Outlast Review

Descend into madness and meet horror along the way

Outlast seamlessly blends blatant horror with survival aspects in a way that feels raw and utterly ruthless.

Though relatively new as a sub-niche, survival games have their roots firmly fixed to the horror genre. As developers found newly improved ways of cultivating suspense, they also discovered how intrinsically linked the survival element is to raw fear.

In the modern-day, most horror games possess some form of a survival mechanic. That can mean anything. From the ability to craft life-saving objects on the fly to defending oneself from a harsh and hostile world; from monitoring vitals and reserving ammunition to making a note of the nearest locker to hide in. That mechanic immerses players in the game, making them panic when their resources run low and conserve their strength when health is critical. When survival is paired with traditional horror elements, you have an experience that is sure to mess with heart rate and adrenaline levels.

Done well, you end up with a game like Outlast.

Developed by Red Barrels, this first-person survival story has all the hallmarks of a horror classic. Join us as we deconstruct this hellish nightmare. Stripping it down to the bare bones in a bid to uncover what makes it so darn scary—and dissecting how survival plays such a pivotal role in its twisted events.

Enough procrastination. It’s time to pluck up the courage and journey down the rabbit hole. I’d suggest booking a shrink once this is over. You’re going to need it.

Story & concept

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any creepier, they go and set a game smack bang in the middle of a psychiatric hospital. A defunct, mysterious, blood-soaked psychiatric hospital full of mutilated patients and religious zealots. The story revolves around protagonist Miles Upshur, an investigative freelance journalist with a mission to take down corrupt Murkoff Corporation.

After Miles receives a tip from an anonymous source, he ventures deep into the Colorado mountains, searching for a specific psychiatric hospital known as Mount Massive Asylum. The Asylum has changed ownership recently in a hostile takeover, and Miles believes it’s the perfect time to find dirt on the new owners, the Murkoff Corporation. The hospital, however, is not as defunct as it appears on the outside. It’s alive and full of every kind of nightmare, waiting to welcome new patients.

Conceptually, Outlast is straightforward, at least on the surface. Escape the Asylum at all costs. On the face of it, that would be a casual stroll in the park were it not for hordes of deranged inmates who now freely wander the dimly lit halls of Mount Massive.

What Miles discovers within the ward is, as the game’s warning says, full of “intense violence, gore, [and] graphic sexual content….” Enjoy.

Outlast Witness

The story presents itself through documents left behind by ex-staff and the psychotic ramblings of patients. But now and then, you’ll gain insight into the horrors via well-executed in-game cutscenes. These run right throughout the game.

These events are timed to near perfection and provide much-needed context. Sometimes they take the form of jump scares, but they are not cheap by any means. They’re so efficient; you never see them coming.

In Outlast, the player should always be on their guard and must expect the unexpected. After all, it comes with the territory.

Graphics

On a visual front, Outlast does a superb job of anchoring the mood. Its grainy textures and dreary color scheme instill a strict sense of foreboding dread at every turn. Outlast sets the tone early on, and this depressive outlook gradually begins to sink its claws into the player’s psyche as the game progresses. While simultaneously eating away at the soul, one morsel at a time.

Outlast - They Lie

The visuals truly reflect one’s worse imaginings of how an order-less, derelict asylum would manifest in mind. The graphics, too, are equally up to scratch, with decent levels of detail throughout. Better still, there’s enough shimmer and sheen within the game’s environment and any objects within to conjure a visceral vacuum of realism.

On the whole, Outlasts aesthetic is a grim one. With that in mind, its visuals perfectly complement the on-screen action.

Sound & atmosphere

Similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast’s sound design is superb from start to finish. In truth, the attention to detail here is simply stunning. For instance, as soon as the action intensifies, you’re able to detect an elevation in the player’s breath and heartbeat.

When operated, interactive objects also sound authentic in the player’s hand, such as ladders and mechanical devices. Whenever you encounter an item or in-game object, there’s a palpable sense of realism with each action applied as you navigate through the torturous Asylum.

Outlast - Murkoff Corporation

Most of all, it’s the horrid inmates that make life a living hell. Their insane verbal outbursts and moments of pure, psychotic rage are so well-voiced, so well-choreographed that each one leaves you with mild PTSD.

But sooner or later, Outlast forces you to face your demons, even if it means kicking and screaming.

Gameplay

In line with most great survival games, staying alive is crucial to Mile’s mission’s success. Unlike most games of its genre, there’s no health bar to maintain in Outlast. Nor are there any weapons to help fend off those feral freakshows. “You are not a fighter,” the game repeatedly tells you.

Instead, players must employ stealth tactics to sneak by enemies without a trace or run like hell whenever they see an enemy—all while using a portable cam to traverse through shadowy areas unscathed. Unfortunately for Miles, though, night vision drains battery life. And batteries, surprise, surprise, are in very scarce supply.

Outlast - Rest in Piece

Aside from being an invaluable asset when seeing in the dark, the camcorder ratchets up degrees of tension to unprecedented heights. Through a night vision lens, we see the true nature of Mount Massive Asylum unfold in the grotesque form of vile abominations. They relentlessly pace up and down the dark and dingy hallways, menacing and maniacal.

Replay value

In truth, Outlast is not for the faint of heart. Even for the most seasoned horror fans, it’s a traumatic experience. A test of mental resolve against an abstract world. A hellscape where insanity lurks around every corner. But for those with a distinct taste for horror, Outlast will more than satiate the appetite. For others, it’s too much of a tricky proposition.

For the most part, Outlast is a one-and-done kind of story. But for those who brushed it off without sweat, there are four difficulty levels to test out your endurance.

Final words on Outlast

Outlast - Mirror

Overall, Outlast lives up to its name, issuing an excruciatingly torturous descent into madness, toying with your emotions in ways few games have achieved, before nor since. Whichever way you slice it, Outlast seamlessly blends blatant horror with survival aspects in a way that feels raw and utterly ruthless.

As terrifying as it is thrilling, Outlast is an experience horror fanatics cannot afford to miss. Check it out today. Just remember to talk to a counselor afterward, and if there’s any sanity remaining, check out its successor, Outlast 2.

Victor's avatar

About Victor

Writer. Gamer. Outdoorsman. Victor has written across multiple mediums, with some of his work appearing in anthologies, magazines, and websites like Nerdist.com, SFFWorld.com, and CBR.com. When not writing, he is usually gaining inspiration for writing from the library of video games he owns. If he's not indoors, Victor is outdoors climbing mountains, hiking forests, or otherwise conquering nature.

View all posts by Victor →