Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Outlast elevates immersive suspense to the logical next level that already should have been explored and utilized in earlier interactive horror efforts. The elegant narrative solutions found in this gem of a game oftentimes are overlooked by major media outlets, likely because said superb implementations are presented with such fluency and efficiency that they indeed become optimally transparent and almost - paradoxically - invisible. We will elaborate on these elegant solutions in detail.
The game invites you to take on the body of an investigative reporter who is armed only with a digital camcorder and with rampant curiosity, while the area of interest is the Mount Massive Asylum, an institute that has been closed in the '70s, and now it is operated by a private corporation that boasts the type of reputation Satan could construct a reliable business model on. A little while ago I had to criticize the fresh Amnesia effort - Amnesia - a Machine for Pigs - for leaving a little too much to the silly enormous thing called imagination, in the sense that the game oftentimes gets crushed by its mere - otherwise doubtless sublime - ambitions, proving to be evidently unsuccessful at delivering and revealing - even modeling - the horrors that it seeks to convey in its textual/written context. What you actually experience in the gameworld of Amnesia - a Machine for Pigs, is but a sorrowfully shallow and dated representation of the eloquent/intact madness found in the text and in the voice acting.
Outlast is a vastly more serious and disturbing effort than that, one which manages to accomplish all things A Machine for Pigs aspires to : the notes you find in the gameworld of this title -Outlast - are the only stimuli that give a moment of bitter respite from a relentless modal setting/environment that is openly out there to rip your sanity to shreds just to wipe its loathsome ass out with it. Read on to know more, and welcome, perv!
The prime component that makes Outlast - in my opinion - a truly special game, is its conscious choice to remain consequently superfocused on what it wants to convey right from the start to the finish. The effort has a nicely laid out narrative base structure, with each major component of this foundation requiring you to soak yourself deep into the confined environmental results of what humane heartlessness can accomplish in the pursuit of power. Though no particular spoilers will be given in this review - I guarantee you this, otherwise you can voodoo my hide in the comment section, it will work, I'm receptive to it after completing this game -, I'd like to cast a light on the very important fact that Outlast tells its story with great cunning, believability, consequence-faithfulness and rigor. You WILL, in fact, get an answer for what the terrible purposes of the horrors you have witnessed were.
Close to its brilliantly realized and supremely disturbing culmination, the game will prove to be discomfortingly logical and almost unbearable to think through, because by the time you will have all the key information of what exactly and WHY exactly has happened in the Asylum, you won't only have the question figured out - (what diabolic REASON could there be that they committed these atrocities for?) you will know the answer already, too. To put it into a clearer perspective : the game indeed will give you a staggering and stone cold heartless-sober reason for the atrocities committed in the institute, and you will realize that you have been subjected to the bitter answer of the unavoidable question all the while : yes, have zero doubt about it whatsoever, certain segments of humanity will be all good and dandy to pay THIS price for THAT End Product. I won't be getting into plot details, yet I'm going to say this : at the culmination, the game will throw in an environmental change, and this new environment - the mere necessity of it - is the reason that the whole experience eventually unfolds as a soul crushing revelation. Brilliant storytelling with a keen affection exhibited towards consequential environmental believability.
Certain major media outlets criticize Outlast for throwing in supernatural mumbo-jumbo at its end in a desperate attempt to elevate its own appeals and flamboyancy, yet this notion is fueled by malicious arrogance and simply refuses to submit its inherent awareness to the actual-, very powerful message the game definitely is capable to deliver. All such accusations are ridiculous, cynical and ignorant statements that outright fail to appreciate the cunning and skill Outlast handles the supernatural material - oops. - with. Think about it : something that has the capacity to occur/manifest, no longer can be regarded as "supernatural". There simply is no such thing as supernatural, because everything and anything that has the potential to express itself - something expressing itself IS potential itself - is necessarily a perfectly valid sub-set of the unquestionably existent.
In this game, someone indeed will make the assertion : "there is no such thing as supernatural", and this sentence alone is more relevant than the overall world history of certain media outlets, 'nuff said, and no hard feelings, of course. One of the primal reasons I have written this review for, is to point out the malicious interpretation that Outlast would throw in the "supernatural" just to serve out various Saturday Night Ghost Hunt cravings. That could not be farer from the truth. Outlast handles this topic/theme with relevant cunning, top tier storytelling, and I would go as far as to say that the ultimate intended message of the game is of philosophical significance. (If you agree with me on this one, then you know the gameworld notes I'm referring to. If not, then it is time to replay "teh" gaem, biatch.)
The experience, once you are serious about taking it - which means you are WILLING to take it without giving yourself the option to press ESC at every corner - is "fantastically" toilsome on a psychological level and will probably require you to reconstruct yourself on an emotional level, too, due to the mere psychological/emotional fatigue Outlast eventually will bestow upon you, provided you are willing to stare into its eyes all the way to the end of the narrative. Taking in the experience As It Is assumes that you have not yet previously completed the game, and, as such, uncertainty - a key aspect during the title - is rampant/evident and uncompromisingly operational throughout. This is not a kind game at all, in fact, it is a very consequent effort that does not want to see you get through it alive at ALL - and be wary that completing the game will not necessarily mean that the title fails with this primal agenda, either.
The premiere gameplay components entail environment exploration, and finding the method to progress while being subjected to the harassment of the Asylum inhabitants. Outlast freely and smartly borrows key gameplay elements from both the great/notorious Cthulhu game Dark Corners of the Earth, and from Amnesia - the Dark Descent. Your only means of survival is to evade confrontation altogether, while all other beings in the gameworld will be insistent to put a stop to all such efforts of yours, or, for that matter, to put a stop of any and all efforts you are willing to exhibit in order to continue to exist. Fear not, - hah. - Outlast does not fall to the other side of the horse, and the majority of the confrontations are presented in the context of carefully researched situational scenarios : these - in character - labyrinth-like chase-segments are unavoidable, and your only way out of them is running through them - quite literally - and the game does not at all mind if it occasionally turns into a horrific dark parody/burlesque, as you run from your pursuers in intricately built environments desperately seeking for the means of progression while being uncompromisingly pressured. Hiding IS a relevant component, but not always reliable : as soon as your presence is known to an NPC, the only means of survival is to escape, or, to hide. Best to do both.
In this sense, the game operates on the sober decision of letting you explore in relative peace, - continual pressure is established and guaranteed, courtesy of having to collect batteries for your swiftly depleting camcorder nightvision, OR having to face darkness (the game remains playable in complete in-game darkness, but very tolling to endure) - while maintaining the right throughout to subject you to that aforementioned-, uncompromisingly pressuring behavior whenever the narrative script demands. As such, the game doubtless is linear to the bone, yet this linearity is organized of quite efficient modal segments of well varied narrative character. Jump scares are somewhat frequent, yet not overdone, and, strangely, they have a tendency to work even when you know they are coming - the reason for this is the ability of the game to telegraph the jump scares with unprecedented patience and impertinence through its eloquently soul-sickening environmental atmosphere . Looking back on the whole experience, I think it is safe to say that the fabric of the game is free of holes - though I'm not too enthusiastic about that tar-dark segment where you have to stroll around the yard for a while.
The game has a masterfully presented "fake-resolution" and an unusually unsettling culmination, built out of the mere astral-flesh of a very cleverly and maliciously presented psychological pressure-tactic which you will experience all throughout the last narrative region of the game, and this segment, in my opinion, truly places Outlast a cosmos or two above all other horror FPS-s I personally am aware of, but please share your input if you know worse than that. Once you are willing to believe that you are there, and that what is happening there, is - REAL, your mere concept of reality is challenged by a metaphoric question mark that is about to crush you. Masterful narrative, if you are willing to play along with it, if you are willing to thoroughly submit to it. And by the way, I'm not getting paid for this review, nor am I part of the development team. HA!, how I wish I was!
I have mentioned certain psychological tricks the game will play on you, and these are of great relevance, in my opinion. Outlast finds the cunning of confronting you with pseudo-catatonic madmen who are separated from your physical body by a fence, and you will have the opportunity to listen to their conversation set on the intricate methods they will kill you by, all this while they are eyeballing you in emotionless fashion, from the depths of naked, muscular male bodies - pretty disturbing, and yet another precedent to the game's superb capacity of telegraphing its direct threats. This method also is one that will stick around during the narrative, as there will be other key characters who won't relent trying to put an end to your physical existence, and their occasional-, yet constant/unavoidable re-surfacing truly dials in your "are you STILL intact in there, Sunshine?!" registers. Whenever your gameworld machinations culminate in the eventual graphic demise of such a re-surfacing pursuer, the emotional impact is unprecedentedly tremendous as far as interactive narration goes, and the ultimate pattern you take away from the experience is up to you to construct and amend.
This is what the game truly is about - it simply does not care that you have endured this particular ordeal seven times already - because you are about to occupy a position of having to showcase if you are ready and able to endure it for the EIGHT time - if you don't like it, you can always chicken out. Though the game is a masterful accomplishment in the context of design and programming, - not something you could say of the latest Amnesia effort, A Machine for Pigs - it goes without saying that outlasting Outlast is what Outlast is all about - and once you do that in no more sitting than two, - one, if you are a perv - you will be an individual who needs to rebuild oneself on many many layers of your being - and this exactly is what a successful horror game needs to accomplish. Easily one of the most well made and most relevant survival horror FPSs to date, and an immediate recommendation for all fans of the genre.