I’m a big fan of the first Outlast. In my opinion, it was the first game to perfectly emulate the found footage horror genre and make for a compelling game experience, and it truly terrified me from start to finish as I carefully explored a psychiatric hospital full of deranged lunatics that hunted me down and wanted to murder me in all sorts of gory ways. I would panic as I was essentially defenseless save for a camera that let me see my pursuers in the darkness, but I relished in the heart-pounding survival horror as I navigated the maze-like facility and escaped death’s grasp time and time again.
Developed and published by Red Barrels
Available on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Reviewed on the PC.
So naturally, I was hyped for the sequel, Outlast 2. With a new and creepy environment set in rural America, and deadly cult fanatics acting as your pursuers, it looked like a worthy follow-up to the original. Now that the sequel is finally out, it’s easy to say that it succeeds in improving on the original game in some aspects, while failing at others.
In Outlast 2, players take on the role of Blake Langermann, a journalist who travels to a remote location in Arizona with his wife Lynn in order to get the scoop on the mysterious murder of a woman identified as a Jane Doe. When the helicopter they are riding on takes a dive during a storm and ends up crashing, Blake wakes up with Lynn missing and the pilot crucified to a tree. With no idea about the horrors that lie ahead, Blake moves forward to rescue his wife and face some dangerous people, while also confronting some terrible memories from the past.
Outlast 2‘s plot is fascinating, but it’s also a hit and miss. Blake’s journey through a hidden settlement full of killer religious fanatics and humans infected by disease in the desert of Arizona is fantastic, showing the dark side of humanity and religion if taken too far. Exploring and learning about the cult’s beliefs and motivations often make them a creepier set of foes than the first game, and the setting itself is excellent, as the wide-open town and forest locations make for the chance of monsters springing up on the player from all directions an ever-present threat. But then there’s also parts of the game that take place in a school – in which players learn about the protagonist’s past – that really break up the tension detract from the main plot. Players spend a good chunk of time in the school exploring the backstory, and while interesting, it takes away from the time that could have been used to develop the main experience. It’s not bad story, but it could have been better.
Despite the underdeveloped plot, Outlast 2 is still a fun and frightening game to play, bringing back all the familiar elements from the first entry and building upon them for an even more terrifying experience. Once again players are thrust into a hostile environment where darkness obscures pretty much everything, and enemies patrol the environment freely looking for their next kill. Players are once again armed with a camcorder that can record strange events and sights, and one that comes with night vision, allowing players to peer into the darkness in exchange for limited battery life. Among the new additions is the ability to go prone to avoid enemy detection, being able hide in bodies of water, the use of bandages to heal wounds (players no longer have access to regenerating health), and a battery-draining microphone that reveals how close enemies are. As before, the game basically breaks down to finding a way forward to the next area while avoiding capture and death at the hands of brutal pursuers.
The game features excellent gameplay as players run around a town hidden among the mountains, hiding and moving forward as enemies sweep the area and pursue. It’s pretty frightening running around vision-impairing cornfields, spacious forests and tight caverns with religious fanatics hot on your tail, and as before players have plenty of options when it comes to hiding. While players will usually be able to bypass enemies by stealthily navigating the environment and hiding when they get too close, players will occasionally have to confront foes to bait them away from key areas – like a cart that has to be pushed in order to climb over walls or switches that have to be activated in order to reveal the way forward, as well as have to run away in linear, straightforward segments where escape is the only option. While the classic run and hide gameplay is superb, the linear escape sections in my opinion happen way to often in this game and draw you out of the immersion as you die again and again while you learn from trial and error. The flashback/dream school sections basically boil down to these straightforward escape scenarios, and actually make for the most boring parts of the game. Still, it’s an entertaining experience despite the weaker sections, and fans of the series will get a kick out of the new additions.
Overall, Outlast 2 is a solid sequel, one that takes some chances and makes for a compelling and extremely frightening experience. While not all of the additions and changes to the formula are great, it’s a game that shows that running away from killer maniacs is still terrifying, and I can’t wait to see what happens next in the series.