Red Barrels Games’ Outlast will have a special place in my game history. It will live alongside Amnesia: The Dark Descent as one of the few games to unsettle me to the core and caused me to yelp aloud. Like Amnesia, it was also be recognized for not sustaining its oppressive atmosphere for long and eventually unraveling into an adventure that I couldn’t wait to complete.
It’s amazing how similar the two games’ trajectories were. I was completely immersed and taken by the Outlast’s disturbing setting. The mental hospital setting in video games is as tired as the Middle East but well executed designs can still be effective. Jump scares may be cheap and I have seen plenty of them over the years but they’re still effective when they’re planned accordingly.
An exorbitant amount of was spilled throughout the walls and floors of the hospital. The skittering of crazed lunatics and the screams that accompanied them filled the halls. But it was the heavy breathing of the player whom I controlled that gets under my skin. I related to his fear through this seemingly simple audio detail.
I peered around corners early on. I opened doors with caution and snuck around with great caution; I feared for my virtual life. I bought into Outlast’s investigator angle. Both the the main character and I were both trying to piece together what happened in this mental hospital. So when did the spell break? When did I stop buying into the game’s mystique and began running around like an idiot hoping to reach the end as quickly as possible.
The breaking point was when the main character failed to react to his physical ailments. I found it weird that the protagonist was unflinching in his camera work and posture but when you lose pieces of yourself and not be affected by it throughout the journey?
The illusion broke.
If his didn’t seem to phase him, why should I care about his well being? I began to take advantage of his unlimited running ability. I no longer feared the monsters and maniacs roaming the halls. I no longer feared death. Everything became a joke and by that then, I just wanted it to be over. I was tired of shimming, leaping across gaps and flipping switches. I just wanted answers and watch the credits roll.
Just like with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I didn’t care how the game ended. I just wanted it to be over. I’m not condemning Outlast though. Like I said, I will always remember it for the short lived moments of uneasiness and scares. I don’t even hold them to their shortcomings because I recognize how difficult it is to create a game like this.
I don’t know what they could do to avoid or stave off the moment where the magic wears off. Perhaps they should just embrace that moment and just give the player a weapon to fight back with. Or maybe they should just end the game before it wears out its welcome. I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t envy the developers who are trying to solve this riddle. What I do know is that I will continue giving games like this a shot.
Worth a Try
For more information on Outlast, visit the official website.