A Linear Sequence of Scares - OUTLAST
When I first played through Outlast, I was reminded of a chapter from Max Payne II, entitled "A Linear Sequence of Scares." The Chapter and Title take place in anda funhouse, which Max, in his usual, noir-esque way, refers to as "a linear sequence of scares. Take it or leave it is the only choice given. Makes you think about free will."
This was my experience with Outlast. I had high hopes for this game when I first heard about it. It had gotten decent reviews from people I like, friends suggested it, and most exciting for me, it was from a Canadian developer. But, if I'm being completely honest, I found it a bit...dull.
Let's start from the beginning. Outlast puts you in the role of Miles Upshur, investigative journalist. Acting on a mysterious anonymous tip, you have taken a long, late-night drive to the remote Mount Massive Asylum. Because in addition to being determined and surprisingly fit, he is also a moron.
As you pull up to the Asylum gates, you find the doors locked, the security kiosk at the front empty, and a slew of strange paramilitary vehicles parked out front. Instead of just turning around and driving you sorry ass back the way you came, you find a hole in the fence, crawl through, climb up a scaffolding, and break into the asylum.
From there, you quickly discover the asylum has been overtaken by the all-male inmate population, people who have been horribly twisted and warped both mentally and physically by the corrupt staff. The inmates are headed by a handful of central figures: a nutty preacher called Father Martin, an impossibly huge psychopath and stalker called Chris Walker, and a deranged, witty "doctor," Rick Trager. Most of your initial finds in the asylum's corridors are the grisly remains of the asylum guards, along with some mysterious soldiers (presumably the owners of the vehicles outside).
I'm going to take a moment here, before continuing in my summation of the plot, to ask you if any of this sounds familiar. Horror asylum? Paramilitary goons? OK, well how about what follows...
Upshur's investigation reveals that the corporate owners of the asylum, Murkoff, are actually working with the CIA to create a weaponized telekinetic being. How are they doing this? Why, by employing the services of an evil, wheelchair-bound, German scientist of course! Yes, the final exposition dump/explanation of what is going on is given by one Doctor Wernicke, a man who screams NAZI out of his pores. Wernicke, who is somehow still alive and living in an underground James Bond-esque base beneath the asylum, theorized that he could create a nanotech-based telekinetic in a human host by tormenting them to the point of insanity. Because SCIENCE.
The being, codenamed the "Walrider," acts like a ghost/avatar of the host, moving through walls, levitating people and objects, and generally wreaking havoc. The actions of the Walrider, hosted in an inmate named Billy, are what caused the initial breakout of the inmates.
So, just to recap, this game features, in order of ascending hierarchy:
- a creepy asylum at night
- with inmates that have been horribly experimented on
- lead by an insane preacher spewing gospel
- who have been freed by a mysterious ghost/telekinetic experiment
- created by a Nazi scientist
Are you starting to see what I meant about a linear sequence of scares? It's all just so...clichéd. So - dare I say - predictable. By the end of the game, I was actually rolling my eyes with each new revelation. There's just so much well-worn territory here. We have our "office" level (the administrative areas of the asylum), the "prison" level (the cells), the "sewer" level (the...well, sewers)...it all felt incredibly routine. The only truly unique aspect of the game comes in the form of Upshur's trusty camcorder, which he brought with him to record the events. The neat thing about this is that you get special notes when you record certain moments, and it also has a night-vision feature reminiscent of movies like REC or Paranormal Activity. Which...now that I list those films, isn't all that original either.
At the end of the day, for me, Outlast is merely a linear sequence of scares. A funhouse. But maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Clichés do exist for a reason. We see the same things pop up in horror over and over because we do enjoy seeing them over and over. Imitation isn't necessarily a crime. With that in mind, though Outlast doesn't exactly offer anything fresh or new, what it DOES do is hit those clichés quite well.
What it comes down, ultimately, is if you like funhouses.