‘Outlast’ game review

By: Olivia Knafla

Ever since it’s release in 2013, it’s safe to say that ‘Outlast’, published by Red Barrel Studios, has received pretty positive feedback. With a 7.8 on IGN.com and a 10/10 on Steam, it appears that the game has been well received.

But exactly what is it?

‘Outlast’ is a first-person survival horror game where you, playing as investigative journalist Miles Upshur, enter Mount Massive Asylum armed with nothing but your camcorder. With over 15 million copies sold in 2018, there have been many people who have tried out the game for themselves. I joined the group when I recently saw it was on sale on Steam and decided to try it out for myself.

After having played through it a few times, I feel confident enough in my knowledge about the game, and its accompanying franchise, to write a review about it. This is, of course, is my perception of the game from playing its PC version, so it’s perfectly reasonable if my experience is not the same as that of others who have played ‘Outlast’.

Lastly, before getting into the review itself, I would like to point out that this article contains heavy ‘Outlast’ spoilers. If you haven’t played it yet, I would highly suggest that you go about doing that first. If you would like to read this review without worrying about spoilers, you can do so by not reading sections or paragraphs that have a spoiler warning next to or proceeding them.

Now, onto the review!

Gameplay

Playing the game for the first time was an experience that I can’t quite replicate when I replay it time and time again. From the start you are informed that you don’t get to fight the enemies that you’re sure to encounter – instead, you’ll have to hide, run, or die.

You are also introduced to your camcorder pretty early on, which is an essential part of the game. Not only do you use the camcorder to record events and write notes about what you encounter, but you use it to navigate the darkness of the asylum using the night vision feature.

Naturally, a creepy asylum, post-massacre, isn’t going to be well lit everywhere, so being able to use the night-vision on your camera is important – but don’t use it too much. By using your night vision, you drain your camcorder’s batteries and then need to find replacements. If you’re playing on normal mode you can collect up to 10 batteries at a time, however, the number of batteries you are allowed to carry, as well as the lifespan of those batteries, decreases when you choose a more difficult mode. You can collect batteries throughout the asylum, oftentimes near radios or computers, and their placements depend on both the mode in which you are playing and your need for additional batteries.

You’ll find that a common event is needing to complete some sort of multi-step process while avoiding an enemy patrolling the area. Examples of this include, but are not limited to: turning on pumps to start a circuit breaker, turning valves to drain sewer water, and collecting fuses to turn on a laundry chute. While these can begin to feel repetitive throughout the game, they usually carry some feeling of suspense, trying to listen to footsteps and avoid detection from your enemy.

At some points throughout the game, you don’t get the luxury of sneaking around and being thoughtful about your actions. For example, shortly after entering the male ward of the asylum, the music picks up and you realize that a group of three Mount Massive residents (more commonly referred to as “variants”) are after you, and you don’t get a lot of time to think or explore. It doesn’t help that you need to push objects out from in front of doors to get away, but you need to barricade them after entering a new room to slow and block your pursuers. The quick running away and vaulting over objects in your path is very smooth to play through (if you can think clearly enough to actually hit the right keys – something I had a bit of trouble with my first time through) and provides a parkour-style element to the game. This is not only apparent in this chase, though. You’ll find yourself jumping into vents to escape enemies who are chasing you and hanging over ledges to evade the view of others.

The game is good about responding to your controls and the characters are pretty well done in regards to how they can detect you and follow you around. I personally really liked how there is a clear difference in the personalities of different variants. Some can form full sentences and speak to you while others don’t have their thoughts put together that way. Some variants make their appearance very apparent to you (i.e. Chris Walker) and some that hide in the shadows and follow you before you can even realize that they’re there (i.e. The Twins). Characters play a huge role in not only this game but many others, and ‘Outlast’ seems to have done a great job making them work.

It’s easy to get completely immersed into the game once you start playing and getting into it, fearing what’s lurking ahead as you hear the soundtrack start to pick up and waiting for the next jumpscare to freak you out. You quickly become aware of who your enemies are and how to do what you can to defend yourself – sometimes by learning it the hard way. Don’t worry too much about it, though – when playing on normal, difficult, or nightmare mode, there are checkpoints where you can pick up from if you do end up in the hands of a not-so-happy variant.

Graphics

Considering that ‘Outlast’ came out in 2013, I was amazed by how high quality the graphics were. The graphics are AAA-quality, creating a beautiful and intricate world for the player to roam around in. The game did a fantastic job of having different textures and elements incorporated into itself while not looking out of place or unrealistic. On several occasions, rain and fire were incorporated into the game, and their overall appearance combined with the sound that accompanied them was impressive. 

I also appreciated the way that vision with, and without, the camcorder is different yet still realistic, especially as your camcorder’s batteries begin to drain. Water, reflections, and footprints are some good examples of the game’s capability to create a realistic scenario that in certain situations, looks more like a scene from a movie than a video game.

Overall, the graphics are high quality and provide an aesthetically pleasing and highly cinematic experience for the player.

Sound

An incredibly notable aspect of ‘Outlast’ is its soundtrack, which was composed by Samuel Laflamme. The music being played perfectly encapsulated the events that occur as you progress through the game. Chase music was high intensity and made your heart race, while as you walked through the asylum halls or witnessed something new (and likely harrowing) it was accompanied by a piece of music that was just the right amount of suspenseful to keep you on edge.

‘Outlast’ did a good job of timing events to fitting music, and I ended up liking the soundtrack so much that I found myself listening to it on Spotify after I was finished playing the game itself.

However, sound in a game is not all about the background music. 

The sounds effects in ‘Outlast’ are well-timed and fit into the game seamlessly. The sound quality is high and matches the realistic graphics that it accompanies. The sounds are realistic and the voice actors for the characters are able to play the part so well that at times, it’s hard to believe that they’re actors. In fact, because of his performance in ‘Outlast’, the voice actor for Dr. Trager (Alex Ivanovici) was nominated for the “Outstanding Performance in a Video Game” award at the 2015 ACTRA Montreal awards.

Miles Upshur, the character you’re playing as, does not speak. However, his breathings and yelling match the situation quite well. You can hear his breathing and heart rate speed up when he’s hiding in a locker or under a bed and an enemy is nearby. He reacts to the situations he gets into, and it is done in a way that is realistic and not too over-the-top.

Storyline *SPOILER WARNING for the following section*

I believe the storyline is the most overlooked aspect of ‘Outlast’ as a whole. It’s a pretty simple concept at first: Miles receives a letter from an insider at Mount Massive that the Murkoff Corporation, currently running the asylum, needs to be exposed for the horrible things they are doing there. He enters the asylum, things go south, and he needs to escape. However, when you pay attention to not only the characters you encounter, but other elements hidden throughout the asylum, things start to make a lot more sense – and seem a lot more put together.

As revealed in the first note (accomplished by raising your camcorder to record the exterior of the asylum), Mount Massive was shut down amid scandal and government secrecy in 1971 only to be re-opened by Murkoff Psychiatric Systems in 2009 under the guise of a charitable organization. However, as you can probably assume, their intentions were not so righteous.

What was going on was something called Project Walrider. Project Walrider was an experiment to create some sort of ideal creature out of a swarm of nanocomputers. The Walrider requires a human host in order to function, and the prerequisite for being this host is the following: to have experienced a huge trauma, and then seeing the trigger image video.

An old and suspected Nazi scientist, Dr. Wernicke, along with the Murkoff Corporation, were trying to bring this technology to life and control it. Their main test subject, and first known host of the Walrider, was a man named William “Billy” Hope. However, this doesn’t mean that countless other patients weren’t traumatized and exposed to what is called “Morphogenic Engine Therapy” in order to further progress Project Walrider. Because of the experiments, many of the variants that are seen throughout the game have parts of their body that have been permanently deformed.

Eventually, what is known as the “Mount Massive Asylum Incident” took place. This incident is described on the ‘Outlast’ page on Fandom as “a massacre of the staff of Mount Massive Asylum that took place a few hours prior to the start of the original story…  resulting in the establishment being overrun by the Variants.” The original story being referred to is the game itself, meaning that this massacre happened only hours before Miles arrived at the asylum. To go more in-depth, what happened was that Bill took control of the Walrider and used it in order to incite this violence against not only Murkoff personnel but patients as well.

This led to variants roaming the asylum for whatever reasons they would like. Some variants began to worship the Walrider as their God, and the most recognizable from this bunch would be a variant by the name of Father Martin. Father Martin intended on releasing the Walrider into the world. However, other variants were against this. For example, Chris Walker is a variant who stalks you throughout nearly the entire game and is known for decapitating people. His actions may seem unclear, but when you look into the storyline, his motives make more sense – he is trying to kill any possible hosts for the Walrider in order to prevent it from being releasing into the outside world as Father Martin intends.

Finally, Miles makes it to the lab underground, where he discovers what Murkoff was really about (and what the documents he’s been collecting mean). He meets Dr. Wernicke and learns how to kill Billy to then hopefully stop the Walrider, and after being chased through nearly the entire basement by it, he is able to successfully do so. However, Miles gets attacked by the Walrider and it fuses itself into his body, possessing him. After he makes his way to the exit – and does so very slowly as he can barely walk anymore – he is repeatedly shot at by a group of Murkoff tactical officers. However, they didn’t realize their mistake, as Miles had become the new host of the Walrider, he took down Dr. Wernicke and the military personnel with him; and thus concludes the game.

All in all, the storyline plays a major part in ‘Outlast’ as it should in any videogame. I really liked how through character dialogue, documents collected, and what remained of the asylum, you were able to get an idea of what was happening before the encounter in the lab even took place.

The story was thoughtfully applied to the game itself, and it adds another layer of interest and complexity, at least for me. You not only understand the extremity of what Miles is going through, but also the variants. I know I found myself starting to feel bad even for Chris Walker, which is strange considering he is Miles’s main enemy as he travels throughout the asylum.

Outlast has so much background knowledge to be learned about that I didn’t even mention at all in my summary, and by looking into it you really get to know the characters and why they are the way they are. It’s chaos, it’s gross, and it looks violent, but there’s reason behind it. It makes sense why there are heads on bookshelves and why there’s blood dripping from the vents.

All things considered, I think the ‘Outlast’ storyline is wildly interesting and well planned out. It definitely adds to the game in a positive way. It makes it go from some random game about a journalist and blood to something with meaning, something to get you invested. You are able to find clues along the way by picking up documents and observing the behaviors and dialogue of NPC’s. Overall, I think the storyline may be what I  love so much about ‘Outlast’ – and what keeps me and so many others hooked.

Replay Value

The replay value of ‘Outlast’ is likely highly dependent on the player’s interest in the lore, storyline, or simply game itself. If you don’t find yourself passionately interested in those things, I’d say the probability of you immediately wanting to start over and play again isn’t very high. Maybe after a few months to feel the scare again, but not instantly.

I found myself wanting to play through again once I found out all of the information revealed near the game’s end (and after researching the storyline and characters for myself) and I appreciated everything even more than when I first played it. Even after that, I played it again a couple of times to collect all of the achievements for it on Steam, as well as to try out the different modes.

My Overall Opinion

My main critique of ‘Outlast’ is that sometimes it got slightly repetitive, but at the same time I can see how everything fits into the game. It makes sense that Miles would need to put some work in to make it out of Mount Massive, and I feel like a huge element of ‘Outlast’ would be lost without the challenge of sneaking around different variants. However, sometimes it gets tiring running away from people and hiding in lockers.

*SPOILER WARNING for the following paragraph*

A huge critique that I have seen a lot of people have of the game is in regards to its ending. I have seen countless posts talking about how sudden or unexplained the ending was, however, I think that the ending to ‘Outlast’ was pretty solid. It makes complete sense that Miles would make a more than excellent host for the Walrider, and it makes even more sense that Dr. Wernicke would want to have Miles killed after having found out some of Murkoff’s biggest secrets. It was shown in the game’s documents “Request for Reassignment” and “Persecutorial Delusions” that Murkoff took one of their own employees, David Annapurna, and transmitted him as a patient of the asylum (which they indisputably mistreated) after he threatened to contact the press about his suspicions that Murkoff was abusing their patients. While it was Dr. Trager who sent in for David to be admitted as a patient, it is not unlikely that nearly all of the Murkoff administration, who knew a considerable amount about Project Walrider, wouldn’t want anybody to know about it. Not only could it damage Murkoff’s image, but the experiments they were conducting were highly illegal. For those and several other reasons, I believe that ‘Outlast’s’ ending not only makes sense but wraps the game up in a clean and concise way.

All things considered, I think ‘Outlast’ is an amazing game that everybody should give a try at least once. I will say that I would tread with caution for either younger teenagers or people who are easily scared, grossed out, have nightmares, etc. The game is rated Mature, with the game’s content describes as the following: “frequent violence or gore and general mature content”. All that being said, I’ve played several different games in the same or similar genres, but ‘Outlast’ stood out to me from the beginning and has ranked as my current favorite horror game.

So, what are you waiting for? A Steam sale? Not a bad idea, honestly.

In all seriousness though – I think ‘Outlast’ is worth the purchase and undoubtedly worth your time. 

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