Red Barrels Games

Upcoming PC horror game Outlast draws from Amnesia, Silence of the Lambs, and… Splinter Cell?

Upcoming PC horror game Outlast draws from Amnesia, Silence of the Lambs, and… Splinter Cell?

You play as investigative reporter Miles Upshur in Outlast, an upcoming PC game created by a team of ex-Ubisoft developers. Acting on a tip from an anonymous source, Upshur breaks into the Mount Massive Asylum for the mentally ill. Though the asylum had previously been abandoned, Upshur discovers the Murkoff Corporation has reopened the building with some less-than-altruistic motives in mind. Upshur becomes trapped, and must escape. The game will be distributed via Steam sometime next year.Upshur is a journalist, not a space marine or war veteran. Contrary to what Frank West might have you believe, not all reporters even know how to use a gun, despite their coverage of wars, y'know. You'll be largely powerless throughout the game; forced to rely on your wits and stealth. It seems easy to bring up Amnesia as a point of reference, but Philippe Morin, co-founder of Red Barrels, first compared the game to Splinter Cell. “In terms of stealth, it's really a central focus of the game. You analyze your environment, where the enemies are, and if you're spotted, you know you're in trouble. So it's pretty close to a stealth game, even if it's a horror game,” Morin said. “And if the enemy sees you, that's where it's different from a Splinter Cell game; instead of getting shot at, you have to run and hide.” The Red Barrels team has had their hands in the creation of everything from Army of Two and Far Cry 3 to Prince of Persia and Halo. Morin himself has contributed to Assassin's Creed and Uncharted, specializing in camera and level design. Morin said such experience comes most in handy in the panic moments where the player is spotted and forced to run. “That's where we use our team's experience, in terms of platforming and action sequences, so that when the enemies are chasing you, we can make it as exciting as possible.” It's unclear how scripted these chases will be, as the team is still testing and developing. They hope to have a playable demo by the of the month, and Morin says they'll be tweaking as development progresses.

Heroes of horror

Morin told the Penny Arcade Report he wants Outlast to be a true horror game. He said he's seen too many “action shooters with a horror setting” try to pass themselves off as survival horror, and he doesn't want to follow that example. He wants to make a game that echoes sentiments of Amnesia and The Shining. “When we decided to make a horror game, we were looking to what kind of twists we could add to the mix, and when we played Amnesia, they proved you can make a game without any combat, and just with the hiding make it highly emotional,” Morin said. “It's probably the scariest game I've ever played.” As for Stephen King's masterpiece, Morin said the two most important lessons were atmosphere and pacing. “We want to go back to that, so that when you're walking in the game, there's not just a part where the fear kicks in, there's also a part where you're anticipating what's coming,” Morin said. “I think that's what makes horror and fear effective. You know what's coming, but not from where. It's all about pacing.” Morin compared storytelling to a rubber band; it's most effective – and painful – when it's stretched to its limits. But if you stretch to far, it breaks and becomes useless. “You have to create tension, and hold it just long enough to make the release effective, but you don't want to hold it too long so that the player feels like they need to take a break,” Morin explained. Morin also wants the enemies you face in Outlast to be more threatening than your average monster. “There are already a lot of great games out there about terrifying monsters that eat brains; we want Outlast’s to be scary because you’ll know the enemies you face still have them,” Morin said in the game's initial press release. When I asked him to clarify, he pointed out another film: Silence of the Lambs. “It takes place in an asylum, so you're going to be facing clearly insane people, but it doesn't mean that because they're truly insane, that they're mindless. I guess one way to put it is Hannibal Lecter is a clearly criminally insane person, but he's very bright at the same time,” he said. “You're facing a bunch of enemies who all act and react. You're going to feel personality and a sense of strategy.”

End goal: soiled pants

When I asked Morin why he felt the need to break away from Ubisoft and the successful franchises he'd been working on, he revealed that, after being with the company for so long, he was spending more time in meetings talking about games instead of making them. He didn't take well to that, and felt it was important to satisfy the drive he had for development. When I asked why a horror game, a genre that has had staple franchises recently struggle with their identity, he said it was the type of game most important to himself and co-founder David Chateauneuf. “When we left our jobs, we made a list of all the ideas that we thought could be interesting. Me and David always wanted to make a horror game, but were never given the opportunity. At the same time, we wanted to capitalize on our expertise working in games – the Splinter Cell series, Assassin's Creed series, and Uncharted – and we just went down the list. A horror game was the answer to those two things.” “The bottom line is we want to scare the shit out of players.”