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Developer: Red Barrels
Release Date: September 4, 2013
Platforms: Steam (PC), PS4

Imagine being trapped inside a deserted mental asylum with a night vision camera and your wit as your only means of survival. Upon investigating, you find something unspeakable occupies the asylum with you, and it’s pretty apparent this thing is pissed off as it chases you down dark hallways with murderous intentions.

Welcome to Outlast, developer Red Barrels’ survival horror video game, which dropped on September 4 and is the debut project from the studio. Outlast is set in the mountains of Colorado and focuses on journalist Miles Upshur who receives an anonymous tip advising him to check out a derelict insane asylum. So like any journalist worth his salt, he does just that. From there you’re whisked into a game that weaves together a web of jump scares and scripted eviscerations. In an exclusive sit down, XXL talked to Philippe Morin (co-founder of Red Barrels) about what makes Outlast a unique and terrifying survival horror game.

XXL: What was the inspiration for the backstory?
One of the co-founders, Hugo Dallaire, loves to follow interesting dark corporate backgrounds. So when the decision was made to set the game in an asylum, Hugo started feeding us with info about Project MKUltra, which was a covert human research operation conducted by the U.S. government, and all sorts of documented experiments. We read a lot, and we created what we felt would be a good starting point for Outlast.

There are no weapons in Outlast; instead your character has to rely on stealth to survive. What made the team go in this direction?
After working on many games with guns and swords (Splinter Cell, Prince Of Persia, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted), we felt like a no-weapons approach would be a nice challenge. We also played Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and that game proved how effective a non-combat design can be.

How many types of enemies will one encounter in the game?
In the asylum you’ll meet many patients with different levels of mutations. Five characters will play a more significant role that you’ll encounter many times while exploring Mount Massive asylum.

Will there be cut scenes at certain points that allow you to gather yourself?
We’re using the same approach as Half Life (an old science fiction video game) so we never take control away from the player without justifying it.

A big part of Outlast is the atmosphere. Talk a little about the things that went into making it so chilling.
When we were working on the very first version of our trailer, we had a temp soundtrack. We wanted the same vibe from the movie The Shining so we looked at the composers Stanley Kubrick used and bought several tracks from them. They were from Ligetti, Nowoczesny and Penderecki. So, when we found our composer, Samuel Laflamme, we made him listen to these tracks and told him the music had to make the player feel uncomfortable. Then it was just a matter of tweaking the pacing to reflect the tension we wanted players to feel.

The main goal is to get out of the asylum with your life intact. Did you leave it up to the players to decide how much investigation they want to do?
We tried a lot of different mechanics for the investigation. In the end, they all felt too gimmicky, so we decided to leave it up to the player and let them focus on the investigation based on their own level of curiosity. You can find confidential documents if you explore with confidence, and using your recorder will yield more notes about what your character is thinking or feeling in the in-game notes section.

It seems Outlast’s main purpose is making the player suffer, adding a vulnerability you don't see in survival horror often. Was that the goal from the beginning?
It became the goal. At first, we didn’t want the player to have any combat, because we felt it would make the game scarier, but as production was moving forward, we realized we were creating an experience around the notion of making the player suffer. Once we made that realization, we decided to go even further in that direction.

What platforms beside the PC will it be available for?
PS4 is confirmed for early 2014. Xbox One is also still a possibility at this time.

There are quite a few stories about how some people have reacted upon Outlast. Can you share a few of them?
At PAX East in Boston, some players got so scared they knocked a wall from our booth. At E3, one player collapsed on the floor, like his legs just stopped holding him. During a play test, one gamer had to stop after 30-40 minutes... She simply went outside and started crying to release all the anxiety.

That’s crazy. What kind of lasting impression do you want Outlast to leave on the gamer?
We hope players will appreciate the ride we’ve created and remember for a long time all the emotions they felt while they were playing. We’re a team of only 10 people, but we worked hard to make sure players would be taken on one hell of a ride!—Written by DJ Rhude (@DJRhude)