Horror video game enthusiasts have, for decades, derived substantial pleasure from video games that use their unique platform to put interesting spins on the horror genre. From the split-second horror moments of Alone in the Dark, the dark, disturbing yet tacky tone of Alan Wake, to the hits and misses of the Resident Evil franchise, horror fans have a lot to take away from horror-focused video games, a popular genre that offers interesting opportunities to game developers to use the platform creatively to create timeless horror moments.
This is the opportunity that Red Barrels grasped with both hands to come up with Outlast, one of the scariest horror video games of all time that changed the genre forever. But how scary is Outlast really?
First of all, Outlast changes a lot of things commonly associated with horror video games with fantastic results. In fact, its approach is what makes it one of the scariest horror video games of all time as attested by casual fans and hardcore horror aficionados. Let us take a look at what Outlast brings to the table and how the franchise has changed horror video games for good.
From Old Scares to New
Looking at horror video games of old, certain tropes have always been mainstays. Horror video games have cleverly employed a few set ways to shock and scare with very little variation. Whether it is the light and darkness jump scares of Alone in the Dark or the gratuitous gore and horrible disfigured creates in Resident Evil, it has mostly been about audiovisual impact, much like the experience one has while watching mainstream horror movies.
With Outlast, this approach has undergone a sea change. The game is designed in a manner that prioritizes inflicting horror on the players at a deep psychological level. That is how Outlast inflicts the scares. Of course, you have the jump scares, the traditionally creepy mental asylum setting, and the quintessential creature that you might find in other movies in video games. However, it is the gameplay that creates the most decisive difference for Outlast.
Outlast’s Gameplay Experience
If you revisit older horror video game titles, the gameplay elements that emerges most of all is hope, in the form of combat. While players would bear the weight of what they see, hear, and feel, most horror games would employ a combat gameplay mechanic which can give players a slight hope that, no matter how dire the situation gets in the game, they might be able to fight their way out of it. This is the crucial element that is missing in Outlast and this is what gives the game a uniquely different gameplay experience and an unprecedented scare quotient.
Outlast specializes in making its players suffer and feel helpless by employing a few ingenious methods. The most important method is a complete lack of combat. The player has no ability to fight back in any way under any circumstance, and this creates the building blocks for that first nagging feeling of helplessness and panic.
This is bolstered by another game mechanic, a button that lets you hide. You are better protected against harm while you are hidden in the game, and this might emerge as a glimmer of hope. Only, you cannot always hide. Hiding places are limited and you would have to traverse large distances with no option to hide if you want to progress in the game. This not only compounds the feeling of helplessness, but also makes it a requirement for players to plan and strategize their movements, even when in the throes of being scared witless.
Another vital element is the point of view. The entire action of the game is visible through the lens of a handheld video camera which features night vision. However, using night vision requires power and you also need to find fresh batteries in your surroundings before the power runs out completely.
The Exposition of Outlast
While the game has a concrete backstory that is loosely based on the mysterious and controversial MKUltra experiments that the CIA conducted until the 1970s, the exposition element is also very different in Outlast. There are no cutscenes and no overt referencing.
Instead, the player finds out about the setting and the backstory while progressing through the game via investigation. The player also has control over the degree of investigation they would indulge in, thereby making the exposition, or lack of it, more interesting.
So How Scary is Outlast?
So how scary is Outlast anyways? Players trying out the game will experience not just momentary scares and shocks, but a deep feeling of unsettling inner horror. The flickering lights, jerky camera movements, and eerie music also add to the experience and the infusion of stealth elements in the game lend it an entirely new dimension of gameplay.
The labyrinthine passages of the asylum and the creeping and hiding create a truly unique horror experience unmatched in earlier video game offerings. To top it all off, players eventually come to realize that hiding might not always save them, a chilling twist that makes Outlast a genre-defining horror video game.
Last Updated on May 15, 2023.
Nice! If you’re interested, I watched a really good summary/exploration of the game’s plot the other day. It’s easy to miss some things because your adrenaline is constantly spiking as the player character is running for their life.