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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Outlast" and "Whistleblower" Review

It's very hard these days to come across a good horror game anymore. So many once terrifying franchises have slowly but surely started to transition into action shooters with the occasional jump scare. Long gone are the days of our youth where we would stay up late sneaking out of our bedroom to watch our mom's boyfriend play Resident Evil 2 even though it gave us nightmares... Or maybe that's just me. Anyways, you get the idea. I have longed for a good true survival horror game for a long time, so as you can imagine, Outlast peeked my interest. But the question is... is Outlast truly a horrifying experience worthy of the "most times some has changed underwear in 24 hours" award? or is it a overhyped snooze-fest loaded with cheap scares, gore and not much else? Well, let's find out.... 

I'm doing this review differently. I'm going to review both Outlast and it's DLC add-on story Whistleblower, separately. I feel they are both worthy of their own review. So, first, Outlast. The game is about a journalist, Miles, whom you play as and has a serious mental condition that causes him to purposely investigate dangerous stories, even at the risk of his own life. At least, that's what I assumed, because nobody in their right mind would even THINK of sticking around this blood-splattered hell-hole for more than 5 minutes. I would have left at the FIRST sign of blood. But Miles is a bloody journalist by God and those crazy folk will do ANYTHING for a story. Thus, the plot has been established. But it's not so cut and dry. The idea here is that some bad science voodoo is going down in this asylum and Mile's gets a mysterious email from the inside (we'll get to that later) informing him of the illegal and inhumane activities going on in there, and of course, being the reporter that he is Miles goes to investigate. Everything starts off harmless enough, slowly getting creepier by the minute, until a change encounter with a deformed and overpowered inmate sends him flying right into the hands of destiny. And thus the REAL fun begins. Mile's journey quickly goes from getting his story to getting the hell out. Armed with nothing but a video camera with night vision, and his athletic abilities, Miles is about to take a trip through hell that he'll never soon forget. 

Outlast is, in every sense of the word, a TRUE survival horror game. There's no weapons. Only stealth, speed, agility and smarts. Most of the inmates in the asylum are way too big and powerful for you to take on anyways. Deformed and angry from experimentation, they're out for blood. During the game you go from one objective to the next, never knowing where the next threat may be lurking or what surprise is around the next corner. Your only friend in these dark corridors is your night vision camera and even that isn't promised. The camera runs on batteries which quickly drain and you have to find more laying around. If you happen to run out of batteries, you can't see more than a few feet in front of you and that's no preferable. Since you cannot fight, you must rely on stealth and speed to survive. Many areas involve multi-stage objectives such as flipping a few switches or turning some valves, all while avoiding the big angry inmate roaming the halls, looking for you. If you happen to get spotted, your only hope is to run like hell and hope they don't catch you, close doors behind you to slow them down, and hide in lockers or under beds and pray they don't find you.

Outlast, to me, was certainly a refreshing step in the right direction for survival horror. While it does have some jump scares they are not overdone or cheaply used. Outlast mainly scares players by messing with their heads. It builds up tension by leaving you in the dark (quite literally) about what's coming next. Every corner you turn, every noise you hear, every inmate you encounter could be a potential threat. Then, when the tension is built up, when something finally does happen the player reaction is vastly enhanced. Whereas if they just littered the games with random jump scares it would eventually get dull. But no, Red Barrels was smart. They built the game in such a way that it leaves you guessing and nervous and on edge for awhile and then BAM! It strikes when you least expect it. There where even times I had to take a break because my anxiety would flare up and I'd start having panic attacks. 

This is what separates Outlast from other so-called survival horror games. The horror, the fear, the tension, it's all real. The atmosphere is well done, the gore is disturbing and unnerving and the inmates are creepy and unsettling. Especially the inmates known as the "variants" who are the baddest of the bunch. Which include, but are not limited to, a big muscle bound lummox who can rip your head off with his bare hands, a crazy doctor with a mutilation obsession and a pair of naked twins with machetes who stalk their prey calmly, slowly and quietly. 

Outlast is the survival horror experience I've been waiting for. While some of the core elements can get repetitive and the game can get frustrating at times, overall it was a refreshing experience for someone like me who loves survival horror and games that scare you in genuine, horrific ways. 

My Rating: 9/10

Now, on to Whistleblower... 

The events of Whistleblower overall take place before, during and after the events of the core game. It revolves around Waylon Park, an engineer who signed a 2-week contract with Murkoff to help perform maintenance on the Morphogenic Engine. But Waylon becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the unethical experiments taking place at Mount Massive Asylum and thus sends out the email that Miles receives in the core game, leading him to the asylum. But Waylon is discovered and admitted to the asylum as punishment... and it is not long after this that all hell breaks loose and Miles shows up to witness the aftermath.

Compared to the core game, Whistleblower is significantly shorter but the the creepiness of the inmates and the intensity of the gore and overall morbid tone gets turned up a few notches. But this doesn't necessarily make it better. Part of what made Outlast so amazing was the tone it set, and the fact that you had to sneak around in fear of being discovered in a never ending, heart-pounding game of cat & mouse. Whereas, while Whisletblower does have a few of these sections, it's overall tone is more action oriented. I'm assuming because it's right around the time the shit hits the fan and all the inmates rare running loose. But that doesn't explain why it's STILL like that later in (at one point the game fast forwards 12 hours and there's still a linear chase scene like something out of an action movie). Overall, not much can be said about Whistleblower as it's still part of Outlast but it's worth noting that while the core elements are the same, the tone is slightly different. And let it be known that The Groom is one of the creepiest villains in gaming.          

My Rating: 8/10                          

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