I completely lost it about midway through. Flat out stopped, unable to muster the will to carry on. Prior to that, I was already so mentally distraught I could barely register 30 consecutive minutes of playtime.
Yet, I later managed to push through to the end. Barely.
In a way, I became addicted to the thrill, somehow finding myself enjoying that debilitating feeling of dread, the overwhelming anxiety. I knew what was coming, and couldn't bear the thought of opening one more door, or walking down another hallway. Still, I found myself exploring deeper and deeper, in sewers, through dilapidated buildings, outside in the dead of night, uncovering the horrifying mysteries of Mount Massive Asylum. My mental state deteriorating right alongside Miles'.
I'm not a horror game expert by any means — my experience only extends to the first two Silent Hill games, as well as Condemned on Xbox 360. (I purchased Amnesia, but have yet to play it.) That said, with my limited exposure, Outlast for me is a special kind of experience. The kind where you scare yourself as much as the game scares you. Granted, Outlast isn't perfect, and many people complained that it became repetitive and predictable. All valid criticisms.
But in the five short hours I spent enduring Outlast's terror, never have I played such an engrossing and immersive experience—horror or otherwise.
The Thrill of Being Chased
The part that got me, the reason I had to (briefly) stop, was when I met Dr. Richard "Rick" Trager, one of the Asylum's psychotic doctors who, naturally, was a collector of body parts.
After narrowly escaping his imprisonment, I was hiding in a ventilation shaft above a hallway, watching as he scoured for my whereabouts. He had shears of some sort (used earlier to cut off two of my fingers), and was madly muttering to himself, and to me, intent on taking my life. Someone has to lose here, he said. I don't make the rules. After waiting a few moments, thinking the coast was clear, I made my move.
In need of an elevator key to progress, I dropped down and ran, my heart pounding through my chest—and that's when the music kicked in, a crescendo of stabbing violins to indicate I was being chased. I looked back, and saw Trager in pursuit, screaming. As I reached the end of the hall, I was blocked by a metal shelving unit, which I had to push aside in order to escape—all the while the good doctor was quickly advancing behind me. I could hear him getting closer as the music continued to swirl.
This was the moment, more than any other in Outlast, that I found to be the most tense. It's one thing to face up to your fears, to see a murderous maniac run right toward you. But when your back is turned and you're slowed by a nearly-immoveable object, that's when the game is at its best. You don't know how close your pursuer is—fifteen, ten, five yards. But you can almost feel them closing in. Outlast has an uncanny ability to keep you uncomfortable, from the first moment to the last.
The psychology of being chased taps into a very primal human fear. By using darkness and exceptional sound design, Outlast manages to be truly unique and frightening—probably among the scariest. You have no Fight response, just Flight. And that's why meeting the doctor in particular stood out, even more so than the other inmates, or even the game's titular threat, Chris Walker, who looks more like an ex-linebacker/monster from hell.
Improving on the Formula
When Red Barrels announced Outlast DLC was on the way, I had decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was looking forward to once again exploring the creepy corridors of Mount Massive Asylum, seeing how the nightmare first began from the perspective of an insider. But I was also petrified just thinking about that feeling of being chased. And never again did I want to hear that music, which did an incredible job of ramping up the tension.
I reached out to the developers to see how the DLC would build upon the first experience, and found out that this won't simply be a rehash. According to one of the game's designers, Phillipe Morin, Red Barrels didn't just want to add some new rooms and put you in a different pair of shoes. The soul of the game, as Morin put it, has already been defined. It was just a matter of addressing the issues players had with the initial game, and creating a deeper and more atmospheric experience than the first.
The core gameplay—explore, run, hide, repeat—players either loved or hated will return in Outlast: Whistleblower. As Waylon Park, a software engineer working inside Mount Massive Asylum, players will explore the events that lead to the first game, and even go beyond the conclusion of Miles's experience. While non-combat gameplay remains the same, however, Morin said Whistleblower will mix things up by creating new situations.
"So, for every enemy encounter, we asked ourselves, 'What could we do differently this time?'" Morin said. When asked how Whistleblower would address complaints of "predictability," Morin said Red Barrels really focused on keeping the experience feeling fresh, whether it be the new narrative perspective, or the psychotic new characters players will encounter. "A lot of the flavor will come from patients, their craziness and how they like to kill people," Morin said. Sounds grand.
Unfortunately, it remains unclear how, exactly, Red Barrels will keep the formula fresh beyond Morin's promise that the issues of predictability have been addressed. "I can't say specifically what we did, because then players will know what to expect. Time will tell if we succeeded," Morin said.
Still, it sounds like Red Barrels really took to heart what people didn't like about the original experience, while still making sure to capitalize on what made the game such a success. That means the same excellent sound, creepy atmosphere, and many horrible chase sequences through Mount Massive's darkest corners—just with more variety. The DLC will still be linear, but players can expect a familiar but fresh experience inside the asylum walls. I hope for your sake you're prepared for what's to come.
Me? Not at all ready. I beat it on PC—just barely—and tried playing again on PlayStation 4, but had to stop. Maybe I'm just that big of a scaredy cat. But I'm also not ready because I have a sneaking suspicion Dr. Trager, who terrorized players in the first Outlast, will re-emerge in Whistleblower. (I hope that's not true.)
When asked how Waylon's mental state would change overtime, especially being subjected to the asylum's horrors over a longer period of time, Morin assured that Waylon will definitely go through a rough time. As a little teaser for what to expect, he said that Waylon won't be dressed as an employee the entire time, so perhaps he'll have some nasty experiments inflicted upon him by Trager at some point throughout his journey. I really, really hope not.
"Patients will make sure you suffer plenty," Morin said.
Outlast: Whistleblower will be released for the PC and PlayStation 4 on May 6 for $8.99.