The annual PAX East is the largest gaming convention on the East Coast. Last week regular contributor J.P. Grant braved the miserable weather of Boston to chronicle this year’s convention for Paste. (It helps that Boston is his home.) Today we wrap up J.P.’s look at some of the biggest and best games shown at the event.
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Release Date: Summer 2013 (Steam)
One of the most promising titles on the PAX expo floor this year was the survival horror game Outlast from Montreal-based developer Red Barrels. That’s not surprising, given the 10-person team’s pedigree: Co-founder Philippe Morin and his colleagues are veterans of Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, EA, and other big-name companies, with credits on popular franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, and Prince of Persia.
Outlast represents something of a departure, though. Like Amnesia: The Dark Descent—which Morin cites as an influence—there is no combat in Outlast. You play Miles Upshur, a journalist tasked with exploring the appropriately creepy Mount Massive Asylum, armed only with a videocamera. Naturally, horrors await within, and events will inevitably conspire to trap you inside with them. Miles’ videocamera substitutes for Amnesia’s lanterns here; using its night-vision mode is the only way to see in the dark, and scrounging batteries is essential. Like many horror texts, Outlast makes no secret of playing with our ingrained fear of the dark.
But Amnesia isn’t the only reference point for Outlast. The grainy green night-vision look of the game was inspired by the Chris Cunningham/Aphex Twin short film “Rubber Johnny” Morin told me. He also listed horror films like The Shining, Cloverfield, and [REC] as influences, as well as the sublimely unnerving music of Georgy Ligeti (whose compositions were used in several Kubrick films).
Given these similarities, I was somewhat skeptical prior to my demo. Survival horror can be difficult to pull off without feeling derivative. But in the darkened booth, plugged into noise-canceling headphones, it didn’t matter. Guiding Miles through the ruined corridors of the asylum was an incredibly tense experience, even though I’d had some inkling of what to expect. The game’s influences were very much apparent—but the effect was nevertheless terrifying. The sound design was particularly well done; Miles’ panicked breaths are layered over a dissonant string score, and every ambient noise convinces you something unholy is right behind the next door. “What drives me is the emotion I can create for the player,” Morin told me. He’s got terror down, at least.
J.P. Grant is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamers With Jobs, and other outlets. He blogs about games at Infinite Lag and is also on Twitter.