Have You Played…Outlast?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

As a survival horror fan, I was at first willing to overlook the asylum-set Outlast’s [official site] stigmatisation of issues of mental health because it was a concept I thought otherwise sounded interesting. A combat-less scare fest that swaps Amnesia’s gas lantern for a camcorder with diminishing battery power? That’ll do me. But then I discovered its real horror: the batteries themselves.

You see, each and every set of batteries found strewn around Outlast’s Mount Massive Asylum is the same size. For me, this became equally as terrifying as the institute’s volatile patients and blood-splattered hallways. Who stocks so many AA batteries in the one place? They’re not in packaging, so why are they all fully charged? And what do they do when the TV remote runs out of juice? I mean, they’ve got to be AAA, right? As I delved deeper into the institute I was left with more questions than answers and was overcome with the ominous unease of knowing every battery, the battery of batteries I knew I’d happen upon, would fit my camera.

Stuff all the repetitive jump scares and hiding in lockers and big burly chain-dragging man-beasts chasing after you, this was the horror I just couldn’t see past.

And don’t get me started on protagonist Miles Upshur’s inability to negotiate IKEA shelving units that somehow create formidable hallway obstacles. Surely if you’re that keen on getting the story – you’ve broken into an abandoned hospital in the middle of the bloody night, after all – you could muster the strength to nudge them out of the way? Intrepid reporter my arse.

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29 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    There was a Eurogamer or OXBOX vid recently about shoe-horned product placement that mentioned the DURACELL® batteries for his torch. They only lasted 30s which wasn’t exactly a great advert so at some point they all became generic brand battery X… which also lasted 30s.

    Awkward!

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      distantlurker says:

      For ‘his’ read *Alan Wake, sorry ^^

    • w0bbl3r says:

      Wasn’t it that they changed them to brand-less batteries for the spin-off expansion style “sequel” Alan Wake’s American Nightmares?
      If I remember right they had the brand name batteries throughout the main game, but in AN there was no name on the batteries that you could make out.

      And I think the reason that marketing thought it was a good idea was the same reason they thought that minty gum was a good idea for Sam Fisher in splinter cell chaos theory; they think that people will just go “Alan Wake uses this brand, I’ll use it now forever”, without thinking about whether they are any good.
      Guess it backfired. I never even thought or cared about the brand of battery he used, like I never thought of the brand of gum Fisher was always chewing in chaos theory. I just thought (like everyone else) that it was hilarious that someone who is supposed to be hiding right next to his enemies in the dark would want waves of “minty freshness” spewing from his chops.

      • DrollRemark says:

        Every couple of years or so I remember the hilariously egregious product placement of that chewing gum in Splinter Cell, and it cheers me right up. Thank you for doing me the service this time.

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        Thulsa Hex says:

        Chaos Theory was “a Clint Hocking game,” right? I’m playing “Clint Hocking’s” Far Cry 2 at the moment and finding it amusing that the only vehicle in the game that isn’t a creaking hunk of metal is the officially-licensed Jeep. You can almost feel the air conditioning when you hop in — and probably could if you hooked it up to those weird “environmental fans” the game supports! (Don’t worry, I realise that it was Ubisoft that brokered these product placements, not Mr. Hocking.)

  2. gabrielonuris says:

    I see people comparing this with Amnesia, but please, answer me this: does Outlast have the same kind of smart adventure puzzles that Amnesia (and Penumbra) has? Does it have any puzzles at all? Or is it just run and hide until the credits roll?

    • crowleyhammer says:

      Best you get is press a few buttons or pull a few valves in this.

    • w0bbl3r says:

      That’s right, it doesn’t have any of those awful puzzles.
      Just one of the things that makes it a better game.

  3. Razumen says:

    Outlast is ok I guess, but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; running from crazy people is not horror, it’s terror at best, and the game relies on it’s one trick pony way too much. For me, it only really got interesting near the end, but by then it was pretty much over.

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    I’ve been relatively interested to play this as I do like a good attempted horror, but hoped that it might avoid some of those crutches. The asylum setting certainly doesn’t help it’s case. That said, I do own Outlast (I believe from an excellent Humble Indie Bundle) so I will no doubt try it at some point.

    Horror is such a frustrating genre! Truly good designers seem to either avoid it or aren’t so interested, while those who try often either resort to tired jump scares or gore. I don’t know, I guess it can’t be easy to convey the prerequisite lack of control while still being fun to play, but I wish some of the more inventive designers would try. Say what you will about Kojima, but I was excited to see what he was going to bring to the table with Silent Hills.

    • w0bbl3r says:

      Thing for me was that I LOVE an asylum setting.
      I guess having crazy people just trying to commit barbaric acts for no other reason than “they’re nuts” has always been a scary thing for me.

      I don’t tend to find games scary most of the time. Maybe a bit tense here and there, but never scary.
      But mixing good pacing with the occasional (very occasional really) jump scare, combined with crazies and a nice mix of the paranormal, just got me, because I was as close to being truly scared as I have ever been in a game.
      Amnesia didn’t do it for me past being a bit tense and creepy for the first hour or so (after which it became very tedious and repetitive)

      • Premium User Badge

        Thulsa Hex says:

        The thing is, you can have the same sort of assailant without resorting to the tired asylum trope. It’s also not helping the cause when it comes to how society stigmatises mental health issues. This is a much bigger problem than some realise or want to admit, and just one of the areas where games as a whole can do better.

        A game that I think that successfully conveys the sort of madness that you mention, without crassly resorting to “mental patients,” is Condemned: Criminal Origins. The reason for the rampant madness of its enemies is much more conceptual and based on external influence.

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          Thulsa Hex says:

          “That, that, that.” – Thulsa Hex

        • supercakman says:

          Yeah! Condemned was an AMAZING work around of the old Asylum trope (and, honestly, pound for pound, scarier than Outlast overall). The second one got a bit wonky and silly towards the end, but they’re still two incredible games. Even with the unintentionally funny ending of the second game, it still had a great combat system and INCREDIBLE level variety.

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            Thulsa Hex says:

            I really enjoyed the first one as an XBOX 360 launch title. It was properly unsettling, and also had first-person melee combat that genuinely felt weighty and tangible — equal parts satisfying and wince-inducing. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s well worth a go.

            I only played the start of the second one. I didn’t like how they did-away with that ethereal, yet tangible miasma in the first game by suddenly deciding “Oh, it’s because devices. Yeah, um, madness devices…….”

            Still though, I’m glad Monolith are still around and experimenting with things. Shadows of Mordor seems to have worked out for them, financially. I hope we’ll continue to see more interesting things from them! (And a No One Lives Forever “spiritual successor”, pleasethanks.)

        • malkav11 says:

          Very few of the inmates in Outlast are actually violent, or at least, were violent. All the butchery and chaos erupts because of story-related reasons that are definitely not a commentary on actual mental illness (it’s similar to Condemned, actually). And you mostly have to worry about a handful of boss-like “hunters” that you’ll encounter more than once as you move around the asylum. Also, I wonder how far Joe got because while there’s a fair bit of cheap jump scare nonsense in the very early game, that fades pretty quickly and it’s more about body horror and the tension of these seriously fucked up individuals hunting you. I found it genuinely horrifying at more than one point and thought the writing was far smarter than I expected.

          …all of which I got from watching DumbRodent’s Let’s Play of the game and its DLC, Whistleblower. It was rapidly obvious that it’s not the sort of gameplay that I’d have much tolerance for.

    • Emeraude says:

      I guess it can’t be easy to convey the prerequisite lack of control while still being fun to play, but I wish some of the more inventive designers would try

      Yeah, the opening hour or so of Amnesia was so great, the powerlessness, the theft of control, the confusion, the looking for your identity… and then the game became too blatant both mechanically and from a story standpoint, and it just became business as usual.

      I think not only it’s really hard to pull, you’re in all probability severely limiting your potential audience if you actually manage to pull it off.

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        Thulsa Hex says:

        Agreed. I was late to the party with amnesia, having only played it a few months ago, but came to a similar conclusion. The water thing did get to me though!

  5. Gandor says:

    Whistleblower DLC was much better than main story. The scenes with that psycho surgeon were really creepy.

    • Jalan says:

      Was going to comment on this to say essentially the same. If I disliked anything about the main game, it was the story. Its weird (and, honestly, a bit sloppy) mix of supernatural techno horror became a bit more easy to swallow once I’d finished the Whistleblower story.

  6. Shakes999 says:

    It was decently fun. The first stealth part was kinda janky and I had some odd deaths from what seemed like superhuman detection, but after that it tightened up. The twins were awesome and easily the high point of the game

    My issue was it wore out it’s welcome after about hour 8. I ended up watching a lets play for the last 2 hours just to see how the story ended up cause I was sick of playing it. Everything eventually wore thin and treaded in to tedium territory. Fun game and worth a play for what it’s worth.

  7. supercakman says:

    I LOVE the aesthetics of Outlast, but the game itself got progressively worse the further it went on. It kept throwing more and more jump scares at you as you went along, to the extent that it started getting comical.

    “Oh no! A steam pipe burst JUST as I was walking by! What a spooky house!”

    I don’t wanna get all social justice-y but it also kinda felt weird how inhuman the game treated mentally ill people. I mean, apart from the guy being like “these poor people” in one of the notes, he never really makes note of the fact that he’s seeing a ton of people who’ve been medically tortured. Not that I needed him to deliver a diatribe on the treatment of mental health in the country or anything, but it seemed like he was just there to gawk. He was a silent protagonist so there was never any “Hey, any of you okay?” or anything. Just seemed odd.

    That being said: I LOVED the aesthetics of the game. I don’t regret playing it. The shakey camcorder nightvision footage was EXTREMELY effective at conveying a horror atmosphere, and being able to see the entire body of my character really added to the immersion. I hope the devs manage to make the next game better, cause they were definitely onto something.

    • Jalan says:

      “social justice-y”? (uh… moral outrage-y? I dunno, the current “get offended by everything ever” climate is a rough one to travel in these days)

  8. Bweahns says:

    I read good reviews and didn’t get around to playing it until a year later. I stopped playing once I died numerous times in the dark basement. It seemed totally random as to if I would get the pumps turned on before being murdered and the whole experience was dull and repetitive. The whole completely on rails experience was a bit of a letdown as well.

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    keefybabe says:

    I started playing Outlast,but partway through I realized, I’m over 40, over a certain weight… Yeah, this could actually kill me. *plays MGSV instead*

  10. PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

    Picky… but we could be similarly cynical of [probably] ask video games. I loved outlast. It’s main tool in scarring you is the darkness, and it works.