At the beginning of Outlast your objective is to explore an asylum. Barely 10 minutes in your goal has changed to "escape." Of course, in a "rated mature" horror game like this, from Montreal's Red Barrels, that's easier said than done.
Did I mention there's no fighting in Outlast? Your only recourse when confronted by something awful is to run and hide. Or die.
You are a reporter, investigating claims of illegal activity at the asylum. The fact that blood and body parts are everywhere is an indication of how bad things are at the facility. As you explore – escape – the place, you'll find documents that tell the story of what's going on. You can document your experience with a camcorder, but the camera will be more important because you'll need its night vision to see in the dark.
And as Fatal Frame proved, there's something about having to look through a lens in a horror video game that adds a level of panic to the experience.
But the night vision function of the camcorder requires batteries. So you'll need to manage your supply. Because you do not want to find yourself in a part of the asylum that is pitch black. Trust me.
As is always the case with a good horror, sound design is essential (Want proof? Watch The Exorcist with the sound off.) and the most unnerving sound of all is the sound of your own character breathing, especially when he's scared out of his wits. It serves as an excellent cue that you should be scared, too.
There are plenty of jump scares in Outlast. The fact that they are so effective goes to the atmosphere created in the game. You'll never have so much fun scaring yourself silly.
Developer: Red Barrels
Platform: Windows, PS4 in 2014
The Pit: Mind Games
This top-down roguelike has you descending into a pit, natch, to find the cure for a plague. After choosing your class (engineer, marine, psion, ranger, scout), each with slightly different starting skills and equipment.
The mind games of the title refers to the psionics, mind powers, that your character can use in the game. Using your skills and abilities, from picking locks to destroying things with your mind, automatically improves your skill at those tasks.
The pit, which is actually levels of an abandoned alien facility, is filled with equipment of unknown function. You tamper with it at your own risk. And every time you attempt to open a rusted locker or crack a safe, you are presented with the likelihood of your success. With the right supplies you can sometimes improve your chances.
You'll also find items and supplies by foraging in rot piles. And when you find loot, it can be good and bad. The bio-mods for your weapons bestow an unknown mutation; Sometimes it will improve your weapon, sometimes it won't.
Crafting is key here, too, from adding mods to weapons to combining items to come up with food that you require to keep going.
Combat is turn-based, and the bizarre enemies varied, deadly, and taken from the Sword of the Stars franchise, also developed by Vancouver's Kerberos Productions.
Each level has an exit that you need to reach, which only takes you to the next level down. If you die – and you will die – you have to start the game over at the beginning. But you won't mind. Much.
You have to reach level 30 to find the cure you're looking for. You're probably never going to get there.
Developer: Kerberos Productions