Game review: Run or hide to “Outlast” evil

Erin Johnsrud, Staff writer

“Horror-survival game” – that’s all I needed to hear, and I was ready to play  “Outlast.” The trailer looked like a movie I’d want to see, which only added to my excitement to play the game. Before starting, I was aware of – and intrigued by – the fact that this is strictly a survival game. Your only choices are run or hide. There are absolutely no mechanics in which to defend yourself. I am well-versed in the horror genre, and haven’t been actually scared by a horror movie since I saw “Child’s Play” when I was about five (thanks to Mom and Dad, for letting me crash my big sister’s birthday/slumber party), so I was very curious to see if the game would scare me.

“Outlast” is a single player, first-person game in which you are Miles Upshur, a journalist that has just gotten an anonymous tip that there’s some shadiness going down at Mount Massive Asylum, a supposedly now-closed institution that was run by a big-bad corporation which has a reputation for unsavory, unethical, and rumored illegal practices in the name of the almighty dollar. Naturally, Miles chooses to investigate this huge asylum, on a dark and stormy night, no less, armed with nothing but his camcorder. Suffice it to say, Miles gets locked in the asylum. The only chance for survival: escape.

The scare factor of “Outlast” is off the charts. Within the first ten minutes of playing, I had jumped, and screamed – loudly – more than once, and these were not cheap scares. Every one of them was earned. Sound design and attention to detail contribute greatly to the feeling of immersion. At times, the only sound you hear is that of the character’s breathing: sometimes in the form of desperate gulps of air, at times they are quick, shallow, panicked breaths. Then there is the distant, deranged ramblings from asylum residents – you know they’re roaming the asylum, but you never know when or where they’ll pop up. Even when their presence isn’t a surprise, it’s unsettling. Much of the game can be viewed through the lens of Miles’ camcorder, but in the dark (which there’s plenty of) it is essential to make use of the night vision option. This eats up battery life like you won’t believe. You will find batteries sporadically throughout the asylum, but use them wisely – you do not want to be stuck without your night vision capability.

This is by far the most frightening video game I have ever played, and it’s not for everyone as there is a lot of gore, and some very disturbing images. I will confess that a few times it got so intense that I had to stop playing. The atmosphere is terrifying, and the story is satisfactory, even if it does get a bit whacky towards the end. The only drawback I found was that the save checkpoint structure sometimes forces you to replay certain parts over and over. That is fairly insignificant, since there is so much scary-as-hell fun to be had playing “Outlast.”