Yes I know Outlast isn’t an FPS, just stick with me.
As a Playstation Plus subscriber I was pretty stoked to get Outlast in my PS4 instant game collection this month. It’s pretty rare for a game to actually deliver on everything you hope it will. I think the last time that happened with me was with Blood Dragon, but I digress.
Outlast is intense, spooky, unnerving, immersive, and does exactly what it sets out to do. But there’s a bonus I didn’t expect; it takes the first person perspective approach to gaming forward in all the right ways.
FPS dominated so many top reviews, fan favorite lists, and sales charts in the last generation that they eventually threatened the traditional gameplay elements of almost every other genre of gaming. While not my favorite genre, I played almost all of the good ones. Despite their rise in quality over the PS2/Xbox generation a few things just never got better and it always bothered me. Most importantly for me you rarely felt like you were controlling a human being that was a part of the action.
Whether I was kicking and leashing folks in Bulletstorm, sneaking through shanties in Call of Duty, blasting chimera in Resistance, or taking cover in Crysis I never felt like I was embodying much more than a camera on wheels that was mounted with guns. A few games made attempts to give me something like a body such as with the weighty feel of Killzone or the occasional presence of arms and legs in games like F.E.AR, but that was usually wrecked by the fact that I was viewing the world through either my chest or my stomach.
Outlast may not be an FPS but I would very much like to control an FPS that works in similar ways this generation. The genre just needs to advance, and I think putting us into a body is the way to do it. Who wasn’t impressed with the basic logic added to the Uncharted games where the character would put up their arms to keep you from walking them into a wall? The same thing happens in Outlast, arms go where they ought to. They keep you from smashing your face into a wall and they grab nearby corners when you are close to them. They hold you against surfaces as you peek around them. More important than the hands is of course your head. Your viewpoint is right where a human head would be, perched atop a human body. I know that sounds crazy but it totally works.
Doing this makes the walking bob feel much more authentic where previously in FPS games it just seemed like a way to break the camera-on-wheels feel up a little bit. Since you are controlling a head, there’s this cool feature where you can swivel around and look behind you while running. Great for a horror game, but it’s so easy and logical that it would fit quite nicely into an FPS when things get too hot to hold your ground. The only reason we probably don’t have it in FPS is that they don’t seem to trust gamers to have more than the most simplistic controls possible available to them. The running is much more natural as well, it mimics the same experience a real person has while running with the impact of the feet, slight blurring of the environment, the motion of the arms, and the ground covered.
The jump is also very human. It propels you forward a bit and just enough off the ground to not feel unnatural. You can shimmy across ledges on feet or with hands, vaulting has the proper weight to it, and even crawling feels more accurate than I’ve ever encountered in something from the FPS genre. Instead of just automatically being half as short as you were before, Outlast is careful to make you a person who is crouched down and not just a dwarf.
These are the kinds of things I would like to see taken up and advanced in the FPS genre. Let’s face it, the formula needs and update and realism seems to be the way to go. The net effect is more immersion in the gameplay and I can’t see how that could possibly hurt the now tired FPS gameplay formula.