Backlog Attack! – 2019 Challenge – October

October’s spoooopy edition is brought to you by early pneumonia – if you need a break from work, call on this fantastic disease!

In all seriousness, I was admitted to my local hospital late October due to possible pneumonia mixing terribly with my asthma, and took two weeks off of work to recover. I’m still getting fatigued if I do too much, but I am slowly on the mend. What it did mean was I got a proper rest from work and slowly got back into playing some video games and into my crafty hobbies. As a result, the spooky horror game edition Thero and I were planning was put off for some time, but I am determined to have a go anyway.

As per our rules, October is a spooky choice from our Steam libraries, and oddly enough we both had 2013’s hit psychological horror Outlast. Whilst I enjoy watching horror games, I’m not the biggest fan of playing them, and Thero even less so.

Still, I like to challenge myself on occasion, and if nothing else I would at least have something to write about if I tried. So I set it downloading and psyched myself up.

Play time: 70 minutes
Achievements: Yes
Steam Trading Cards: Yes
Enjoyed: No, but not for the reasons you might think
Would recommend?: Yes if you haven’t seen or played it before and you like horror

I am not a good horror game player. I take it all really slowly (logic being if I see the scary at a distance it’s less terrifying when its later in my face. I don’t hate horror games and love watching other people play them but I hoped Thero might challenge my horizons a little this Halloween.

Outlast proved to be a hit in horror gaming on its release in 2013, with many of my favourite Let’s Play-ers working their way through Mount Massive Asylum pretty soon after release. Being a fan of horror Let’s Plays, I watched a few of these playthroughs and enjoyed the time I spent watching them, playing vicariously through whoever was playing.

The game looked good, sounded good, had some sort of plot that tried to make sense and was generally considered to be a good horror game, and certainly one of the best in recent years. I watched the same Lat’s Play-ers play through the Whistleblower DLC and then Outlast 2 a few years later. I felt familiar with the game, the story and the characters and certainly didn’t feel the need to play the game myself until this challenge.

You play as journalist Miles Upshur, investigating the activities at Mount Massive Asylum after receiving a note/email from a worker there. Armed with nothing more than your hand-held camera, nowhere near enough batteries and a telepathic notebook (you never see a notebook but you somehow write in one), you drive into the middle of nowhere to start work on your next headline.

As you find the main doors to the asylum are locked, the game proves to be really good at teaching you how to do things – in fact, it doesn’t stop. Even after the “tutorial” level of getting into the asylum and making your way around, the game continues to remind you how to open and close doors, leap over objects and how to access the aforementioned telepathic notebook. Your trusty camcorder has its uses too, recording important or weird events and, perhaps most importantly in Outlast, has a nightvision mode.

The nightvision on your camera is used a lot while in the asylum. Outlast is dark, even when the brightness is up. Dark hallways are pitch black, and even a nightvision mode isn’t always helpful in keeping the shadows at bay. Still, darkness makes for better horror, so into the darkness you go. Clearly, something horrendous has been going on a Mount Massive, since there’s blood and viscera all over the place. If you walk in the blood, you get a nice squelchy sound and track blood on your footprints for a few steps. Heading through the library reveals heads and body parts on the bookshelves, a jump scare that got me despite expecting it and a nice conversation with a man impaled on a spike.

This is where my biggest issues with Outlast presented themselves, although I have to say they were entirely of my own doing. Because I had seen several playthroughs of Outlast previous to playing the game, I remembered where the scares should be, and that I needed to do certain things early, like gather batteries. Horror isn’t scary when you know what’s coming. That’s not at all to say there’s problems with the game and the scares (although jumpscares aren’t as scary as a constant dread), but I had lowered the fear and dread in myself. Having said that, I had no intention of playing Outlast when it came out in 2013 so I won’t hold it against myself too much.

My other issue was the sound. Again, not because it was bad, but because of myself. The sounds and background music (not that’s it’s really music), are great. You can hear every shaky breath Miles takes, the really loud creak of the door you are trying to open quietly and the footsteps of others moving around somewhere nearby. What I had issue with was Miles’ breathing.

I am an asthmatic, and an empath. I have also just recovered from an exacerbation of asthma due to the possible pneumonia. Mile’s raggedy, shaky breathing was problematic for me, and actually one of the reasons I haven’t continued with the game after this post. I was getting exhausted listening to him breathe, because my lungs were almost trying to copy it. I don’t know why, and I know they weren’t actually breathing like Miles was, but I found it more and more tiring the more I played. This isn’t a phenomenon restricted to Outlast either; we use a simulation mannequin at work and can make it breathe in various ways. If I’m in a session where we have to make it struggle for breath, I start to feel tired as I know anyone would in that situation. I’ve been in it enough times myself.

I had to stop playing. I knew I would just get more exhausted the more I played, and knowing what was due down the line and later in the plot, I wasn’t going to put my lungs through extra stress.

There’s still a lot I like about Outlast, even from watching others play. I like that leaning around doors is possible, and you see Miles’s hand lean on the door frame for support. “Crouching” is more like crawling. You can’t fight back (because a journalist wouldn’t have the gear or the know-how) and when you do hide from a nasty, the AI might try to break open hiding places. There’s plenty of batteries hanging around to use for your camcorder, and lots of notes hinting at what was going on, if you spend some time looking.

Final Thoughts

I would like to have the ability to finish Outlast. I know what happened in the asylum, and I enjoyed the time I spent watching others play. It wasn’t that enjoyable playing it myself, but not because it was bad. I’ve certainly playing worse games in this challenge and there are plenty of terrible horror games out there. If you like scaring yourself and you haven’t played or seen Outlast, I definitely recommend having a go investing Mount Massive Asylum.

The year starts to close out with just 2 games left to play in this challenge. Thero has chosen an interesting choice for November!

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