Outlast Xbox One Review: Don't Play it With the Lights Off

Alone at night in an abandoned lunatic asylum filled with crazed mutant psychopaths with nothing but a video camera for company. Not a good idea...

I’m an idiot. I’d heard that Outlast was one of the scariest games ever released, so I thought I’d test out just how terrifying it was. I waited until my girlfriend went to bed, booted up my Xbox One, put my headphones on and turned out all the lights.

About 20 minutes later, my girlfriend was back in our living room, demanding why the hell I’d just woken her up with my yelling. At that point I was leaning back on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and muttering, “oh my God” under my breath, half laughing, and half a bag of nerves. I’d just walked through a door, and had been greeted by a headless torso swinging out of the dark towards me. It was a seriously cheap jump scare, but it was plenty effective.

That’s Outlast in a nutshell. It’s a horror survival game that uses every trick in the book to scare the living daylights out of you, sometimes unexpectedly, and sometimes in a way that you can see coming a mile away – but it still makes you jump when it happens.

The game is set in a typically terrifying abandoned lunatic asylum, called Mount Massive. I say abandoned, but rumor has it that the “research and charity” division of a large multinational corporation has secretly reopened it. The player takes center stage as a foolish journalist who decides, in his infinite wisdom, to drive there in the middle of the night and take a self-guided tour to find out what’s going on. And the only thing he has for company is his camcorder.

This is major contributing factor in making the game so damn scary. No guns. No crowbars. Not even punching fists. All you can do is move, jump and hide. This is horror survival at its most minimal, and I love the way it makes you think – it’s all about stealth and avoidance. The lack of any kind of defensive safety blanket helps ratchet up the tension enormously. It’s a clever mechanism that makes everything feel a little more personal and high stakes because there is literally nothing between you and the enemy; a frightening prospect in of itself.

Another thing that helps raise the stress levels is darkness. It’s something you encounter often, and it can be a deadly proposition. Fortunately your Camcorder has an infrared mode, which enables you to see a fuzzy version of your surroundings in shades of green. Unfortunately, while in infrared mode, the battery doesn’t last very long, so you have to be strategic in the way that you use it. There are replacement batteries to be found, but you really don’t want to be looking for them in the dark.

Something I really liked about Outlast is the way it messes with your head. A door that was open a moment ago when you passed it is suddenly closed when you turn around and look at it again. You might see something move ahead of you and go around a corner, but as you peek to see if it’s waiting for you, it’s not there. Where has it gone? And when is it going to jump out from somewhere unexpected?

And if that sort of tension-inducing stuff doesn’t get you, then the disturbingly horrific gore certainly will. No spoilers, but it becomes very clear very quickly that the monsters in Outlast rank alongside gaming’s nastiest. There are many pools of blood, body parts scattered everywhere, entrails and squishy bits festooned all over the place, and more than a few mutilated torsos that look as though hideously gruesome acts have been performed upon them. There really isn’t much in the way of good news or sunshine in this place.

All this adds up to a game where once you get going, you literally do jump at your own shadow. Which I think is another deliberate mechanism to put the chills in you. Outlast sets out to be a truly scary horror game, and it delivers on its promise very effectively.

Where it does fall flat a little is in its difficulty. It’s actually not that hard, thanks to there being only a few monsters that can kill you very quickly. For the most part, you’re able to escape your pursuers, and as long as you enter a room or find a hiding place when you’re out of a monster’s line of sight, it doesn't usually find you. Even if it does, you’ve usually got enough time to peg it again to the next hiding place. However, despite this lack of actual threat, the game is still scary, simply because you can’t help but get caught up in the action. Especially when you're hiding from a monster in a closet, and it's rampaging around the room looking for you. It just sucks you in like a nightmare.

The other thing that goes against the game is its replay value: once you’ve sampled its "delights", there’s not a lot to bring you back - plus the jump scares have severe diminishing returns. But even taking that into consideration, Outlast is well worth playing. It's a horror-survival game that delivers a visceral, hair-raising, and genuinely terrifying experience like no other game I've played before.

If that sounds like fun to you, Outlast is definitely $20 well spent.

Visuals
When the lights are off, the infrared camera effect and environments look terrific. When the lights are on, the game looks a little less impressive.

Sound
Does an excellent job in creeping you out and making you jump.

Interface
This is a very simple game with minimalist controls.

Lasting appeal
The game lasts maybe six hours, but Outlast isn't about long-term challenge - it's about scaring the pants off you. Which it does.

A genuinely disturbing and terrifying game that'll have you jumping out of your seat in fright. It's a little short at around six or so hours, but the experience Outlast delivers is well worth the price of admission.

4/5

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