Outlast ReviewDeveloper: Red Barrels
Hallowe'en seems to have come early for the games industry this year. Only last week Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs well and truly disturbed us in typically atmospheric albeit mechanically restricted fashion. But Amnesia isn't the only freak-show to roll into town this month. At almost exactly the same time of Amnesia's released, an unknown developer known as Red Barrels rather abruptly launched their debut title, Outlast. Having played both, it has to be said, the small team of former Ubisoft designers from Montreal have rather stolen Amnesia's thunder.
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Not only is Outlast more terrifying than being trapped in a confined space with the entire cast of The Only Way Is Essex, it's also a great game, finding numerous novel ways to keep the player involved beyond having things occasionally jump out at you and shout "boo". Add to that excellent visual and sound design alongside some occasionally stellar writing, and you've got the best horror game of the last few years.
Now, the premise is not exactly an original one. Ridiculously named and astoundingly stupid freelance journalist Miles Upshur receives an anonymous tip that there have been some nefarious goings on at the Mount Massive Insane Asylum, which for years has lain abandoned until it was recently taken over by a secretive research branch of the Murkoff Corporation. So naturally Miles decides to investigate. Alone. At Night. During a Storm. With nothing to defend himself but a video camera and the thickness of his own skull. It's frankly surprising that he has the mental capacity to write at all.
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While Miles isn't exactly a paragon of journalistic common sense or basic personal safety, playing as him is fantastic. Miles' body is fully rendered a-la Mirror's Edge, and the attention to detail on his movements and interactions is very impressive indeed. Click on a door to open it and Miles will lean down and grab the doorknob. If the door happens to be locked, he'll test it, rattling the frame. Lean around a corner, or squeeze through a narrow gap, and Miles will put his hand on the wall.
These little details add enormously to your sense of place, making you feel physically present, which of course also makes you feel more vulnerable. And it's a heck of a place. The Mount Massive Asylum is a sprawling, mazy Victorian mansion with as many layers of history as it has floors. Red Barrels have created a game-space that is as rich and varied as logic will allow, although it does go some way beyond logic toward the end. Furthermore, while the game is ultimately linear, there are enough side-rooms and cubbyholes to make you feel like you're exploring, and not simply progressing through a series of levels.
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This isn't a historic guided tour, however. Within five minutes of getting inside the Asylum, Miles realises the enormity of the mistake he's made, and immediately begins to search for an exit. This of course turns out to be rather more difficult than walking out the front door. The horror in Outlast is a little more reliant on blood and shocks than Amnesia's use of Lovecraftian techniques. But Outlast also gives you much more reason
to be afraid. You're frequently being either hunted or chased, and to evade what lurks and lumbers around the Asylum, you'll need to hide underneath beds and in cupboards like a child afraid of the dark.