Chase Horror and You: The impact of games such as Outlast and Amnesia

Imagine you with a gun in a video game. Now imagine you without one. And there is a monster, and it is barreling toward you. What do we do, class? We execute the classic foolproof strategy granted in said scenarios, fueled by adrenaline and our body’s nervous system.

We run.

Now at this rate, your options are slim pickings. Hide, shake off the pursuer, or perish. Option C sounds like a hassle and B is liable to get your step counts in the worst way possible, so let’s say hide. After that ordeal, the player feels a rush and continues to the next obstacle, like a rat in a maze only the cheese is a Playstation trophy.

Fun fact, this pops up on your UI when you die in real life

  This is the appeal of a genre I dub “Chase Horror”. Games where you lose any semblance of protection and you just book it like you’re the last kid on the safety gram pacer test. Notable examples include the Outlast series, Alien: Isolation and the Amnesia games. All three of these aforementioned examples include a certain “gimmick” to them but the concept remains the same. You’re alone, scared, and the name of the game becomes survival by any means necessary. You may exploit the enemy AI (Outlast has some hilarious examples of this) or become familiar with the general layout to gain the upper hand. Crouch, Crawl, duck, and peek past stray furniture as you steel your nerves for the next upcoming beast. Here we will examine these examples in how they challenge the formula, and why this genre of horror remains the rush it’s terrifying concept promises to be. 

  While Alien can be considered a variant of this concept due to containing some minor weapons to defend oneself with, generally the game’s tone dictates Ripley often resorts to escaping rather than challenging head on. Alien is unique of these given titles due in large part to both its setting and it’s most relentless foe; the Xenomorph. The setting of both Outlast and Amnesia are an insane asylum and a manor, while Alien is, well, a spaceship. This opens the door in horror as seen in games such as Dead Space, though there you could cleanly eradicate the alien menace. Here your buttons are mapped to run and hide. The nature of the ship ensures that the lighting is dim and artificial, and the passage ahead is sanitized yet foreboding. The titular alien is no slouch, either. Acting as an unstoppable force (with no immovable object to counterweight it), the xenomorph will search, scan, and scare the player into being on their utmost guard. It becomes a terrifying cat and mouse that highlights what this genre is capable of. It becomes reminiscent of other relentless foes such as in Clock Tower or Resident evil 2/ RE3, though the setting serves to differentiate itself from other games in the genre. 

     Amnesia meanwhile can be considered the purest example of this genre, basically the grandfather in ushering the genre’s popularity through YouTube reactionary channels and by similar word of mouth. Any child with unfiltered internet access would have come across this horror game by way of lets plays or simply viral videos. It was thrilling, dark, bloody, and contained a unique mechanic that paired perfectly with the general ambiance of the Brennenburg Castle; the constant drain on your sanity. Everytime you glanced at a monster or hid in the shadows for too long your sanity and thus perception would decrease, which would lead to visual distortions or in severe cases audio disturbances. This is reminiscent of Nintendo’s Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem which had a similar mechanic, though there the mind screws would extend beyond the game itself (such as the screen going black, or my personal favorite the input “changing” and the Video prompt would appear in the corner). But I digress, while Amnesia may be considered an early and thus rough example of chase horror (the graphics do look a tad dated in today’s world, but for the period look incredible), it’s legacy and influence can be seen in examples today in games like Baldi’s Basics or Slender, and those game’s relation to YouTuber culture can be stemmed back to Amnesia itself.  

Something something cheese stick fridge POV joke

     Outlast, being the freshest example to me personally (as I only finished the series last month) really opened the door to me what this genre is capable of. While the survival horror and chase genre can be dated back to the korean title White Day: A Labyrinth named School in 2001, this series feels like a cultivation of many of the genre’s strongest quirks. Outlast really just hands you a camera, some batteries, and kicks you out into the harsh cruel world. Well, if the world was an “abandoned” insane asylum. The idea you need to be constantly aloof and searching for batteries to reload the camera’s night vision as to not be in absolute darkness is as intense as it is anxiety inducing. I never ran out of batteries during my terrifying six hour stay at Mount Massive though the indicator often came worryingly close to running on empty, which the idea of becoming exposed in total darkness was enough to move my virtual legs forward. I became adept at knowing the closest bed positions to hide under, how many hits I could sustain before dying (which autoheal if you remain away from enemies for a period of time), and how to hold the run button as effectively as possible. Outlast also contains a DLC called Whistleblower, which essentially trims the fat of the main campaign into a shorter though often just as effective plot of its own. The same camera mechanics remain, though now the player gains extra context for the story of the base game which fleshes out the package into feeling more complete. 

     The other full length title in the collection, Outlast 2, often garners criticism from the fanbase of the original game. Gone are the autohealing mechanics and environments of the first game, here to be replaced by wraps that regain health in a less convenient way and the most unsettling Little House on the Prairie set ever. However in addition to this we also gain an improved mic functionality on the camera, advanced stealth modes such as the ability to hide in tall grass, and an updated engine that really modernizes the world of Outlast. I understand fan’s complaints to a degree, like when we look at the rural communities far too many options to hide or multiple ways to cheese a chase scenario in comparison the asylum’s narrow and claustrophobic hallways, but also I think the advancements in the engine and the camera’s newfound strengths create a more balanced game in general. The new options are a bit of a double edged sword whereas they create new options that empower the player but well, they create new options that empower the player. You lose a sense of that helplessness in this translation, and that is what I believe to be the divide between the two games. As an entry in chase horror however, the series is incredible in providing that dizzying rush that these games are known for through their effective usage of the dark and general environments. 

     I find that this genre has given me an appreciation for one of the most effective horror vessels in the genre; dread. Often you dread turning a corner to find that darn alien is loose again, your sanity is about to slip off the deep end, or your camera’s battery will drain faster than your wallet at Comic Con. Each of these are incredibly solid experiences that really give the impression of being in a killer haunted house (may Halloween Horror Nights rest in peace this year). They’re perfect for the season and act as strong and enjoyable games on their own right. -Vic 

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