Based on what I was hearing about indie studio Red Barrels’ Outlast from both GAMESCOM and E3, it sounded like we’re looking at another “better play this with the lights on” Game-of-the-Year experience, much like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but there were definitely some issues with the game that I had during my hands on here at Penny Arcade Expo that had me a little concerned.
While the game obviously derives a lot of it ideas from the aforementioned Amnesia, in so far as giving the main character no way to defend himself except to run away screaming, Outlast plays almost more like a stealth action title than a quirky horror game. The cross section of the game I played had your hero, journalist Miles Upshur, inside the Mount Massive Asylum trying to escape as inmates are breaking out and murdering guards. But as you’re playing Outlast like a stealth game, you can crouch down, move quietly and simply sneak past them. There are no indicators as to whether or not you’ve been seen (well, minus one of the monster machete-wielding inmates stabbing you), so you just move forward hoping they don’t. However, instead of feeling intuitive and natural, it just feels like the small 10-man shop at Red Barrels didn’t have time to put the proper graphical cues in the interface.
One of Outlast‘s primary mechanics is Miles’ video camera, which he can use to both record events and drain the replaceable battery on it to use the night vision equipped with the camera. The night vision effect is incredible, and having actually dealt with night vision goggles on a regular basis, the team did a bang up job simulating the effect in the game; the world doesn’t suddenly reveal itself to you perfectly, instead blurring and dark where there is no natural light to magnify. But I’m not exactly sure what the point of giving the character the ability to zoom in and record, giving the player the feeling like the camera heads-up display is the game HUD, but then you can turn the camera off and simply play in first person with minimalist user interface. Red Barrels’ co-founder, ex-Ubisoft veteran David Chateauneuf, claimed that having the camera recording at certain points is helpful to uncovering extra story elements of the game, but this wasn’t clearly indicated in the demo.
So, you can “run” as your primary defense against the horde. A psychopath has spotted you and you have to beat feet to get to safety. Miles can run forward, mantle over low obstacles, close doors behind him and try to put as much distance between you and your aggressor, but in the demo, it always lead to me stuffing Miles into a giant bank of lockers and waiting it out as the psycho wandered around, opening random ones. I did that at least three times. Once is reasonable, but three times in the same vertical slice feels like Miles is going to be spending a lot of time squeezed into lockers.
I was excited for Outlast, especially hearing that it’s coming out next week (September 4th) on Steam, and eventually over to the Playstation 4, but now I’m starting to wonder. I’m sure it’ll be a solid enough title for such a small team, and the camera mechanic feels like it could lead to some really horrific jump scares (yes, they got me once, damnit), but now I’m a little more cautious about my enthusiasm.
And of course I’m still going to get it. Even if Outlast is just a knock off of Amnesia, that’s certainly good company to be keeping. I truly hope they prove my assessment wrong.