This post is quite different from the ones I’ve written so far. Originally a story recap I penned down in a rush in the middle of exam period, I figured it’s worth putting it out here – maybe someone else wants to refresh their memory, or make sense of Outlast before jumping into Outlast II? I shall try to summarize the story as I understood it. I’ll be coming back to it myself in a few weeks’ time for a refresher when I can make some time for Outlast 2. Full spoilers for Outlast below.
The narrative is played out through a handful of NPC interactions, and confidential documents strewn about the asylum. No lengthy cutscenes or dialogue are present to hold your hand throughout its runtime. In short, you get out of the story as much as you put into exploring and reading notes.
Outlast begins with investigative journalist Miles Upshur driving to Mount Massive Asylum. Ominously, the radio is cut off as you get closer. A tipoff about the shady parent body Murkoff Foundation’s activities at this ‘charitable’ institution has drawn you to investigate the asylum. Armed with a handheld camcorder, you enter the grounds. Armed guards and inmates alike lay dead in the foyer. Not long after you’ve made your way into the building, you’re attacked by what appears to be a mutated giant. As you pass out, you see a priest-like figure (‘Father’ Martin) leaning over you and claiming your appearance to be that of an Apostle sent by God himself.
During WWII, Dr. Robert Wernicke was employed as a researcher for the Nazis, conducting experiments on human subjects (presumably to power a superhuman army for the Fuhrer). Multiple patients were suddenly reported to have brain tumors – all mysteriously formed of lead. Later, Wernicke hypothesized that it was the stress of the times – mixed with the potent fear of death – that allowed the experiment to succeed, along with something supernatural entering our human realm (a mysterious entity that resembles a sentient swarm of nanorobots). He also believed that this was a major reason as to why later attempts to reproduce his results in the US failed – the emotional distress was no longer there, not in America.
After the end of WWII, the US onboarded many Nazi scientists to work for them. This isn’t entirely fiction, and is one of a few instances where Outlast draws inspiration from real-life history to construct its narrative. Operation Paperclip was a covert operation where German scientists were brought to the US to work for the government. Many of them had had direct ties to the Nazis or were members of the party themselves. History lesson aside, in the world of Outlast, Wernicke was one of those employed by the US government to continue working for them.
However, owing a total lack of results, the program was eventually shut down. Murkoff, a private corporation, saw potential for a windfall if Wernicke’s Nazi-era experiments could be perfected, and revived the program under the guise of running an asylum. Wernicke himself joined them under the pretence of assisting with the charity. At some point, he passed away, leaving behind a legacy of dubious, inconclusive research.
His ill-fated experiment involved subjecting patients to a complicated device dubbed the Morphogenic Engine in the hopes that they would be able to control the supernatural nanorobot-like entity while suspended in a state of lucid dreaming. All but one of these trials failed horribly, permanently scarring the patients at the asylum; many of them turned violent (and end up hunting Miles over the course of the game). Housed in a secret underground laboratory, the Engine was supported by three vital life support systems and worked by letting a subject control the swarm of nanoparticles when suspended in a lucid dream state.
Billy Hope, an unsuspecting young man who agreed to participate in exchange for compensation paid to his mother (who, unbeknownst to him, had already died), was the only ‘success’ to come out of Project Walrider. Kept alive by the life support systems of the Engine, he was able to control the entity that resembled a human-like ‘ghost.’ This inadvertently led to a cult-ish religious movement within the asylum, headed by ‘Father’ Martin who saw the Billy-controlled Walrider entity as God.
Back to present day, Miles comes to in a locked room. Throughout his terrifying journey to escape the asylum and the horrors within, he is guided towards the truth of the experiment by the deranged ‘Father’ Martin, who is fascinated with the idea of Miles recording everything and ‘spreading the gospel to the world.’ Surviving run-ins with a former Murkoff executive who savours torturing his captives (and two naked, cannibalistic inmates), Miles finally reaches ‘Father’ Martin, only to see him ‘sacrificing’ himself on the cross, convinced he will be resurrected.
Using an elevator key left behind by Martin, Miles ends up in the secret underground lab, where – surprise! – he finds an aged Wernicke, who has apparently been kept alive by Billy/Entity. Confined to his wheelchair, he is unable to either die or put an end to the Entity. Wernicke claims that Billy’s Walrider entity has been the one wreaking havoc on the asylum, brutally murdering inmates and security forces alike. Miles takes on the task of ending Billy’s life by cutting off the Engine’s life support systems, thereby ending his lucid dream state and control over the Entity. He succeeds, but is badly injured by the dying Billy/Walrider entity. Stumbling out of the lab, Miles is faced with a squad of armed soldiers and Wernicke himself. The soldiers open fire, and in a strangely anticlimactic scene Miles is gunned to death….
As he blacks out, Wernicke exclaims “You are the host now!” as frenzied chaos erupts among the soldiers and screams ring out. The Entity now controls Miles. Roll credits.
Looking for something different? Take a look at this analysis of Disco Elysium’s themes – arguably one of the best story-driven RPGs in the past decade!
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