Friday, February 28th, 2014 by Nick Maunders
What better location to stage a survival-horror game than an Asylum right? Add to that intense, creepy music and a total inability to defend yourself in any way at all (apart from running around screaming of course) and you’ve got the makings of a really great, scary video game: Welcome to Outlast.
If you’ve been following my YouTube Feed over on my channel XtraGamerOfficial then you’d have noticed that this is one of the main games I’m currently playing through. Although having been available for the PC (Windows) for the last 5 months, Outlast has only very recently made it on the PlayStation 4. It’s also currently the PlayStation Plus free game of the month which is why I thought I’d give it a try.
When we think of brilliant scary games there are certain aspects and features that can really break or make a game of this genre. After all, the whole point of a horror game is to make you scared! If it doesn’t do this then it’s failed in one of its most important factors. So how do you make a game scary? Well there’s lots of ways really.
Visuals are a pretty obvious key feature in making a game scary. If you’re strutting along in a fancy colourful fairy world while reading some text talking about your imminent death then you aren’t going to get very scared! This is especially important for me because I, along with a large percentage of the population I’m sure, find it much easier to remember visuals than text, like remembering what a person looks like rather than their name or the things they spoke about, for example. You don’t even need anything else to make something scary apart from visuals. Take a freakishly scary picture for example like this one (honestly, don’t click it if you get scared easily, I tried to warn you!). That’s all it is: a picture. There’s no music, no story, no movement, nothing. But it’s still scary! Outlast does pretty well in this department. The enemies aren’t overly scary, but they aren’t exactly normal looking either! Of course most of the game is also played in complete darkness, this doesn’t really help your nerves at all!
Next on the list we have sound. Along with visuals, if you’ve got great sound then you should be coming very close to a brilliant scary game. One of the scariest flash games I’ve ever played featured just visuals and sound really! Here’s a link to the Scary Maze Game for your enjoyment, be a lovely friend and scare someone with it! Of course, you’ll probably be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of this before and although it isn’t really scary anymore, it was the first time you played it! This is where Outlast really excels. From what you’ve seen on the YouTube videos so far Outlast really has a reputation of building up the ambience, introducing more and more scary sounds until you get to a turning point in the game … and then nothing happens. You’re left feeling like an idiot “Why on earth was I scared of that?” There weren’t any visual scary cues it was just the music, and that is what makes this game so powerful. Of course chances are once you’ve calmed down something scary will happen. This brings us on to the next point.
Surprise! We’ve all watched scary movies and played scary games before. Therefore we’ve built up quite an extensive library in our mind about when scary things should happen. Maybe I’m walking towards a “supposedly” dead body on the floor, this is going to be flagged up in your brain and you start anticipating that maybe that body isn’t so dead. You start thinking of all the possible situations: “Is he going to jump up at me when I get near him?”; “Is she going to try to kill me?” This’ll get you very worked up (especially with some key scary music about now!) Imagine your relief when you get there and absolutely nothing happens. Phew. So you turn around to walk back the way you came and WHAM: Your dead friend has just grabbed your leg and exploited your weakness in trying to find patterns. The moment you feel relief is when you are the most vulnerable and Outlast really capitalises on this! A great example of this is shown in Part 4 of my playthrough below. You’ll have to watch the first half of the video to appreciate what was so scary and I’m not giving anything away so go check it out!
Suspense and surprise go hand in hand of course and you’ll definitely be in a state of suspense for pretty much the whole game. The developers are very clever people at making you scared when you don’t need to be. For example, I was walking down a hallway minding my own business when this popped up onto my screen: Press L1 or L2 to look behind you while running. “Oh thanks game, that’s very helpful! …. Wait why would I need to look behind me? Is something going to chase me?!?” Turns out of course absolutely nothing did. If you want a game full of suspense then look no further!
So visuals, sound, surprise and suspense are the main four points of a successful survival-horror game in my opinion. Outlast also introduces us to some more minor (but still very important) features.
Being defenceless, especially when you’re being attacked, is never a happy experience. When faced with a situation there are two primal instincts we have: Fight or Flight. If you forcibly remove fight from a game then things are going to be so much harder! Our creepy friend lumbering towards us isn’t as scary if we have the opportunity to slash him with a knife, or even just punch him with our fists! Unfortunately no such combat system exists in Outlast which means you have to run and hide from all enemies! You always need to be on lookout for potential hiding spaces and chokepoints.
Outlast takes place via a video camera as well. Although you don’t actually have to get the video camera out it, it is kind of required in most places as you wouldn’t be able to see without its night vision mode! Video cameras in the dark are quite often associated with scary moments as well (think of the Blair Witch Project for example), so combine this with the dark and there are very few places in the game where you feel completely comfortable. Oh did I mention you have a limited battery as well? You certainly don’t want to be around when it runs out so you better find some more fast!
With far more surprises than you’d be comfortable with, many dark areas, weirdly disfigured enemies and no weapons, Outlast is sure to get your heart rate up sky high! If you need a taster of what the games like before downloading it then check out the current Outlast Playlist up above. However, if you’re a fan of survival-horror games or just fancy playing something a little bit different then I would definitely check this game out!