Outlast Review (PlayStation 4)
Console horror games have taken a bit of a backseat to more action-packed experiences as of late, but the threat of things lurking in the shadows has continued unabated on PCs. With Outlast, Red Barrels has brought its popular first-person survival horror title to the PlayStation 4, and along with it comes the potential for a resurgence of truly atmospheric scares. Sadly, the horrors are all superficial, and the only true test is whether or not your patience can outlast some cheap thrills.
There have been reports of mysterious circumstances at the Mount Massive Asylum, which was recently repurposed by the shady Murkoff Corporation. As journalist Miles Upshur, it's up to you to investigate some tips about the terrible things happening inside the walls of the psychiatric hospital. Armed with only a video camera (with nifty night vision capabilities), Upshur is dead set on uncovering the truth, it's just too bad there are a whole host of creeps, monsters and deviants standing in his way. Though Upshur does meet a handful of potential allies along the way, the majority of the patients and inmates are out to get him. Particularly the behemoth formerly known as Chris Walker.
The hulking beast stalks you through just about every corner of the asylum, and since you've got no way to battle him, the only way to survive is to run. In fact, the only way to survive any encounter or threat is by running away and hiding in a corner, locker or another otherwise unreachable crevice. You could try aiming your camera lens in the faces of your potential foes, but all that does is delay the inevitable: your death. That's not to say your camera won't come in handy in other ways. You're supposed to be recording the events of your investigation, and certain sequences are keys to uncovering the truth. You'll also rely heavily on the night vision function to navigate the dark corridors that make up 90 percent of asylum. Of course, since so much of Outlast takes place under the veil of darkness, there are a lot of things lurking around corners just waiting to rip you apart. This is the biggest problem with Outlast.
To be fair, Outlast has a boatload of atmosphere. The setting, the characters, the music and the presentation all set you up a potentially amazing horror adventure. All that style doesn't add up to much substance though, and Outlast quickly becomes a predictable jump scare extravaganza that loses its luster the longer you play. The pattern becomes obvious after about an hour of play. You'll enter an area, there'll be an objective to complete (turning a valve, flipping a switch), and the music will pick up ever so slightly. Though at first everything appears safe and sound, the moment you flip that switch or turn that valve, someone will come chasing after you. There are very few actual threats to Upshur's life, but moments like these present baton-wielding foes or encounters with Walker that can end badly.
There are other cheap thrills that attempt to get you to soil your shorts, but the threats they pose are virtually non-existent. See that guy sitting catatonic in that wheelchair? The first time you walk past, he lets you go without warning. The second time, he leaps out at you, but since you can't actually fight back, there's a brief tussle before he's tossed to the side. Without any real consequences, the so-called scary moments lose any hope of sending any real chills down your spine. It happens again and again, and these sequences become incredibly obvious before they even happen. Outlast plays out like an interactive 'Paranormal Activity' or 'Insidious,' two films that rely much more on editing scares than legitimate terror. It's a shame because the building blocks are there for a truly horrifying experience, but Outlast never goes beyond the easy freak out to really inspire fear into players.
Even though Outlast relies too heavily on Hollywood tactics for its scary moments, it's still not a bad game. There's actually some fun in traversing the asylum with friends around, or by streaming it online via the PlayStation 4's many sharing options. Plus, there's a decent enough mystery at the core of Outlast, and uncovering it bit by bit can be enjoyable if you're able to get invested. There's just not enough engaging material to keep you from getting bored after a few hours. There's plenty of room in the survival horror market for someone to come along and really revitalize the genre. Outlast just isn't that game.
This review was completed using a purchased copy of Outlast for the PlayStation 4.