PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Red Barrels Studios
Just like the original Outlast and its Whistleblower DLC, Outlast 2 is a twisted, terrifying descent into madness. Fumbling around in the dark while being chased by crazy cultists who want to kill you (and much worse) is a familiar experience to those who survived the original game. But don’t worry – Outlast 2 isn’t a rehash of 2013’s greatest horror title. This indirect sequel stands on its own merits and its own flaws, and ends up offering a new nightmare for fans of modern survival horror to live through.
The main difference between Outlast and Outlast 2 are the settings. While in the original we explored the claustrophobic confines of Mount Massive Asylum, here we traverse the treacherous canyons of the Arizona desert. This change of scenery results in a game that feels much more open, where danger can jump at you from multiple directions. It also means it is easier to get lost, something that enhances that feeling of hopelessness most of us associate with horror games. It can also be really annoying, depending how you look at it. However, the game does have its claustrophobic moments as well, where the danger is coming at you very fast from one particular direction – behind you.
By “you”, I mean cameraman Blake Langermann, who investigates the murder of a young pregnant girl together with his journalist wife Lynn. After an unfortunate accident, Lynn is kidnapped and Blake sets out to brave the desert and insane cult members in hopes of rescuing her. He soon discovers the town of Temple Gate, the Testament of New Ezekiel cult that resides there, and the horrors they do in the name of their prophet. From there, the story gets really weird, really fast, as more factions are introduced, secrets are unveiled, and Blake’s childhood trauma resurfaces in the form of reality-altering visions. These visions add a secondary plot line that’s every bit as disturbing as the main one, only in a subtler way. They also push Outlast 2 into psychological horror territory, though there are still plenty of the intense chases, body horror and incredibly disturbing moments the series is becoming famous for.
While the story is interesting and even manages to take the chewed-up trope of religious hillbilly horror to the unimaginable extreme, it can get away from you rather easily if you’re not careful. It’s not always easy to pay attention to your surroundings and the dialogue while you’re running for your life, but if you make sure to collect and read the documents you find, you can uncover the full picture and even find out how it all connects to the previous games. I’m not going to go into detail, but how you intrepid what’s going on can change wildly whether you read the right documents or not.
Speaking of which, the collectibles in Outlast 2 are much more immersive. Apart from collecting documents, you can also record some of the gruesome scenes you stumble upon, which Blake will then narrate, revealing a little bit more about his state of mind. It feels much more suitable than notes in a notebook, and helps you focus on specific moments the game wants you to witness. The inventory system is also more realistic, as Blake keeps bandages and batteries in his vest pockets. There is no HUD apart from the info you can see on the camera screen, so you need to keep checking your pockets to make sure you aren’t running low on batteries in a particularly dark area.
Other than being a more immersive and psychological experience, Outlast 2 plays pretty much the same as the 2 previous games. Your only weapons against the horrors that await you in Temple Gate are a video camera with night-vision, and a pair of running shoes. You’ll spend more time running away then hiding this time around, though there are a few hide-and-seek moments that will turn your knuckles white with tension. There is one new mechanic, which is the microphone. Blake’s camera has a build in microphone which you can use to try and determine which direction the bad guys are, and how far they might be. It’s also a good way to measure how much noise you’re making as well, and it help you during the stealth moments without making them too easy.
Sadly, the sequel doesn’t quite measure up to the original when it comes to memorable villains. Outlast 2 packs its fair share of antagonists, some more terrifying than the others, but none of them come near Richard Trager, aka The Doctor, or Eddie Gluskin, aka The Groom. I think it’s because they appear more monstrous than earlier villains in the series, which makes them less believable and therefore less frightening. That’s not to say they won’t haunt your nightmares, because they most definitely will – especially Val.
That is, if you manage to get a clear look at her, or any of the other villains. Most horror games are dark, but this one takes it to a whole new level. I honestly can’t really say if the game looks good or not, since you can’t really see most of it, even with the camera’s night-vision turned on (which colors everything in a green taint anyways). The environments do tend to change quite a bit, and offer a variety of challenges all on their own. The enemies change with the environment, so you never feel like you’re constantly being chased by the same 5 people. There’s plenty of gore to both see and hear, and it is always depicted in a realistic manner (as far as I can tell).
While the gore is very effective in keeping you on edge, my favorite visual moments are the transitions between the Arizona desert and Blake’s hallucinations that take place in the catholic school of his youth. They always surprise you and offer some visually great moments. One simple example I really like was when Blake started climbing a metal ladder in one of the school’s utility rooms, only for it to shift to wood mid-climb as you end up back in Arizona. You never expect these transitions, and they really mess with your head.
Outlast 2 is the first horror game that made me scream out loud since I played Outlast: Whistleblower, so it’s safe to say the developers at Red Barrels did not lose their touch. It’s terrifying, it’s gory, and the new psychological horror angle is great. The story is multi-layered, and fans of the franchise can really delve into it to uncover every bit of lore and hidden truth, while those who are just in it for the scares can still enjoy it on the most basic level. The whole camera thing does make less sense in the context of this new game, but it probably wouldn’t be Outlast without it. Red Barrels continue to build a strong horror franchise with Outlast 2, and I can’t wait for the inevitable DLC to take me back to Temple Gate.