Being handed the reins of a popular franchise must be a pretty daunting task. Over and over we’ve seen the successors to beloved franchises try and fail to make lightning strike twice, sowing contention and bitter resentment among established fans of whichever property they were ‘lucky’ enough to inherit. When The Chinese Room, creators of Dear Esther, were chosen to create a sequel to indie horror darling Amnesia: The Dark Descent the pressure to recreate that game’s terrifying magic must have been intense. A less courageous developer would have tried to give fans of that game everything they expected; instead we got a game that gives us almost nothing we expected out of an Amnesia sequel, but offers far more in return. The Chinese Room has created something astonishing in A Machine For Pigs- an atmospheric, horrific, darkly beautiful interactive story.
I’ve written several times before about the dearth of quality horror produced by professional big-budget channels and the renaissance of indie horror projects taking up the slack. In the video game realm games like Amnesia, Slender and countless mods and freeware titles have helped to launch entirely new game genres focused on removing action and combat and emphasizing helplessness and atmosphere.
Outlast is an interesting product of that environment. Technically an indie title self-published by developer Red Barrels but created by a cabal of former big-budget industry veterans, the game comes across like an attempt to combine the best elements of the most popular indie horror games doing the rounds on Youtube into one ultimate mega-horror game, destined to fuel over the top reaction videos for the next decade. Red Barrels have succeeded in creating a tense, atmospheric thrill ride with stunning production values, but their history working for big publishers also leads to a self-defeating design philosophy that stops Outlast from attaining the classic status it could have reached otherwise.
Take a look around the room you’re in right now. Have a wander around your house or apartment or whatever you’ve got. Try to look at it through the eyes of a stranger. The expired milk left out in the kitchen, the stack of old bills on the windowsill. What sort of story does your home tell? Is it one you’d want other people to hear?
This is more or less the position that both the player and Kaitlin Greenbriar find themselves in at the beginning of Gone Home, the debut title from the exquisitely named Fullbright Company. Kaitlin has arrived back in America after a year traipsing around Europe, to the palatial new house her parents and younger sister Sam moved into while she was away. Upon arriving she discovers that all is apparently not well- the house is empty and there’s a note from Sam taped to the front door begging Kaitlin not to find her or tell their parents where she’s gone. It’s up to you to explore the Greenbriar home, unearthing clues to solve the mystery of both your sister’s whereabouts and the events over the previous year that have led to this situation.