Why Outlast Will Resurrect Survival Horror

Just when you thought survival horror had muffled out its final scream, here comes Outlast to save the day.

This weekend at PAX East, developer Red Barrels showcased the demo for the new stud in survival horror, Outlast. Set inside an abandoned asylum, Outlast takes you through a twisted horror adventure into the secret workings of the Murkoff Corporation. You play as a photojournalist sent to uncover the secret of their doings.
Honestly, it’s been a long time since a game has genuinely terrified me. I think most recently it was when I played Fatal Frame III after ordering a copy through the mail. Speaking of Fatal Frame, you also get to use a camera lens in this game to try to capture photos for your breaking story. There’s something about the camera lens, the limited view, that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. I know in Fatal Frame, it was hard to see where the spirit was, and before you knew it, it was in your face. This is a part of what made Fatal Frame so scary. I’ve just been waiting for another horror game to utilize this genius approach and it looks like I’ve been answered.

The last survival horror game I played was Silent Hill Downpour; it was a disaster. I’m a long time fan of the Silent Hill franchise and though they tried to do something different with the classic game, I feel it completely destroyed everything Silent Hill is. Since finishing that game in five days, I haven’t been interested in picking anything else up. Either I’ve played it or it was never going to be as good as the early Silent Hill games.

What Silent Hill Downpour forgot is something all of the earlier games utilized: the element of a creepy atmosphere. A sunlit town with a mild mysterious feel doesn’t equate to a fog-ridden town bafflingly abandoned with a crowd of sideshow freaks running around in your peripheral vision. Outlast creates an atmosphere in the belly of an abandoned mental hospital, a setting that wouldn’t really need much else. Very much like Half-Life 2: Episode Two’s mod, Nightmare House 2 (which is set an in old hospital), a dismal hallway of gurneys and blood trails is enough to scare the daylights out of anyone. The game relies on a sense of the environment which can be created with the tiniest of details. From the flickering light at the end of the hallway to that far-off scratching noise, a successful survival horror game knows how to produce a chilling atmosphere. Luckily for us, this isn’t all Outlast has to offer.

The reaction from the demo at PAX East was unsurprisingly positive. Players walked out feeling relieved that it was over. After a quiet year with very little AAA survival horror releases (Resident Evil and Silent Hill just don’t count anymore), true terror has never sounded so sweet. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the developers waited until around Halloween to release the survival horror first-person-shooter.

Outlast gives me hope, and I eagerly await an official release date so that I can mark it on my calendar and leave all of the woes of a lost Silent Hill franchise behind me. It’s true survival horror has taken a nose dive in recent years, spitting on such classics as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and even Fatal Frame. It seems we have forgotten what it’s like to truly be scared, to feel our hearts race and pound within our ears. So desensitized from zombie flicks, torture features and uncategorized revulsion, we have forgotten the beauty of a good scare. Hopefully in the future, we can learn to climb back to that time when a face in the darkness and a bump in the night was enough to send a chill down our spines.