Review – Outlast
I was already giving up on ever finding a decent horror game for the Switch. You’ve probably seen my previous reviews on subpar horror ports released for the system. Hollow. Don’t Knock Twice. Layers of Fear. The list is vast and underwhelming. I have to say I was surprised but a bit skeptical about Outlast‘s sudden appearance on the eShop. Not only did I dislike its sequel, but I was scared (not in the way you’re supposed to be during a horror game) about how the game would run on the Switch’s less powerful hardware. Man, I’m glad I was wrong. Outlast is, so far, the best horror game on the Switch by a mile.
I ain’t cleaning that up
If you don’t know what Outlast is about, then I’ll try to summarize it without spoilers: you’re a journalist trying to do an article about shady practices inside an asylum after receiving a lead from someone who worked there. Naturally, things are worse than you could possibly imagine, and your objective changes from trying to find an article inside a madhouse to simply trying to escape from a madhouse full of people hellbent on turning you into a jigsaw. You’re not armed, and can’t defend yourself. The only thing you have to help you is a camera with nightvision in order to help get past dark areas. That’s Outlast in a nutshell, and it (mostly) works.
Welcome to Arkh… err, Mount Massive Asylum
One of my biggest gripes with Outlast 2 was the fact you couldn’t defend yourself against enemies when most of them were malnourished rednecks, and when there were tons of items scattered throughout the map you could easily use in order to defend yourself in times of need, such as pitchforks. The first Outlast makes me buy the fact I am helpless due to the size and strength of the few characters who can kill me. It made me fear them, it made me want to desperately search for a locker in order to hide from them. The fact the game features a lot less enemy encounters than Outlast 2 means that there will be less occasions for the soundtrack to basically alert you enemies are near, resulting in an actually tense experience. Same applies to the jump scares: they are less frequent, but when they happen, they actually scare you. So far, the game nails the horror aspect of survival horror, but what about the survival aspect?
Some of the survival aspects in Outlast work, others don’t. The fact you’re weak as a worm is fine by me, as it makes me more cautious about my surroundings. Some of the game’s puzzles are fine, others feel like clichéed segments from other horror games. In one non-spoilerish example, I had to turn on a generator, but in order to do so, I had to initially turn on three other switches, each one “guarded” by enemies, in order to be able to reactivate said generator. Finally, what really annoyed me in the game is your camera’s battery life: it’s terrible. I still own a U2 Edition iPod from 2006 and not even that piece of junk’s battery is as unreliable as this camera’s. In order to use your nightvision, you consume electricity, and it can run out in a minute, maybe even less. I like the implementation of said feature in the game, but the way it was put into it is extremely flawed.
Smile for the camera
One thing a lot of you might be wondering, considering my previous reviews of Switch horror games: does Outlast run well, considering it is a more visually demanding game than, let’s say, Don’t Knock Twice? My answer is a big fat YES. While the game does NOT look as good as its PS4 or Xbox One counterparts (what were you expecting?), Outlast looks pretty good, all things considered. The textures are good, the lighting effects (or lack thereof) are surprisingly well-implemented, the framerate is rock solid despite being capped at 30fps. With the exception of a few asset pop-ins, the game impressed me visually.
Outlast‘s sound department is also great. Despite being mostly silent, the game knows how to make you tense by masterfully throwing discreet sound effects at you every now and then. The eerie soundtrack is also great, and so is the voice acting. My only gripe here lies with your main character’s breathing, weirdly enough. Any time you’re nearing a dangerous area, your character starts breathing extremely loudly, and it becomes really annoying after a few seconds.
Finally, the gameplay. While not exactly a walking simulator, you don’t do much in the game besides run away like a coward and hide like one. Thankfully enough, your character can actually run like someone would run when chased by a monster, unlike the lethargic movement Hollow considered “running”. Using the camera was fine as well, with the only issue being the game’s initial aiming sensitivity setup; nothing a visit to the options menu cannot solve.
After nearly losing faith that good horror games could be made for the Switch, I’m glad to say Outlast made me shut up. It managed to scare me even when playing on portable mode. It made me believe the fact I couldn’t defend myself. It made me fear the environment around me. Above all, it made me have fun while crying internally for help. I won’t deny some of its design choices are very irritating, such as the camera’s battery life, but Outlast (and its Whistleblower DLC, which will be reviewed separately) made one heck of a debut on the Switch.
Kudos to the developers for making the game look and run great, considering the Switch’s limited processing power. Lighting effects (or lack thereof) are great and the framerate is solid.
The fact you’re not a snail alone is a godsend, but the game does a pretty decent job at providing a responsive control scheme, even if the aiming is wonky.
The soundtrack is eerie, the sound effects are spooky and the voice acting is excellent. The main character’s loud breathing is really irritating, however.
The game knows how to be scary without being cliché, and it also knows how and when to be challenging. It does suffer from some annoying unnecessary survival elements, however.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Reviewed on Switch.
Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
A copy of Outlast was provided by the publisher.