Outlast is a gorgeous, Amnesia-inspired first-person horror experience that takes the genre back to its roots. You play as the world’s bravest/stupidest writer, who decides that maintaining his journalistic integrity entails sneaking in to an abandoned insane asylum and checking out what’s what. There are no weapons to be found in Outlast, so you’re forced to endure the darkness armed only with a night vision camera and the ability to run. And just in case you were wondering, said camera drains batteries like an electronic device with a vendetta, and you're going to have plenty of reasons to run.
Before my demo, the team at Red Barrels, which is comprised of ex-Ubisoft designers who worked on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, told me about some of the crazy things they’d seen the brave attendees of PAX East do while playing their game. Some bolted out mid-demo, others stumbled out unhealthily pale, and one guy almost destroyed the entire booth in a fit of panic.
Of course I figured that these were just PR
tactics to drum up some atmosphere, like when schlocky horror movies in the ‘50s required you to sign a waiver beforehand just in case the giant rubber spider on screen scared you to death. In short, I was a nonbeliever. In reality, I was a complete idiot who had no idea what he was about to get himself into.
I entered Red Barrels' dark booth, donned a pair of headphones, and journeyed forth. About five seconds after making my way into the dilapidated structure, I realized that I’d made a huge mistake.
IGN’s own Mitch Dyer may have put it best when he told the team at Red Barrels that he absolutely appreciated their game, but that there was no way in hell he was ever going to play it again. Playing through the demo was easily my most uncomfortable experience of PAX, but it’s also one that I can’t stop thinking about. Outlast is filled with nearly every type of scare imaginable – shapes dash out the corner of your eye, lights conveniently shut off when you enter certain rooms, and bodies that seem dead suddenly burst to life. And the fact that all of this is rendered with such gorgeous visual fidelity makes the mere act of opening a door a Herculean task.
While the first half of the demo had me crawling through the asylum in in fear of what was around the next corner, the second half turned into a terrifying blur once the creature was introduced. Looking like a cross between Killer Croc and the ghouls from Amnesia, the hulking monstrosity pursues you like the Nemesis is Resident Evil 3, crashing through doors and barreling through any debris that might stand in its way. I honestly feel bad for any kids who may have been in close proximity of Red Barrels' booth while I was demoing Outlast, because the only things coming out of my mouth were a wide array of four letter words.
I finally evaded the ghoul by getting lost down a series of hallways, busting through the door of a random room, and hiding underneath a filthy bed. I shut off my camera and simply sat there in the darkness, the only sound coming from my character’s own panting. Part of me whispered (OK, screamed) that this was as good a place as any to take off my headphones , turn around, and walk out of Red Barrels' godforsaken chamber of horrors. But for the benefit of you all and this preview, I went against my better judgment, mustered up the courage to turn my camera back on, and was instantly met with the lovely sight of my nightmarish pursuer staring right at me. Never before have I completely loved and loathed a team of designers so very, very much.