Outlast: into the madness and the hunt for Father Martin
So, I was gifted Outlast but I was asked to write my thoughts on the game when I had finished playing it. It took me longer than expected (I’ll get to that) but now that I’ve finished, I can tell you what I think about the different elements, from a horror fan (and developer) perspective.
Many of those who want to play the game have played it already, so I don’t think I need to explain what Outlast it, the plot, or write any kind of intro. There are different elements in Outlast that will or will not work, depending on what kind of person you are. First of all, Outlast takes place in a mental asylum, and during the game introduction you get to see the decrepit place the characters live in. There are many places that make the game feel very unsettling, and while they don’t give the adrenaline rush usually associated to horror games, it does make you feel anxious.
Outlast features a lot of gore and "torture porn." You see dead bodies, heads, limbs, and many similar things everywhere. It makes me wonder how many dead people you’d be able to find, but I am thinking there are enough to populate a village of decent size. Personally, I am not fan of gore and such, so I think this element can quicly get old because there’s not many things you can do after you show a pile of bodies. I mean, you show 10 dismembered bodies 5 or 6 times, but where can you go from there? show 100 dismembered bodies?
You could argue that horror is about constant tension, and I can say that’s true, unless you reach a point when you don’t care about that tension anymore. Slender is the perfect example, because after the first 2 or 3 jumpscares you don’t care about the pale guy anymore. At least, when I was playing Slender I ended up running around mindlessly trying to find the last page and I didn’t even paid attention to the slenderman anymore (and then I got tired of the game, rage-quitted it and uninstalled it). Maybe you’ll find this funny (or offensive), but I think a horror story structure could be compared to the movie The Passion of The Christ.
In The Passion OTC, the entire pacing feels like some sort of rollercoaster. The filmmaker gradually increases the tension, bit by bit, and when he reaches the higher point, he shows a flashback that will decrease tension a little, and the cycle starts all over again. The pacing is never a tension flat-line, but a combination of ups and downs. On the other hand, Outlast mostly tries to keep the tension up all the time, and this can yield mixed results. I only remember one time in the game where I found a moment of relief, but it lasted for one and a half seconds and it was the source of my biggest frustration with the game. I can’t remember many games that were about constant tension (maybe just Slender, but if you’re a regular reader of my blog then you know that’s not a compliment).
There are some sections where, just like in Silent Hill, you run into someone and you don’t know if you should be scared or sorry for the character lying in front of you. Those are very cool moments because it reminds you of their broken nature. Unfortunately, in some cases you don’t pay attention to them because you’re too busy running away from a crazy dude who’s trying to kill you.
I have mixed thoughts on using the camera and the night vision. I certainly don’t know if this was part of the item placement, or my gameplay style, but most of the time I was carrying at least 7 batteries (on a side note, when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old I would walk around the house in the middle of the night and sit on a couch, all lights off, so you can guess I am not afraid of the dark). The only times when I would definitely use the camera were when I found myself in pitch black areas, because I needed it for navigation (on aside note, when I finished Amnesia I was carrying around 15 bottles of oil and 50 tinder boxes).
Even with these small things I don’t like, Outlast is an extremely enjoyable game, or at least two thirds of it are. Near the beginig, a short sequence reminded me of F.E.A.R. (SWAT dudes flying around, being murdered by some unseen paranormal force), so you can easily guess what’s going to happen later. Long story short, what began like a journey to the depths of insanity ended up being a generic story about scientists dealing with some force they can’t control. Nothing we haven’t seen before.
To tell the truth, the paranormal element is what I didn’t like about Outlast. It’s not like I dislike games with ghosts (Fatal Frame is one of my all-time favorites), but I think a new horror IP should bring something new to the table instead of relying on proven formulas.
Besides, the Walrider wasn’t even particularly cool in any way…
I also have a problem with the “no combat” choice. On one hand, I’m really tired of those horror games where devs decide that you can’t fight back because “that increases the tension.” A real person would at least try to use a bottle or a pipe to try to defend himself, but for some reason in games all you can do is run, because, well… yeah, that’s why. In Outlast, the choice is ironic, because it seems Miles Upshur is happy to just stand there while the bad guy beats the crap out of him with something. At least having the ability to push the bad guy, or try to take the weapon from him and hit him with it. They could have even made it to work like some sort of “guard impact” (Soul Calibur players know what this is) where you need to time your counter correctly.
By the way, when you die for the 11th time in the same chase sequence, the tension goes away and all you feel is frustration…
On the other hand, Outlast doesn’t obey its own rules. You can’t fight back when you’re being attacked, but the game has numerous “quick time self defense” sequences where Miles miraculously realizes he can push and punch people. Basically, in Outlast you can’t defend yourself unless the plot requires it…
I definitely want to play Outlast again, but TBH this time I will just stop when I reach the garden after 2/3 of the game, not only because The Hunt for Father Martin is frustrating, but also because the entire “voilà, this be the Walrider!” part was beyond dumb.