts, which should be reviewed quickly as it does help set the horror into motion. Personally, my experience with it was soured, since Red Barrels exclusion of jumpscares in the base game, are put on the opposite side of the track here. It seems you can’t go five minutes without the game blatantly not caring and making a poorly animated model jolt around a screen to spook you.
The lack of memorable character input in the base game seems to have been something Red Barrels paid attention, filling the cast with kooky kids. Throughout your 3 hour return to Mount Massive, you’ll meet perverted doctors, loving cannibals and genital-mutilating momma’s boys, all of which are set on murdering you in various ways. It’s nice that they thought of more additions to add to the cast, but in Whistleblower, they come across as more token than anything, and neither sour nor uplift the experience.
What begins as one of the best horror games to be released in years, filled with grimy and dirty scenarios interspersed with some genuinely interesting characters; ends with a death knell of stupid spooky scary skeletons when it shouldn’t have called for it. It’s F.E.A.R. without the guns, Condemned without the spark, and as for the sequel? I wouldn’t know about it, I’m too hurt. Someone else does however.
Despite having an incredibly stupid plot and a lack of interesting characters, Outlast is still one of the most terrifying games around.