The emphasis on survival and horror makes this a truly frightening experience.
Survival horror has seen a slow shift over the years from the emphasis on survival to a more action-laden design. When many popular franchises decided to supply the player with a seemingly endless amount of ammunition to take down hordes of enemies, it left many pining for the days of limited resources and true survival horror gameplay. Luckily for us, the fine people over at Red Barrels felt the same way and took things into their own hands, giving us the first-person horror game Outlast. Years later, the game finds new life on Switch and despite its age, Outlast: Bundle of Terror continues to dish out truly horrifying moments in one of the most gruesomely eerie settings imaginable.
The story sees freelance journalist, Miles Upshur, receiving a tip on some shady happenings at the remote psychiatric hospital, Mount Massive Asylum. Trying to find his breakout story, he decides to investigate the hospital to see what he can undercover. Upon entering, Miles quickly finds himself under siege from a mutated patient, launching him floors below with no easy route back out. Armed with only a camcorder and no way to defend himself, he must carefully sneak his way towards an exit while slowly uncovering the horrific things that have taken place. The Whistleblower DLC, which is included in the bundle, focuses on Mount Massive software engineer Waylon Park, the man who contacted Miles about the hospital. Like Miles, he’s only equipped with a camcorder and must stealthy maneuver the asylum while avoiding the freshly released patients in hopes of escaping the living hell within its walls.
What Outlast does differently than most survival horror games is that it restricts the player from attacking threats, and instead forces the player to run and hide. Having no way to defend yourself adds a ton of tension and running for your life can be anxiety inducing. In order to shake off any assailants, you must take cover in lockers, underneath beds, or simply crouch behind an object, which is usually enough because enemies will give up relatively quick. They can still discover you, but this more often than not results in another mad dash to the next hiding spot. While it generally feels good, a few cases of needing certain objects that trigger the same enemy over and over again, resulting in repetitive running and hiding.
While tools are limited, the camcorder is always there. It’s used to document events and things you see along the way, but more importantly it has a night vision mode. Night vision is paramount to surviving as so much of the game is void of light, especially when overcoming puzzles scattered about. Many of the puzzles are straightforward, simply requiring you to flip a few switches before activating something, but the challenge comes in navigating the dark while being conservative with your camera’s batteries. Simply pressing the R button brings up the camcorder and pressing in the right stick switches it to night vision. Making sure to not burn through all your batteries is important, but fortunately plenty can be found around the asylum. While I was always cognizant of my battery usage, I never ran low on batteries in the normal game settings, but increased difficulty settings sees your battery limit decrease substantially from 10 down to two.
What’s most impressive about Outlast is how well it manages to create a believable and truly horrifying asylum to explore. Originally released in 2013, it visually still looks solid today, despite a few signs of age. The nature of how dark the game is helps cover up the dated graphics, but they can still be noticed with close-ups of character models. However that doesn’t take away from the gruesome sights to be seen around the hospital. Nearly every turn had me on edge, never knowing if the next jump scare was awaiting me or another blood-smeared message upon the wall. Patients littered around the grounds make things even more worrisome as you never know if they’ll attack you or are too far gone to even notice you. Simply put, Outlast brings back both the survival and the horror to the genre in a big way. Not to be outdone, the audio design is on par with the great visuals. Music cues help heighten dramatic moments and both sound effects and the mumblings of patients ensure you never have a sense of safeness.
For the most part, the Switch port runs very well in both handheld and docked mode. In handheld, it runs at 720p and in docked a higher, albeit strange, 1008p, both at 30fps. I did experience a few instances of slowdown, but they were minimal and didn’t negatively affect the gameplay. There was one weird character glitch, but fortunately I was able to run by them without any further issues. The most jarring thing though were the load screens that seemingly come out of nowhere. I’d be walking down a hallway when a load screen would abruptly pop up, but I could still hear the audio running normally behind it. The actual load times aren’t very long, but it would harshly interrupt what I was doing, which didn’t feel great.
Having a way to eliminate threats is a sense of comfort in any horror survival horror game, but it’s not one Outlast gives you. This adds a sense of stress that you just don’t feel from many other games in the genre. While the Switch port does have some minor slowdown and jarring load screens, it doesn’t detract from how horrifically wonderful the game is. With the emphasis back on horror and survival, Outlast is a welcomed return to what made the genre great to begin with.