I got a chance to play the now-infamous demo of Outlast, the upcoming horror game from developer Red Barrels.
The game takes place in an asylum in the mountains of Colorado as players take control of journalist Miles Upshur as he investigates the horrors inside.
It’s labeled as a “stealth-horror” game, and this descriptor is apt. Miles didn’t fire any guns in my time with the game. He couldn’t do much except hide and explore. The game is played from a first-person perspective, through Miles’ camera in a sort of “found-footage” way. The demo takes place during what I assume is the beginning of the game, and it does a good job of giving the players tension without taking it too far.
One of the developers remarked to me that he was unable to complete Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the game from Frictional games that took the horror-gaming world by storm in 2010 and 2011, due to the tension and fear being too much for him to handle. As an active experience, games have the ability to frighten us in ways that films cannot. When something scary happens in a horror movie, we can cover our eyes or wince and wait for it to be over, knowing the plot will move forward with or without our involvement. However, in a game, player participation is required and covering one’s eyes is simply not an option.
One of the key things about Outlast then is to allow for some release of tension in its gameplay segments. There’s a continual sense of dread, but I did occasionally feel safe in Outlast in a way that differed from anything in Amnesia. That’s not to say it wasn’t scary or intense, because it was, but the controlled environment of the demo helped alleviate that somewhat. I’m not sure if that will be the case in the final version, which is scheduled to come out at the end of the Summer, but the team is working hard to ride the line.
The best thing about the game is the sense of physicality it gets across through the first-person perspective. When you look down, you see the character’s feet, and he reaches his hand out to brace himself when leaning against walls or peering around corners. You feel like you’re inhabiting Miles’ body, as opposed to some floating camera, which helps to create the sense of place that Outlast is trying to convey.
I cannot wait to get my hands on the final version, and to explore the ins and outs of the Mount Massive Asylum.