Horror has always been a favoured genre of mine, whether hiding behind my hands watching a film, shaking with fear while holding a book or (and this is the coolest) throwing a controller up in the air while playing a game and having said controller hit me square in the face, which I have to confess did actually happen. The horror genre has always been one of the most popular genres for us gamers, and it has to be said, the last few years have produced some amazing games to scare the living hell out of us! Last year’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard rejuvenated the franchise and brought it back to its true survival horror roots. A major factor in the success of Resident Evil 7 was the switch to a first-person viewpoint. Resi 7 was, of course, not the first horror game to utilize the first-person view. There have been numerous releases before Capcom was inspired to make the change. One of these was released way back in 2013, and now one of the scariest and most frightening games ever is mobile as Outlast: Bundle of Terror has come to the Nintendo Switch (queue Vincent Price laugh).
The ‘Bundle of Terror’ pack, as it is known, comes with the first Outlast game and the prequel DLC, Whistleblower, and it’s reasonably priced at £19.99 on the Nintendo e-Shop. The story for both games is pretty generic but does a great job in setting up this chilling first-person survival horror. In the main game of Outlast, you step into the shoes of investigative journalist Miles Upshur. He has received an anonymous tip that there are some nasty goings-on at the local psychiatric hospital, Mount Massive Asylum. Ever ready for a big story, Miles drives up to the asylum determined to find out what is going on and to bring those responsible to Justice! That is a decision he immediately regrets. Quickly, Miles discovers mutilated corpses littering the corridors of Mount Massive, and a quick warning from a dying SWAT officer provides Miles with all the incentive he needs to get the hell out of dodge. Of course, now this is no longer as simple as walking back out the front door, and you will spend the next 5-6 hours trying to escape this literal hell on Earth and also discover what caused this unimaginable horror.
Whistleblower’s plot is somewhat similar to the main game’s plot, but it acts as a prequel which then naturally intertwines into the main story. Taking control of software engineer Waylon Park, you are, as you can guess, the employee at Mount Massive that sends the anonymous email to Miles. Disgusted by the human experimentation you have witnessed at the hands of the evil Murkoff Corporation, Waylon sends the email to Miles but is then caught and subjected to the same ‘treatments’ as the other inmates. You’ll spend the next two hours foreshadowing Miles as you try to escape the horrors before you, all the while witnessing how the corpses Miles encounters in his adventure came to be so mutilated.
Both plots are interesting, and they do keep you wanting to find out the secrets at this less than questionable mental health establishment, but it isn’t the story that makes Outlast one of the best horror games in the last decade, it is the nail-biting, heart-racing, controller-throwing, terror-inducing gameplay. Most of Mount Massive is plunged into darkness, so to navigate successfully, you will need to equip your video camera and switch to night vision. Night vision is a bit creepy at the best of times, but when you are forced to look at mangled corpses littered everywhere, it becomes somewhat creepier than usual. There are lights on throughout the asylum, so you do not always have to have the camcorder on, which is a good thing as this particular camera has the worst battery life in existence! I mean, we are all used to our wonderful smartphones’ batteries dying far too quickly, but the camera at your disposal is just rubbish. You will find batteries as you go on, but this being a survival horror title means that there just aren’t enough of them to have the camcorder on all the time, which does mean you will have to spend some time in the eerily pitch black darkness and, as in all well-scripted horror movies, these parts are usually when you start to hear things.
Most of your time in Outlast is pretty much silent (apart from the stupidly loud breathing by both protagonists), so when you do hear a noise, it stops you dead in your tracks, and you begin to turn frantically in every direction to see if anything is nearby. Outlast has done a better job with a limited soundtrack than any other horror game I’ve played. You are so on edge while exploring Mount Massive through what you see that, when you do hear something, your fear is just multiplied, and when you do come across somebody (or something) that wants to kill you, you can bet you’ll be running for your life.
Outlast has perfected the ‘less is more’ mantra in terms of enemy encounters. It is a difficult balance in horror games, enemy frequency. Either you see them too much and they become the norm, or you don’t see them enough and don’t really care when they turn up. Enemy encounters in Outlast are a horrible affair. Whether being stalked by the physically imposing Chris Walker, the sadistic cannibal Frank Manera or the ghostly spectre known as the Walrider, there is only one option when these guys are charging after you: run. There is zero combat in Outlast, and it won’t take long for one of these terrifying figures to end your escape. If you are spotted, you run and hide, and you hope and pray they do not find you. There are times when there is no choice but to run, and more frighteningly, when you are trying to sneak past them and they spot you, that is when your heart will be beating out of your chest. The various puzzles that you’ll encounter usually require you to find/interact with a specific item to progress through a locked door or turn on a power source for an elevator, etc. Most of these puzzles will require you to sneak around one of the inmates of Mount Massive, or in one particular puzzle, you’ll need to lure Walker to chase you, then you must hide and wait for him to leave and then flick on a power switch. Running away from enemies never becomes routine in either Outlast game, and each time you’ll be sat on the edge of your seat until you make it to the sanctuary of a locker or under a desk.
But how does Outlast perform and feel on the Switch, I hear you ask? Well, it performs incredibly well. Outlast is a game that will never win awards for its graphics, but this is expertly hidden in the lack of light that awaits you in Mount Massive Asylum. I really didn’t notice any severe graphics downgrades while playing both Outlast instalments on the Switch, with the frame-rate capped at a steady 30fps with minimal rendering issues. The Switch’s biggest selling point, of course, is the ability to play these console-worthy titles on the go, so being able to play one of the best horror games of the last decade wherever you go is a huge, huge reason to pick up Outlast on the Switch, even if you already have it on console/PC. With the low price of £19.99, who doesn’t want to jump and scream in horror while commuting on a rush hour train?
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 27th February 2018