Outlast: A True Survival Horror Experience

Horror

If you are a survival horror fan of games such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc, and you haven’t checked out Outlast, well. You are in for a terrifying ride of your life.

Many games with the horror element are not all that spooky. I find they commonly rely on gruesome scenes and jump scares rather than the psychological aspect. Outlast holds all of these – gruesome scenes, jump scares and an atmosphere and story line that is downright chilling. I was absolutely thrilled with how scary it was. As a huge survival horror and horror fan in general, to play and actually be scared was an experience.

Outlast isn’t the typical survival horror game. You don’t have weapons, so you can’t shoot at enemies. All you are armed with is a cam-corder and your wits. If you want to survival, you have to run and hide. The game developers were rather nice in the abundance of hiding places, from underneath beds to hiding in lockers. Which is a literal life saver when being chased by various enemies in the game. Most of which who want to hurt and/or kill you. There are some in the asylum that are harmless, and it’s those that I feel a little bad for. They didn’t ask for this, all they want is to be left alone and treated like they matter.

Might be a good idea to mention the music. Sure it’s got that horror element but my favorite piece of music has to be the chase music. Hearing that automatically sets the adrenaline going with a dash of panic and a small dose of the need to hide. I don’t think I’ve cried when running in a game before.

The protagonist of the game, and the guy you control, is an investigative journalist named Miles Upshur. After receiving an email about experiments and other shady and illegal dealings within Mount Massive asylum, Miles goes about to uncover the secrets that is hidden away. Poor Miles, I think he got more than he bargained for. And he is definitely a lot braver, and possibly more silly, than me. I’d take one look inside and be all ‘nope.’

Enemies, known as Variants in this game, are both well designed and rather intelligent. Sometimes(who am I kidding, it’s always!) it’s a good idea to look for a hiding place before continuing with an objective. Activating switches can cause a nearby Variant to investigate. There is even one that turns off the switch, forcing you to go and turn it back on. And yes, even getting chased after you do so. Fun times!

Outlast; Whistle-blower was released next as DLC, and as you might expect from the name, is from the whistle-blowers point of view. The one who sent Miles the email. Whistle-blower takes place in two different stages as well. The first part of the game takes place before Outlast, then it shifts to taking place in tandem with the main game. Parts of the game show this, from the fire that burns in the main game, you see that in the DLC.

Red Barrels, the creators of Outlast, are working on a sequel. It’ll take place in the same universe as Outlast but have different characters and enemies and a different setting. Which I am excited to see. I have high hopes for Outlast 2, especially the fear as the team stated in an interview that they will not release the game until they are afraid to play it themselves. So I have no doubt it’s going to be just as terrifying, or more, in the sequel.

So far, very little information has been released, and I was a little bit disappointed that there was nothing at E3. With any luck, Red Barrels will release some new information regarding Outlast 2 and when that happens, you’ll be the first to know!

Five Nights at Freddy’s and Difficulty in Horror Games

Horror

Survival horror is one of the hardest video game genres to really get right.  These games live and die by their atmosphere and anything that pulls the player out of the experience can instantly sour the entire game.  There are plenty of obvious points that immediately come to mind, like an imposing design for enemies and areas.  However, there is one element of horror design that I never see discussed despite being one of its most vital aspects and that is finding just the right level of difficulty.

For a horror game designer, the first instinct might be to stack on the threats, expecting the overwhelming challenges to terrify the player.  In practice, this is one of the fastest ways to pull the player out of the experience with far more frustration than fear.  Now matter how challenging a horror game can be, the simply fact remains that the player is never in any real danger.  The player needs enough time to become invested in their ingame survival on their own.  The more the player dies, the less he or she values survival in the game.  In that sense, a horror game actually needs to be fairly easy so that the player doesn’t become frustrated.  A proper horror game needs to know when not to kill the player.  At the same time, a horror game still needs to provide something for the player to be afraid of.  Striking that right balance is the grand challenge of building a proper horror game.  It has to deliver a constant sensation of vulnerability while having little actual threat.

The game that got me thinking about this was the recent indie hit Five Nights at Freddy’s.  For the titular five nights, the game is fairly easy with the haunted animatronics only being so aggressive, even on the final night, and giving the player a good amount of reaction time when they do reach your doorstep.  Even on the secret sixth night, it will usually only take a few attempts to beat it.  To offset the forgiving AI, the series has always been cryptic with its tutorials.  The player is given just enough information to understand the basics of play, but is still left to figure out the underlying mechanics on their own.

The sequel increases the difficulty with more animatronics and unique ways to keep each of them at bay, but offsets potential frustration by including hidden minigames that appear after a certain number of deaths.  Just when a player is at risk of rage-quitting, they are brought back in with an intriguing glimpse into the dark past surrounding the restaurant.  The latest game, Five Nights at Freddy’s 3, leans more towards the first game with a new set of rules for dealing with only a single animatronic and the most cryptic set of rules yet.  There are no post-death minigames, but they aren’t necessary in this title as the player isn’t as likely to be overwhelmed as in the second game.  Each game in the series demonstrates a fascinating approach to presenting the player to a panic-inducing challenge that doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Well, for the most part.  There is one point where the games ultimately fatigues its horror and that is with its custom night challenges.  These are included to give the games more replayability, but beating the game at maximum difficulty demands nothing less than absolute perfection.  While it does add more value to the title, playing either the first or second game to completion permanently  takes away all sense of terror.  Once you’ve played a game enough to see the lines of code at work behind the scenes, it’s hard to feel scared by it.  Fortunately, the third game avoids this by forsaking custom mode and instead adding replayability via multiple endings and easter eggs.  The series has been an intriguing new take on the survival horror genre with plenty of ups and downs to learn from.  With everything that creator Scott Cawthon has innovated on with these games, I think his take on creating a challenge in a horror game is the one most worth examining.