As shock Switch releases go, Outlast: Bundle Of Terror didn't so much sneak up on us as jump out at us with a knife. Not that we're complaining about this surprise attack. When it comes to horror games, Switch owners have had to take the rough (Hollow) with the smooth (Resident Evil Revelations).
Thankfully, Outlast joins Capcom's re-release in the 'frighteningly good' category. This is a terrifyingly compelling and suspenseful first-person adventure with admirable production values, and it also serves as a consummate example of how to port a game from more powerful hardware onto Nintendo's wonder-hybrid. Playing the part of journalist Miles Upshur, it falls to you to investigate the shady goings on at Mount Massive Asylum, run by the suitably named Murkoff Corporation. You've been tipped off by a whistleblower (whom you learn more about in the included DLC episode) that some distinctly weird experiments are being carried out on inmates.
The difference between Outlast and most other survival horror games is that you're completely defenceless against the crazed inmates and pumped up abominations that lurk within the asylum walls. It kind of resembles the old 'Nemesis' system from many of the Resident Evil games, whereby an implacable foe stalks you across a whole game. Here, though, even an ordinary stooge can end you in a couple of successive strikes, with no hope of retaliation. Your only options are to run away or hide. Fortunately, you do have a few evasive manoeuvres at your disposal.
Break the line of sight with your pursuer and you can hide in a dark corner. Light - or the lack thereof - plays an important role in Outlast. Alternatively, you could hide in a locker or under a bed, though if an opponent suspects you're in the room they'll start searching all the other hiding spots around you. It's a moment of obvious artifice, but you'll still find that it gets your pulse racing.
Outlast's most interesting mechanic, and Upshur's only tool, is an old-fashioned camcorder. From your first-person view you can film events with a press of R, and use its night vision mode to see in the dark with a click of the right stick. There's a tension-raising catch with that latter function in the form of limited battery life. The game is at its most tense in the moments where you're wholly reliant on the grainy image of your viewfinder to see what's ahead, and the battery indicator starts to blink red.
Fortunately, there are plenty of spare batteries littered around Outlast's grim environments, which serve as the key incentive to stray off the beaten track. Goodness knows there's no other sane reason to delve into a murky bathroom, padded cell or underground pipe - not with the gory sights that await you. This game isn't for the squeamish.
However, this stripped back approach means that Outlast is a pretty shallow game from a purely mechanical perspective. At times it even feels a little like a walking simulator, as you trot from one horrific scenario to the next, picking up fragments of the story from files and your own recordings. To its credit, Outlast thoroughly sells the concept through the rich atmosphere it creates. Technically, this is a highly impressive effort from developer Red Barrels.
It may have been cut down from the earlier PC and PS4 versions, but we were still mightily impressed by the crisp graphics, dramatic lighting effects, and grisly textures of this Switch port. It runs at a slightly curious but still solid 1008p when docked, and a full 720p in handheld mode, while both modes run at a fluid (for this kind of game) 30fps.
The audio design is arguably even more impressive, with a reactive score that ramps up the tension whenever a threat appears. Meanwhile, hearing Miles hyperventilating at a particularly grisly discovery really serves to set your own pulse racing, even when the game's numerous jump scares start to wear a little thin.
And make no mistake, this is far from a perfect survival horror experience. The run-and-hide gameplay not only gets a little repetitive, it can occasionally verge on the farcical during protracted chase sequences. When the game's mask occasionally slips, such as when you're running between two hiding positions in a bid to shake off your pursuers, it can feel like a particularly grisly episode of Benny Hill.
Still, this is a richly enjoyable package overall, particularly at this cut-down eShop price and with the enjoyable Whistleblower episode adding a couple of hours of extra gameplay. Just take our advice and play the game in brief sessions - for the sake of your heart, if nothing else.
Outlast is a generous package of finely crafted survival horror thrills. It looks and sounds great on Nintendo Switch, and while its brand of hide-and-seek gameplay occasionally falters, it'll still keep you playing right until the grisly end.