Outlast was a very surprising game in terms of how it turned out compared to how the game was described. The way I originally read it was one of the same copied and pasted idea where journalist hears about freaky stuff, disregards it, gets caught up in some paranormal stuff and 'has to investigate this further' or has to get revenge for something or someone. While in a sense it can make for a good story, for me personally, it's always left a feeling of disconnection because I know if something like that happened to me I'd get out and get out quick.
Outlast doesn't do that, which feels almost like a breath of fresh air after you've spent your time in a dank, grimy, bloody asylum. Instead your character's one goal quickly shifts from finding out more about the asylum to get out. Overwhelmed by everything that's happening, the feelings of helplessness as you try to avoid the creatures that fervently stalk you grips your nerves and very rarely lets go.
The main mechanic of the game that really pushes that feeling of terror and boxes you in a feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia is the camera mechanic. While you are helpless to fight anything, you are armed with a video camera. This video camera is the key to your survival but also one of the biggest causes of stress. A lot of the game takes place in the dark, as a run down asylum in disrepair would, and thus the night vision on your camera becomes exceedingly important. While you have no ability to know where an enemy is in the dark without it until it is upon you, yet they have excellent hearing in which to flush you out, being able to navigate or determine whether or not you're about to step in water can determine life or death.
However, the camera runs on batteries which are invaluable during the game and are extremely sparse. You can have up to ten but I can remember only very few points in time when I had any more than five. The game often forces you to make a decision, do you risk walking around in the dark and hope there's nothing there or do you use and possibly waste using your batteries at the risk of not having it when the time comes.
The game feels as 'real' as a game about a paranormal asylum can get from it's tense, dark atmosphere to the way the game tells its story. There's no obvious signs that say, 'HEY! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD BE SCARED!'. You can find clues that you can piece together and find out what happened that way and I enjoy that. It helps really sell the fact that everything is scattered about and in disrepair when you just happen to find things that give vague ideas about what happened considering nobody in real life sits down and writes a long winded manifesto as to the day to day tasks of a possibly evil corporation in a neat manilla folder in the most obvious of places.
While I enjoyed that, if you are someone who likes storytelling, this game is very short on it. In fact, that may be a bit of a shortcoming. When you get towards the end of the game, if you picked up very few of the scattered files and notes it may make little sense and leave you as the player with a resounding, 'huh?'.
The other downside to this game is that while it often does an amazing job at conveying what you must do or where you must go most of the time without holding your hand, there were a handful of times when the game did a poor job of signalling or was otherwise vague about what to do next or how to go about your next task. I usually do not like having to resort to a walkthrough, but this was a game where I was clueless as to where to go next on a few select moments, although the moments in which this happens are few and does not ruin the overall feeling of the game overall.
All in all, this game followed in the pace of games like Amnesia where the fear comes from the atmosphere and the feeling of being a helpless player but is able to stand on its own with some original concepts and solid gameplay. It does have its shortcomings, but if you are a fan of the horror genre, this is a must a play.