Hey Brioches, Toasty here. Horror games have had a bit of a surge in popularity on the Switch in recent months. With the majority of the Resident Evil back catalogue being available in addition to Layers of Fear and the Amnesia Collection, there is certainly plenty to choose from. One of the first horror titles to grace the handheld however was Outlast. In honor of the spooky season, I think it is time we delve into the asylum and see what it has to offer.
You play as Miles Upshur, an Investigative Journalist who has been contacted by an anonymous source. Said source has seduced Miles with the promise of a once in a lifetime story in relation to the Mount Massive Asylum. Whilst exploring the madhouse, Miles will uncover Government plots, corporate scheming, religious fanaticism, multiple competing factions of inmates and no small amount of intrigue. Of course I will not spoil anything here, but needless to say the plot in Outlast is truly outlandish and goes out of its way to keep you guessing from start to finish.
As an investigative journalist, Miles comes prepackaged with a camera to record all of his adventures within Mount Massive. Whilst you are not required to have the camera ‘equipped’ at all times, there are certainly benefits to doing so. Firstly it comes with a handy-dandy night vision mode allowing you to peer into the darkness when the lights inevitably go out. It also helps you gather information. Miles will make notes on what he sees as the game goes on, however this will only occur when the camera is out. Basically, if you want to see where you are going and get the most out of the plot, you need your camera out.
Your night vision is a wonderful addition to your limited arsenal. Being able to see in the dark is the only advantage Miles has once the crazies start coming after you. It acts sort of as a comfort blanket. You want it on as much as possible, but that’s when Red Barrels pulls the rug from under your feet. In order to use night vision you need batteries, which are in limited supply. Do you use batteries now, or do you wait until later? For a game that has no combat, it very successfully integrates ammo conservation and resource management which is a staple of the genre.
Outlast is a linear experience. There are no real alternate paths through the story, you essentially go from point A to point B avoiding death. That doesn’t mean there is no exploration however. In order to find all the collectable documents and batteries you will need to stray from the beaten path from time to time. This will usually just be a room on the side every now and then. It is not much, but when the reward for a little sleuthing is life saving batteries, well lets just say it’s well worth your time.
As a linear experience, Outlast likes to funnel you from location to location which could get a bit tedious if Mount Massive wasn’t an interesting place to go through. Whilst the game has a very consistent style throughout, you are certainly pushed through a variety of environments that do just enough to break up the monotony of a giant Asylum. Whether you are going through the main Asylum, sewers, medical areas or courtyards, it always feels like you are exploring somewhere new and not copied and pasted areas.
The main gameplay loop on display in Outlast is, explore – jump scare – chase – hide – repeat. At first, this loop is terrifying. The atmosphere is palpable with jump scares keeping you on your toes throughout the explore phase. Once you have crossed an invisible line, you are inevitably chased for a bit and then you hide. After a while the game does become predictable, which is a shame because the fear you once felt slowly just turns into a distasteful eye roll. The game does try to spice things up with a puzzle from time to time, but like the core loop, this quickly becomes predictable. The same few puzzles are reused throughout, which is a real shame.
What keeps the game interesting, to an extent, are the characters. You will quickly realise that not everyone in the Asylum is out to murder you. In fact, many of the patients are just trying to live their lives. There are only a handful of enemies and all of them are memorable. The issue is that they recycle and reuse a few of the enemies one too many times, whilst the most interesting characters are used once, then never seen again.
Chris Walker is the main culprit for overuse. Whilst he is truly terrifying in his relentless, persistence, if you haven’t seen him in about 15 minutes he is very likely to pop up. On the flip side, an entire chapter is dedicated to the enigmantic Trager, but unfortunately he is never seen again. This fate unfortunately befall most charaters in Outlast. Luckily the interesting characters are sprinkled over just enough of the game to break up the eventual tedium of Chris.
Whilst it may sound like I am laying into Outlast a bit, these negatives are far from game breaking. The atmosphere and tension in Outlast is developed with brilliant sound design and presentation. Everything from the sound of Miles’ breathing and footsteps to the voice acting and music oozes terror. The graphics are not groundbreaking, but have a uniquely dirty style that makes Mount Massive a truly memorable locale. Even if what you are doing eventually becomes predictable, Outlast never becomes dull thanks to its consistently oppressive nature. What’s more, the game looks and plays wonderfully on the Switch. You would be hard pressed to spot any differences between the other consoles editions. With the recent avalanche of poorly optimised ports on the Switch, Outlast is a shining example of how to do it right.
Outlast, despite its flaws is a brilliant addition to the Switch’s library. Coming in at 5 hours long, it ends just before you get sick of the monotony. The story and atmosphere elevate the game beyond its gameplay, which despite its eventual predictablility, is very enjoyable. If you are looking for a game to scratch that horror itch, then Outlast is the game for you.
A truly great horror title, slightly marred by its predictable formula. Have you played Outlast? Are you picking up the Switch port? Let me know in the comment section below. Check out my Let’s Play of Outlast here!
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