I absolutely love horror video games; they’ve kept me up at night ever since I first made my way through the Spencer Mansion in the original ‘Resident Evil’ back in 1996. Since then, we’ve seen an absolute plethora of releases that have consistently changed the formula of how you experience horror. Some go for the all out action route a la ‘Resident Evil 5’, whilst others are more psychological affairs with titles such as ‘Silent Hill’ offering some freakish sights. Then there are horror games like ‘Outlast’ which bring something a little different. It isn’t about taking down the enemies around you or popping heads with a shotgun, but rather trying to outrun them and survive in horrific conditions with the odds stacked against you. It’s a formula that has proven successful and provided a terrifyingly satisfying video game back in 2013. Now, it’s back with Outlast 2 – a game that’s bigger, better, and ultimately a hell of a lot scarier.
Outlast 2 puts you in the shoes of Blake Langermann, a cameraman who is working with his wife Lyn to investigate the grisly death of a pregnant woman under mysterious circumstances. This leads them to the remote location of the Sonoran Desert; a desolate wilderness that’s well out of the way of the public eye. After a blinding bright light and huge noise erupt through the sky though, the helicopter they’re travelling in is grounded with a crash, leaving Blake separated from Lyn and desperately trying to seek her out. It’s obvious that things are amiss when Blake finds the helicopter pilot SKINNED alive, and thus begins his horrifyingly gruesome battle for survival against two religious cults…
It’s fairly different to the premise of the original ‘Outlast’ that saw you investigating an insane asylum, though a lot of similar themes are shared between the two. There’s a much more extended focus on religion and how the different groups interpret it this time around, with the ‘Christians’ and the ‘Heretics’ both having varying outlooks on what their God wants. It’s actually a little difficult to keep up with at times; there’s a lot of reading to do in-game that can be hard to follow, especially with the distorted mindsets of the characters of the game. There are plenty of files you can pick up and read in order to learn more about the story, but it’s often just rambling that make little to no sense.
However, it’s pretty vital to read these files to get the most out of Outlast 2’s story, with one file in particular focusing on the link it shares with the original game. There are a lot of secrets to be uncovered in these files and some of them are well hidden – if you really want to get the most out of the tale and understand what’s going on, you’ll want to find as many of them as possible. I’ll give players a small hint; make sure you carefully investigate the lake you visit in the game if you want to find a vital clue to what’s going on…
I really enjoyed Outlast 2’s story though, especially with the dark turns it took when featuring flashbacks to Blake’s childhood and an incident with his friend at school. It’s something that’s open to interpretation through most of the game, but by the time you reach the end it’s fairly conclusive. There is an aura of mystery to it all the way through though – you think you know what’s going on, but then it takes an even darker twist. These are just small sections that tie in with the main story though, with everything that takes place in modern times also incredibly dark and brutal. I enjoyed seeing each event unfold and although it did get a little predictable at times, it always was always incredibly chilling.
From a gameplay perspective, Outlast 2 plays just like the original game. Again, you’re equipped only with a video camera that comes with a night-vision mode that allows you to see in the dark. It’s up to you to sneak across a variety of different areas, all whilst avoiding enemies and solving the small puzzles that pop up along the way. It’s a basic premise, but it works incredibly well.
This time around you’re also able to track sound with your camera, with a small indicator showing you the direction that sound comes from. It’s a useful feature, especially with the game’s shift to more open environments; in the confines of the asylum in the first game it was a little easier to keep track of any enemies, but when you’re venturing through open fields it’s a little more difficult to see who’s watching you, so at least being able to hear them certainly helps you out. You’ve got to use it sparingly though – like the night-vision mode, the sound detector uses battery life. The last thing you’ll want to do is run out of batteries…
As mentioned, the environments of Outlast 2 are a lot more open than its predecessor. Whilst this adds to the frightening feeling that you never quite know who’s watching you, it could also be frustrating at times. With some of the game’s environments close to pitch black, you’ll be heavily depending on the night-vision mode of your camera. With this mode lacking detail and a lot of the environments looking samey though, it’s often difficult to keep track of where exactly you need to go. Now this isn’t always a bad thing – I mean, I’d never criticise an emphasis on exploration in a video game. However, some players may not necessarily want to wander off the beaten track too much in the game. It’s for two reasons: one, some enemies can easily kill you in a couple of hits so you don’t want to get caught out, and two, it’s so damn frightening not knowing what’s around you. Outlast 2 is so unnerving to play that even I, a veteran of horror video games, felt uneasy when exploring and not knowing what might be around the corner. Again, this isn’t necessarily a criticism directed at the game, but the sense of unease you feel whilst playing will certainly have an influence on how easy you’ll find exploration in the game to be.
At least Outlast 2 features plenty of checkpoints though, so those who do venture to their doom won’t have to retread too much familiar territory. It actually alleviated some of the threat later on in the game; whilst the game continued to be unnerving, the fact that I knew I’d only be set back a few moments if killed did ease the pressure a bit. Still, those moments where you’re getting pursued by the enemy could be utterly terrifying – whilst I knew death didn’t come with severe repercussions, my heart would be racing as I’d desperately try to outrun whatever enemy was hunting me down. There were actually moments in the game where I had to take a breather after a tense scene. I ain’t no scaredy cat, but damn, Outlast 2 really got to me at times. I loved it.
Outlast 2’s emphasis on more outdoorsy environments sees a real shift in the graphical style, with stunning natural lighting aplenty as the moonlight shines through small forests, cornfields, and derelict wooden villages. The game’s aesthetic actually reminded me a little of ‘Resident Evil 4’ at times, with the whole rural vibe making you feel like you were exploring a backwards community. Everything looks great though, with a real improvement seen in the visuals from the original release. Some of the game’s later environments take well trodden territory and give it a grotesque twist – you really never know what you’re going to see or where you’ll see it, with horrible surprises littered all over the game. I’d love to go into great depth about some of the horrifying sights you’ll see, but I think it would be an injustice to the game to spoil anything. Just know that the Outlast 2 maintains its predecessors’ shock value, but manages to look a lot more beautiful whilst doing so.
Whilst the visual design is on point, the audio of the game is also absolutely phenomenal. There are so many ominous tunes playing in the background that seem to react to each action you make in the game; there’ll just be creepy hums during the more calmer scenes, but as soon as a moment of desperation strikes the audio takes a more sinister turn with the tempo and pitch constantly shifting to represent the dire situation you find yourself in. It’s an incredible use of sound and something that helped keep the atmosphere of the game remain terrifying – the sound designers deserve a lot of credit.
Regardless of everything Outlast 2 does right though, it’d all be for nothing if the game wasn’t scary. You know what though? I think Outlast 2 is the most frightening game I’ve ever played. Whilst I’ll admit that it did utilise a lot of predictable jump scares, the feeling of unease I felt from start to finish was unlike anything I’ve experienced before in a video game. I recently played through the incredibly creepy ‘Resident Evil 7’ in virtual reality, and Outlast 2 even managed to trump that. Everything about it was simply oozing in the fear factor; the sights, the sounds, the narrative, and the way that every situation you find yourself in turns into a desperate battle for survival. You can’t defend yourself either – you’ve just got to run. It makes for not only an unsettling horror game, but also one of the scariest experiences you’ll witness across all forms of media.
I’d be remiss not to mention a couple of the issues I had with the game though. One minor nitpick I had was the amount of locked doors in the game; yes, I know, it’s a common trope of a horror video game, but the way that Outlast 2 seemed to randomly pick and choose what buildings you enter could be a bit of a pain when desperately trying to run away from an enemy. There’s also the fact that nothing really changes up too much from a gameplay perspective throughout the entirety of the game. It’s always a case of hiding or running away from enemies to escape – it’s the foundation which the game is built upon, but we see it so much in so many video games these days that I would’ve liked to have seen some scenes take a slightly different approach. It started to feel too much like routine, with the objective of each area in the game always following the same exact pattern. It’s not terrible gameplay design, but a noticeable sense of repetition will definitely be felt by the time you finish your roughly eight hour playthrough.
Outlast 2 takes everything that was special about its predecessor and improves upon it, offering a new experience that’s not only fantastic to play through but also a lot more horrifying. Whilst you won’t see too many differences from a gameplay perspective, the shift from a somewhat confined asylum to a more open environment makes for a more chilling adventure. It’s not just the derelict look of your surroundings either, but also the sense of unease that you simply do not know what might be watching you from afar.
There’s no doubting that Outlast 2 is enjoyable as a video game, but it also excels as a horror experience. Whilst some of the scares might be a bit more predictable now, they’re more terrifying than before and the unsettling vibe of the game is unrivalled. Outlast 2 is simply not only one of the most frightening video games you’ll ever play, but a damn good one too.
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Release Date: 25/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC