Well, it was with a sigh of relief that I finally managed to make it to the end of Outlast on the PS4. Was it a sigh of relief after an intense and frightening experience? No, it was, unfortunately, one of relief at having finally completed a gaming experience that I thought was disappointingly weak and grossly lacking in every respect.
When it was announced that Outlast was coming to PS+ as part of the IGC I was, like I'm sure many were, very excited at the prospect. A quick check of the reviews of the PC release hinted at a terrifying, sanity-shredding game that would have you sweating with anxiety and worry. I downloaded with baited breath and a change of underwear at the ready.
I booted the game up and found myself quickly disappointed. I became aware within the first hour of gameplay that the game was lacking on any number of levels. The character models were totally uninspiring, all of the asylum patients are presented as asexual (bar a noticeable pair...) beings with eyes stitched shut and threads running all over their body. The limitations of the Unreal engine quickly became apparent with graphical glitches galore including ghostly blocks that appear as you turn and look suspiciously like collectable items before vanishing as if they were never there and enemies hovering about a foot off the ground as you hide from them under beds. The game is insultingly linear, with locked doors barring progression left right and centre and the dreaded waist high stacks of beds and filing cabinets that demand 'You shall not pass!'.
I forced myself onwards though my mounting disappointment and grew only further disillusioned with the experience. I found myself screaming, yes. But not through fear. Mostly through frustration. The game is littered with cheap clichéd scares that we've seen a million times before and implemented far more effectively. You'll have things drop from air vents just like we saw numerous times in Dead Space, you'll have windows shatter a.l.a. Resident Evil, you'll have scares pop out of the dark that can only be seen through your camera just like happened in Fatal Frame. You'll be wheeled through the asylum hospital by a madman (Jacob's Ladder) and have sections of your body forcefully removed (Saw). None of the scares in Outlast are original. None of the scares are particularly scary. I can count on one hand the number of times I jumped with fright.
My frustration came mostly from the game's terrible controls, repetitive nature and archaic mechanics. You'll continually be given rudimentary and tiresome tasks throughout the game. Flip two switches to activate the sprinklers. Pull two levers to activate the lifts. Along the way you'll be chased down dark corridors by the same enemies over and over. Excitingly you can sometimes avoid them by climbing into air vents and using them as a means of escape or by hiding in lockers. I love nothing more than crawling through air vents in a game. We've never seen that before, have we? And hiding in lockers? It was my favourite part of Deadly Premonition. I eagerly anticipated those sections...
Sometimes the enemies will be armed, other times not. If you're playing on higher difficulties the chances of a one hit death are high. One of my biggest gripes with the title was the fact that, no matter how stealthily you evade your pursuers, whenever you flick a switch or pull a lever, the game would drop the enemies directly behind you. The sense of reward for having tiptoed expertly to your task is instantly ripped away from you, forcing you to hide until they wander away. Often, however, they'll wander to the end of the corridor and then head back. You'll be forced to wait (which grows boring very quickly) or dash past them (which destroys the game's tension). I quickly found myself utilising the latter technique just to avoid the tedium of waiting for the randomly wandering enemies to give me some space. Running, however, poses its own problems. The controls of the game are severely lacking. I found myself unintentionally dashing past the same door three, four times in succession as I attempted my escape from our sexless baddies. You'll often find yourself trapped in corners by enemies owing to the game's abysmal collision detection (it's as if every enemy is walking in an invisible rectangle) then be forcefully eviscerated as a reward. Sometimes the passageways are blocked by upturned beds or obstacles which can be vaulted. Vaulting is often a chore in itself. I found that, unless you are running at them in a perfectly straight line, you will often begin doing an Irish Jig in front of the obstacle instead of leaping over it. Then you'd be murdered.
The story is desultory. You are a journalist on a mission to uncover the strange goings on at Mount Massive asylum in Colorado. You don't get much back story but as your progress through the game you'll collect notes and observe scenes that fill in more of the story for you. Our protagonist, despite being shit-scared and whimpering like a scalded child at all times, also takes plenty of opportunities to write sarcasm-drenched notes like a wise-cracking internet troll. It's nothing we haven't seen before and when the big reveal appears (***SPOILERS*** It's evil Nazis!
***SPOILERS) you'll shake your head in disbelief as this particular story element has been done to death and often many times better. All the while you'll find yourself wondering how the only person alerted to the strange goings on at Mount Massive is a hapless journalist. When you discover the madness and danger inside the asylum you'll ask yourself why the military aren't swarming all over it or why it simply hasn't been nuked off the face of the earth. The ending scenes only serve to sully an already dreadful and unoriginal story even further.
A few other annoyances I encountered were the appearance of intrusive loading screens between sections of the game - a green image with a spinning load symbol. Even Resident Evil, back in 1996, offered us an animation of a door to make the transition less obvious and more bearable. The load times themselves are lengthy. On a number of occasions these load screens hung and I was required to restart the game in order to continue. In one section I got a load screen in the gardens near the end of the game which hung. I replayed the section and didn't even encounter a load screen on the second attempt which I found strange.
To summarise, I was astounded by how bad I found Outlast and find myself baffled by its many positive reviews. Any self-respecting fan of the horror genre will find themselves laughing at the pitiful scares and derogatory storyline. And experienced gamers will find themselves appalled by the poor controls and shamefully implemented and dated game mechanics. Usually I find myself going back through a game to tidy up a few additional trophies but I can't face going through Outlast a second time, so I think I'll leave my percentage at 40. The game might fill in a few hours as we await new releases for our next-gen console but I would find it very difficult to recommend Outlast even though it is currently available for free.
An absolute shambles that I was relieved to finish. The anticipation I felt prior to the game's release quickly dissipated and I am glad as can be that I'm finally done with the game. One to avoid, in my opinion, unless you're absolutely desperate to play something, anything at all.
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