Outlast 2 will take you to places, even if they’re not places you’d want to go.
Several years ago, I personally identified what were some of the biggest aspects of horror for me. Fear of the “unknown” has been a motivator for many contemporary and old-school horror films, with the technique of hinting at malaise proving more effective than outright showing it. Red Barrels’ Outlast was a great example of this before it assaulted your senses will all manner of insanity. It had jump scares, moody environments, horrifying entities and an entire asylum of crazed inmates. The unknown, the prospect of something more malevolent lurking beneath, made for one of the best horror experiences of 2013. Of course, good writing, strong pacing and a variety of disturbing sights didn’t hurt either.
"While the first game impressed us with its atmosphere and sound design, Outlast 2 ups its production quality to an amazing degree."
Obviously, Outlast 2 has a lot to live up to. Instead of directly following the first game, it takes a completely a different route. You are Blake Langermann, an investigative journalist and cameraman, who works with Lynn, his wife. The two encountered a rather curious case – a woman identified as only Jane Doe found murdered in the Sonoran desert. Due to the high amount of mercury in her blood, Lynn deduces that she spent plenty of time near industrial equipment in the Supai region. Thus the couple hire a helicopter and set out to investigate.
Unfortunately, a strange flash sends the chopper careening down. Blake is separated from his wife and upon discovering the helicopter’s wreckage (not too far from the horribly maimed pilot), he sets out to save her. However, even before the crash, Blake was dreaming about Jessica, a childhood friend of the married couple from school. How is this related to everything? Honestly, it doesn’t take long before the past and present begin to steer Blake down a foreboding future.
Without spoiling too much, Blake travels to a seemingly closed off village society where the locals are anything but friendly. Heck, the very first “figure” you come across is a tall, slender woman named Marta with a giant pick-axe who makes no qualms about attacking Blake’s genitals. From there, it’s a hellacious trip but not one that immediately throws angry villagers your way, necessitating tense escapes through various structures (among other things).
Let’s talk about the graphics first. While the first game impressed us with its atmosphere and sound design, Outlast 2 ups its production quality to an amazing degree. The texture work is impeccable on PC with ridiculous amounts of detail. Granted, like Resident Evil 7, a lot of that comes via disemboweled bodies, entrails, charred corpses and the sheer slime inhabiting the environment. If a particular setting is too fly-infested, Blake will actually wave his hand back and forth, swiping away the insects.
"Some of the areas are semi-open world, allowing you to take different paths and approach areas in a non-linear fashion. It’s nothing revolutionary but it helps vary the gameplay and pacing…"
Animation-wise, the game is also very, very good – the gait of each villager is distinct, equal amounts foreboding and trance-like. The lighting is also impeccable, especially when you’re navigating a wheat-field while evading enemies, their flashlights peeking through the stalks. Darkness defines much of the gameplay as Blake has to rely on his camera’s night-vision to properly navigate the environment. A rather clever thing I enjoyed in Outlast 2 was how the real-time lighting was paced to allow progression even if you had no batteries. In a way, it added to the horror, especially when I found myself fumbling in the darkness with no night-vision to lean on.
Another minor but significant improvement from the original is how differently the camera works. Instead of simply toggling night-vision to see in the dark, the camera can be used to record specific incidents and scenery. These can then be played back with Blake providing small bits of commentary. Then there’s the new microphone which can amplify sounds coming from your surroundings.
In terms of implementation, you can use it to judge how far certain enemies are. This is especially useful when Marta is around, allowing you to plan your movement accordingly. The fact that it drains your battery like night-vision ensures it isn’t an easy way to avoid danger. If anything, it provides another way to navigate some of the more crowded environments where your vision is absent. The stellar sound design is also highlighted, ranging from the creepy background score to the deranged whispering of a nearby villager.
This also opens up some other great scenarios in Outlast 2. Some of the areas are semi-open world, allowing you to take different paths and approach areas in a non-linear fashion. It’s nothing revolutionary but it helps vary the gameplay and pacing – one minute you’re slinking through a wheat-field, listening with your microphone and observing the brief lights of your pursuers. The next you’re walking down a polished school from Blake’s past, switching between normal and night-vision to analyze the environment.
"The tone of the horror has definitely changed from the previous game. Red Barrels has gone in the opposite direction this time around, leaning on fear of the known to spin a chilling tale."
Then you go to a straight chase, dodging and weaving through houses, under them and over obstacles to escape. It’s tense and the stealth aspects of the game are opened up in a very enjoyable manner (though you may not be hiding in wardrobes and under beds as much as the previous game). The puzzles themselves weren’t anything especially difficult, which fits with the overall pacing and direction. They were mostly “collect this item” or “turn on this switch” to progress forward. One of the more interesting scenarios comes from pushing a cart and having to avoid Marta at the same time. The level design is pretty tight-knit throughout, ranging from dilapidated housing and caves to open fields and other-worldly schools. Each level boasts impressive detail (regardless of how disgusting, like Marta’s estate) while still funneling you along at a fast pace.
The tone of the horror has definitely changed from the previous game. Red Barrels has gone in the opposite direction this time around, leaning on fear of the known to spin a chilling tale. The religious tones in the game are very heavy-handed and you’ll come across immolation, torture, contorted bodies and other disturbing imagery. Though there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection to the previous game, it feels like Outlast 2 uses religion as a subtext to explore the extremes of man’s depraved nature. It’s not all that different from how Outlast relied on psychology and science to measure how far humanity would go. The impetus is insanity – how the human spirit is opened up and pushed to the extreme, all in the name of understanding something it was never meant to.
To say that Outlast 2 is most assuredly not for the faint of heart would be an understatement. Along with the disturbing gore and bloodshed, you’ll come across notes of villagers embracing the dogma around them. Sacrificing their children, their bodies and their dignity for their leader Sullivan Knoth, you’re get a look at how their very lives are torn apart. One note was from a child who knew death was close and didn’t want to leave the parents. At one point, you come across Jane Doe’s father, someone who’s lost everything and lie to him about his daughter being alive. Outlast 2 makes no qualms about its feel-bad status, driven by tout narration and pacing while bringing the horrors down-to-earth. It’s all the scarier when viewed through the lens of fanaticism and the effects it can have on average, good people.
"Even for the most seasoned horror buff, Outlast 2 is a tense yet somber experience that doesn’t pull any punches."
Though there’s plenty to like about the pacing, Outlast 2 isn’t a long game. Even with numerous deaths, it’s possible to finish the story in 7 hours or so. Honestly, this kind of length suits the experience well. There’s no padding or fluff – Outlast 2 is a thrill ride from start to finish. If I had to make any real complaints, it’s that it doesn’t reinvent the adventure horror FPS wheel. Back in 2013, Outlast stood out as a frenetic, horrific experience that never truly let up. Outlast 2 differentiates itself enough from the previous game without being completely unfamiliar, choosing to cook its tension for more extended periods of time before plunging you into despair. The tools of terror aren’t necessarily new but they’re wielded in a deft fashion. Those who enjoy the story should be warned though – all of your questions are most assuredly not answered with the ending. Your enjoyment of this will vary for sure.
However, Outlast 2 isn’t just about the trials and tribulations of Blake Langermann. It’s not even solely about the utter fanatic lengths that cults can go to. Outlast 2, like its predecessor, is about the human psyche and how even with the best possible intentions, our lives can tilt towards insanity with a few tweaks and tools. Even for the most seasoned horror buff, Outlast 2 is a tense yet somber experience that doesn’t pull any punches. If you’re an adventurous gamer who has the stomach for it, then Outlast 2 is a unique nightmare that you won’t soon forget.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Compelling and genuinely scary atmosphere. Amazing production values, from detailed visuals to intricate sound design. New mechanics and level design gel very well with established gameplay mechanics. Despite it's somewhat short length, it's all action and no fluff.
Doesn't really change up the genre in any particularly new way. Enemies can be easy to evade in some cases. Some may be miffed by the ending.
Familiar yet terrifying, Outlast 2 mixes excellent production values with genuinely disturbing imagery and subject matter. It's a long way down to the abyss but it's worth every minute of the fall.