Remembering my experience when I previewed Outlast 2 at E3 last year, I knew I wanted to play this game when it released. I enjoyed the mental asylum location of the first game and, as I was just getting into survival horror at the time, Outlast gave me a nice introduction into the genre. Needless to say, I went into Outlast 2 with high expectations and, for the most part, those expectations were met.
The imagery in Outlast 2 is a no-holds-barred approach to the macabre. There are plenty of skinned corpses skewered through spikes, swarms of flies hovering around rotting piles of intestines, and local crazy folk to make you wish it was all just a bad dream – a really bad dream. The environment and the people are against you, and your only hope at making it through the night is not running out of batteries for your camera.
Among the things the game does well are the placement of the jump scares and the transitions to and from the Catholic school, which were seamless and beautifully done. While some feel that jump-scares are a cheap method of playing up the “horror” aspect, they are often a necessary part, especially if you are being chased by crazed cult members. Outlast 2 isn’t overloaded with jump scares, and the ones that are there are placed at appropriate times and places so you don’t become desensitized too quickly. What fills the time between scares usually involves running away from one or multiple people, so you aren’t confined to a tiny spectrum of fear. You feel the anxiety of being chased through and under buildings by a horde of cult members. You feel disorientated as a huge flash of white light teleports you back and forth from your Catholic school days to confront a horrible incident from your childhood.
Outlast 2 forces the player into a variety of hair-raising situations, ensuring that there will be something to scare the pants off everyone. For me, attempting to escape murderous cult members is only mildly scary, but being forced to walk down a pitch-black hallway is something that makes me extremely uncomfortable in real life, so naturally the scenes in the Catholic school were the scariest for me. The developers made great use of the environment here to tease the player and to challenge expectations a bit and, gameplay-wise, is easily the strongest point of the game.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the time spent in the shanty shack cult town. While the game overall does a good job at leaving environmental clues pointing the player in the right direction, escape paths are not always so clear. Numerous times I found myself at the end of a bottleneck, pressed against a fence and waiting for someone to stab me in the gut. The first time, it was scary. The second time, it was annoying. By the sixth of seventh time, it was downright infuriating and completely broke the immersion.
Eventually, I’d find the right path, but it took longer than necessary to get there. Thankfully, these moments in the game were sparse, but the mechanic that fowled me up the most was any time I opened a door toward me as I was escaping; I would have to come to a dead-stop and wait for my character to slowly open the door before I could break out into another sprint and, in my panic, would often release the mouse button before the door had finished opening, which would then shut the door.
Most of the excitement the game generates is through the gameplay itself. Outlast 2, unfortunately, pushes the player along in a disjointed story, loosely connecting the activity in the Arizona desert to Blake’s childhood by not-so-subtly symbolizing Catholic guilt, a common trope that is used often in Catholicism-centered horror. You start the game with a brief introduction to Blake and his wife, Lynn, and only gather that they are both journalists investigating the death of a pregnant woman. While it makes sense pacing-wise to throw players into the game with a serious event like a helicopter crash, this quick of a story progression doesn’t allow for much character development at the start. You hardly get insight into their marriage, so the main objective of the game (find and save Lynn) simply becomes a goal rather than an emotional precedent. I didn’t keep playing the game because I cared about Blake or Lynn; I just wanted to see why Sullivan Knoth and his followers needed Lynn for their ritual and the bloodshed they left in their wake.
What pieces we do get of Blake’s personality are only revealed through the scenes in the Catholic school and, consequently, it feels more like you as the player are trying to make it through the night with your life, rather than feeling the emotions of Blake alongside your own. There is a point in the game, however, where if you are lost as to what is going on, Blake’s inner commentary will sum it up for you. If you don’t take the time to read the letters Outlast 2 has scattered about, then this bit of information will be illuminating.
Truthfully, I did not take much time to read these letters because most of the time it required me to use the night vision on my camera, which would use precious battery power – a design flaw, maybe. There are many chances to record various documents in the game that you can come back later and read. You can also replay video footage that you just shot and listen to Blake’s added commentary (which can be a little awkward; if you view review footage you just shot, sometimes Blake will be speaking in the past tense even though you physically haven’t moved on from that moment).
The scenes in the Catholic school are the most interesting mainly because there is a full-fledged story within those scenes alone, alluding to the guilt over a specific incident that Blake has carried around his entire life. The scenes that push that narrative along are heartbreaking, even though the situation is something that has been told and retold in various ways for decades. The desert town, by contrast, is fueled by nothing more than extreme religious insanity, which works for the general “abandon all hope ye who enter here” theme that runs through horror stories, but functions more as a plot device rather than to develop narrative. Even still, there is some sort of connection between the cult-infested desert town and Blake’s childhood, but it seems to be unintentionally ambiguous.
Outlast 2 wasn’t the most psychologically messed-up game I’ve played (that honor goes to Jon Oldblood’s Masochisia), nor was the plot the most original, but the developers definitely hit the mark with regards to creating a visceral environment and delivering the scares.
PUBLISHER – Red Barrels | DEVELOPER – Red Barrels | ESRB – M | PLATFORMS – PC / PS4 / Xbox One
Consider – Outlast 2 provides a survival horror experience that makes clever use of jump scares and changing scenery. Those looking for a strong narrative might be disappointed, as might those looking for an intense, psychological experience. The game does a marvelous job building tension and catching players unaware, but some may be frustrated with certain gameplay mechanics.