Title: Outlast 2
Developer: Red Barrels Studios
Publisher: Red Barrels Studios
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 4/24/2017
Playtime: 10 Hours
It’s dark, your breathing is all you hear as you hide inside a barrel. You hear the snap of a twig followed by chanting. A silhouette of a tall figure moves past your hiding spot, you wait for it pass and get out slowly hoping nothing sees you. There’s a gate nearby. If you can push this cart up to it, you can climb over and away from the menace that has chased you since first laying eyes on you. You start pushing and pray you’re not seen. You’re almost to the gate when you hear a piercing scream and the music kicks in, the chase is on.
Outlast 2 is a nerve wracking experience filled with gory scenes, relentless monsters, and plenty of dread-filled moments. This is Red Barrels Studio’s second game with its only previous title being the original Outlast (or the third if you count the Whistleblower DLC). It remains true to the original Outlast by putting you in place as the hapless survivor who cannot fight, left with only the options to run or hide. While this sense of helplessness is Outlast’s strongest tool in making you feel scared, it is also the largest limiter in terms of gameplay since it leaves nothing to be built on as the game progresses. The chases at the start of the game don’t differ in any significant way from the chases at the end of the game. Outlast 2 has a lot of dark themes and is not for the faint of heart. At times it does have some pacing issues and it is easy to lose where it is you’re supposed to go at times, but is relentless with the scares as it is always hitting your fight or flight response (with flight almost always being the answer).
You play as Blake Langermann a journalist alongside his wife, reporter Lynn Langermann as they explore the Arizona desert in response to the death of a pregnant woman who was found nearby. You quickly become separated and stranded in what is known as the Supai Region. You (as Blake) soon discover you are not alone as you make your way through a nearby town trying all the while to rescue your wife from a religious cult and their prophet, Papa Knoth. The wilds of Arizona are a refreshing atmosphere for Outlast 2 as it steps away from the usual settings for horror games such as a mental hospital or the like. The lighting is fittingly dark as it takes place in the dead of night and makes your camcorder the only way to navigate the perpetual darkness as you explore your surroundings in search of a way out. The areas you explore are a lot more open then the setting of the first game. This helps add to the horror, because while it makes it easier to run or hide from adversaries, it also makes it harder to see them as they approach, turning a lot of area exploration into nerve-wracking crawls through tall grass as you pray you’re not seen by the deranged cultists. The enemies and cultists you encounter only add to the already dark aesthetic. Many are pursuing you relentlessly and are often chanting proverbs and other phrases as you sneak past. Others will simply stare at you as you pass. There is also no shortage of creepy and terrifying individuals such as Marta, a tall pale woman carrying a pickaxe, who chases you from the start. Combine all of this with the many gory scenes that unfold before you and you’ll probably be trying to put as much distance as you can between you and the games many terrors. Level design is generally linear but the areas you go through are large enough that you can lose sight of your path. However, the game often gives indication of where to go with small clues like bloody handprints on a ledge or a small opening under a fence. Area exploration is tense as you’re usually trying to avoid detection or running from danger and the games use of sound only adds to this. The orchestral score, which was composed by Samuel Laflamme, is used sparingly but to good effect. Most area exploration will be without any background music as it tends to only kick in during tense situations such when you’re trying to run or hide. The sounds you hear as you progress through the game contribute to the fear more than anything as every foot step you hear comes with the sound of gravel or a twig breaking. When hiding the only things you hear are often your own breathing and approaching footsteps often accompanied by chanting or growling as something searches for you. The creaking of doors, wind blowing past you, a distant scream of pain, everything you hear often only adds to your already frayed nerves as you try to make your way through this waking nightmare.
The only thing that tends to break this immersion is Blake’s limited mobility. Gameplay is simple as you only have to either run or hide and the controls are smooth but this doesn’t stop some problems that creep up. It’s understandable that your character isn’t a professional athlete, yet his inability to jump over small barriers often leads to some confusion–especially when you’re trying to flee. He can jump gaps when you have to, and he can vault over some waist high objects, yet can’t over some others of similar height. This momentary pause as you try to figure out where you’re going can often get you killed when you’re being chased. The only tool you have is your camera, which can grant you night vision and its microphone which you can use to hear enemies and track them through walls. The only two resources you have to manage which are batteries to power your camera and bandages to heal yourself. You find both frequently enough that you probably won’t run out, but the worry that you will constantly stays with you, keeping you on edge. The enemies that chase you or patrols you have to sneak past have understandable levels of awareness, but do seem to home in on you if you stay still for too long. I did experience a few moments of A.I. omnipotence where they seem to locate you no matter where you are and others where they missed me no matter how close I got, however these were rare and didn’t detract from the experience too much. Some of the chase scenes do devolve into trial and error as you get yourself killed while trying to escape your pursuers. Since your only options are to either run or hide there usually isn’t much to figure out when avoiding capture. I either had to pick the right hiding spot and hope the A.I. doesn’t think to look there or run in the right direction so that enemies couldn’t catch me. This takes some of the tension out of a few chases and does ruin some of the immersion.
The overall tension in the game doesn’t dissipate until the credits role and until you get there it is one long dread-filled experience. The voice acting is solid and the rants and speeches many of the characters make are some of the creepiest things you will hear. Blake has very believable reactions to the situations he finds himself in and Papa Knoth’s speeches tell you a lot about whom he is despite how little Blake interacts with him. It starts a little slow, but picks the pace up quickly and doesn’t stop with the scares until the very end. There are some files to collect that tell the stories of the villagers and gives insight into their past actions. There are also recordable scenes that can be acquired that have Blake explaining his thoughts and the current situation. Aside from these there isn’t anything that really has you go back and play again aside from trying it on a harder difficulty. The story is interesting and does leave you with some questions. The use of religion and fanaticism let’s Red Barrels create some very dark scenes and many of the events unfolding will have you questioning whether or not it really happened or if Blake is starting to lose his senses. Even with this though, one or two play troughs is probably going to be enough for the average gamer.
Outlast 2 aims to take you to some dark places, and I don’t just mean visually. It’s really good at scaring you and making you feel uncomfortable but some of the scenes that unfold will be very graphic in what is depicted and there is a lot of implied violence as well. This is not a game for the faint of heart. It is a solid horror survival game and tells an interesting story, but doesn’t do anything that will revolutionize horror games.