Outlast is Red Barrels’ upcoming next-gen survival horror game. There’s been a few disappointments in the genre lately so is it safe to say it’s becoming more difficult to create terror in modern survival horror? Red Barrels co-founder Philippe Morin spoke to BeefJack at E3 about how he and his team “just found the best and most effective way to make the player suffer” in search of the answer.
Outlast plays upon a well-worn theory: that asylums are scary. BeefJack’s top man Jamie Donnelly recently explored the potential detrimental effects this stereotype casts over mental illness, arguing that by using the asylum trope allows scope for mental illness itself to be trivialised. Before I go on, I actually agree with his argument (and not just because he’s my boss). But I’ll tell you one thing, this portrayal of asylums, rather what’s inside them – be it archaic or not – is bloody terrifying nonetheless!
“You play a reporter and you get a tip from an anonymous informant that something is fishy is going on in the asylum,” says Red Barrels co-founder Philippe Morin regarding his team’s forthcoming first person survival horror adventure. “You decide to go and investigate pretty soon you also realise that it’d be a good idea to get out of there, but it’s already too late – you’re trapped inside. So your only option is just to go further in and try to look for a way out. At the same time, you’re going to discover the experiments, the nature of the experiments and who’s behind those experiments.”
BeefJack went hands on (stay tuned for the preview), and we can confirm – it would’ve been a good idea to get out of there. Outlast looks set to push mainstream survival horror “back to basics” as Morin puts it, and the fact that you play as a feeble journalist and not a marksman, makes the experience seem authentic. Recently many survival horror games have strayed into the territory of the action-adventure genre. “The thing is, there are many ways of doing a horror game and if there’s an audience for it then good for them,” says Morin in reference to these action-inspired horror games. “In our case, we wanted to do something which goes back to the basics, and we figured a no combat approach was the best way to achieve the kind of emotion we wanted to convey in the game. Having the player powerless is one good way of scaring people.
“But I mean the whole premise is about, pretty much, having the player suffer, so we just found the best and most effective way to make the player suffer and make them go through emotions they wouldn’t normally go through in their lives.”
Granted, Outlast is very resonant of Amnesia – instead of oil for your lamp you must seek out batteries for your video camera in order to light your way – but Morin is quick to sight this as inspiration, as well as classic films. “In terms of games, definitely Amnesia The Dark Descent, but in terms of movies we’ve got Quarantine or REC, even The Shining for the mood and atmosphere, or The Thing for the isolation, so I mean we drew a lot from these and in terms of game we draw a lot from our own experiences making action adventure games. No combat is the core gameplay mechanic.”