For most of the industry, evolving video games is about adding things to your game. Adding guns, offensive moves and a variety of other features. Developer Red Barrels took a different approach with their independent survival-horror title, Outlast. Instead of adding a slew of weapons or over-the-top melee combos, they took away all of your offensive abilities. In Outlast, when faced with danger you only have the option to run or to hide.
The preview demo dropped me just outside of the Mount Massive Asylum. You play as the journalist (which really hit home for me) Miles Upshur who is breaking into the asylum based on an anonymous tip. Aside from a couple of quick “press X to jump” style tutorials outside of the asylum, the first person adventure stops holding your hand very quickly. There were no checkpoints visible on screen and I was not told what do next. My goal was simply to explore.
Making my way into an open window on the second floor, I found myself engulfed in total darkness, not that half-assed “I can still see” type of darkness. My only reprieve from the pitch black? Night vision on a video camera that quickly drains its batteries and only illuminates objects nearby, fading off as the distance goes on. Exploration of the second floor revealed some very grim scenes. Bodies were strewn about some of the rooms and in a bathroom there was what appeared to be a security guard who’d had his head bashed into the bathroom mirror before collapsing and dying on the floor. Pools of blood and trails of bloody footprints told me to be nervous. And then there was the scream.
It happened while I was looking at a body on couch in a dark room. It may not have even been a scream, but it was a sudden loud noise and it scared the shit out of me. I scurried to the corner and couldn’t believe that I could be this scared and nervous in a convention center among thousands of people. But the atmosphere of this game really sells it. The sound design is top notch and the way the lighting works, or often times doesn’t, leaves you paranoid at every turn.
I mentioned earlier that Red Barrels did not give the player any offensive capabilities. In a later portion of the Outlast preview demo, I was faced with a single enemy stalking me in a basement area of the asylum. My goal here was not to defeat him but simply to evade and escape the area without being caught. Coupled with the darkness, the genius and eerie sound design, and not having a marker obviously telling you where you needed to go, these elements worked together to instill a feeling of dread as you waited in a room to see if he would walk on by or catch you in your hiding place.
Outlast appears to be survival horror the way it should be. No action. No supernaturally overpowered weapons. Just a regular guy running, hiding and trying to uncover a mystery before he becomes another stain on the asylum walls. The passion that the team at Red Barrels has for this game also shows that the project is a labor of love with intent to fill a niche in the industry that is being overlooked. Between the excellent and very eerie demo and the heart the development team showed, we decided to give the title one of our Best of E3 awards.
Outlast will be available for PC at the end of the summer and the PlayStation 4 in 2014. PlayStation Plus members will be privileged with Outlast as a free title during its first month of release on the PS4. Be sure to stay tuned for Dan’s interview with Red Barrels for more information on DLC, additional titles, and the inspiration behind Outlast later in the week.