Canadian developer Red Barrels is back with the sequel to their 2013 hit Outlast, with Outlast 2. The original spawned an expansion, Whistleblower, and countless YouTube videos of players being scared senseless. I must admit, I did not play Outlast. So here is my non-comparative review after a couple days playing, what the gaming industry was anticipating, as the horror game of year. Outlast 2 is best described as a dark, and deeply disturbing, jump-scare survival game. Players must either run, hide, or die. Outlast 2 has no quests, no silly puzzles with statues, no power-ups, and no combat, just terrifying, heart racing fear.
Outlast 2 starts out in the pitch black nightmare of cameraman Blake Langermann as he then suddenly wakes up inside a helicopter flying at night. Then we are introduced to his wife, Lynn, a reporter, who is investigating the death of a pregnant 15-year-old found in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, the same area you are currently flying over. In an instant, the chopper crashes violently and when you wake up, you find yourself on the side of a mountain with flaming debris all around. Blake frantically searches for his wife in the darkness, thankfully he has his camera with night-vision and eventually finds the pilot, tied up with barbed wire to a tree and completely gutted. “That did not happen in the crash!”
Right out of the gate, Outlast 2 goes for the throat. Just a minute down the extremely dark and spooky forest path, Blake encounters a ghoulish woman with a homemade scythe. I looked all over for a place to hide. Maybe if I waited, she would walk by like a patrolling NPC? Nope. Of course, she killed me a few times, but I got to see the various death animations as she ripped me in half, crotch first. I tried again and again to sneak by her. I died, again and again. Eventually I had seen all the various ways this creepy bitch could kill me and it was starting to become less scary each time. I got more brave each time the loading screen would show up again. This nightmare was becoming more of the “Bill Murray waking up to Cher on the radio every morning” kind.
Eventually I figured out the point was to run back the way I came as soon she saw me, and hide. That triggers her movement. Not run past her, not waiting for her to patrol. As I hid in the darkness of a ramshackle shed, I finally poked my head around with the right trigger and she was gone. After this, further scenes fell into place faster. Outlast 2 has a linear path setup, sort of like sections of a haunted house, just out in the desert with a crazy religious cult and some freaks at war with each other. The trick is figuring out how to make it to the next section. It’s important to scout the areas for enemies and then plan an escape route, but sight is very limited unless you use your night vision camera. This provides not only the best way to see your surroundings, but also documents the horrors that Blake encounters. Batteries for the camera are hidden all around and the meter provided a nice bit of urgency as it got low and impending darkness loomed. Just don’t get sucked into it and forgot to put your camera down when you are running from the scary hill folk.
Outlast 2 is graphically amazing, the areas are all designed to meet a purpose and succeed to scare players. The level of realism to the guts and gore is astounding. The sounds are perfect; put on some headphones and play in the dark, I dare you. I loved the controls, they work fluidly and the ability to look behind yourself with a quick glance led to some intensely scary moments. But the level of frustration was just too high to build a flow of the story, and game in general. I died so many times, scrambling for a place to hide, only to eventually learn that the path to the next area is a hole you can crawl into, and must find in the dark, while being chased. Though the various death scenes are pretty nasty and amusing, it occurred so often due to the almost one-shot kill damage output of baddies, it lost its luster. And I think my controller lost half a charge vibrating vigorously during every impalement.
The script for Outlast 2 is a tale no Hollywood movie studio would touch, full of religion, cults, nudity, and gore everywhere. It’s well made and combines impressive jump scares with some of the most repulsive and sickening imagery I have ever seen in a game or movie. It’s an emotional roller coaster of scares, nausea, and frustration. The story is well written, the voice acting was great, the controls were responsive, and the environments were well designed, but I just couldn’t get into the scare tactics Outlast 2 depended on after repeating them over and over. Maybe the first Outlast was this difficult? Maybe I am just not the target audience for Outlast 2? But most definitely, I would be willing to revisit Outlast 2 if the difficulty were decreased. Otherwise, Outlast 2 is a solid game and will scare even the most brave of players, at least the first few times.
Outlast 2 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on an Xbox One copy provided for that purpose.
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