Severed fingers, gore-covered walls, piles of dead bodies, buzzsaws dangerously close to your manhood – the original Outcast and its DLC, Whistleblower, were an absolute shock fest. The story of Miles Upshur and the Walrider featured gameplay that was first-person horror at its finest. They were entries in the horror genre that could actually keep me awake at night, my heart pounding, scared half to death but always wanting more. However, as great as it was, Outlast wasn't without its faults. Too much time was spent roaming the bland, brown walls of Mount Massive Asylum and blindly fumbling around for an exit to an area, trial-and-error style.
Outlast 2 has arrived and brings with it new characters and a new location. There are only a few thin ties to the previous game, letting anyone hop right in without any fears – other than of being decapitated, of course. Did developer Red Barrels manage to build on the blood pumping frights of the original while fixing its issues? Or has the series slipped into terrifying mediocrity?
Outlast 2 is available on the Playstation Store for $29.99.
Outlast 2 follows investigative cameraman Blake Langermann and his wife, Lynn, as they look into the murder of a pregnant woman in Arizona. Their helicopter crashes in the sparsely populated Supai region of the Sonoran desert. Unable to find his wife's body after the crash, Blake sets off into the night armed only with a camera to film the sickening events that are about to take place. Over the course of the next few hours, Blake is witness to countless brutal murders, as well as hallucinations of the death of his childhood friend, Jessica.
Religion takes more of a central role in the story of Outlast 2. Blake discovers the existence of two cults in conflict, the Testament of the New Ezekiel and the Heretics. Both sides have their own demented players, from Sullivan Knoth, the head of the Testament of the New Ezekiel, to Val, the leader of the Heretics. Knoth believes himself to be a prophet of God, and as such built the town of Temple Gate, where most of the game takes place, to form a community for his followers.
The narrative remains engaging throughout and gamers looking to delve as far as they can into the backstory of Outlast 2 can collect the numerous video clips and notes that are scattered around the landscape. Some might call that lazy storytelling, but it keeps the beginning of the game from being overloaded with exposition. One area that I do find fault with Outlast 2 is its lack of character development. Blake and Knoth are the only characters that have much depth to them, but even they are a bit shallow. Blake remains intent on telling the player they should be shocked by what they see and remains fairly stagnant despite the intriguing hallucinations, while the main character trait of Knoth and his ilk is blatant and often inexplicable misogyny. By contrast, Lynn spends hardly any time onscreen and yet somehow feels almost as developed as the main protagonist and antagonist. Somehow, I ended up feeling more attached to the voiceless Miles Upshur from the original Outlast than I ever did Blake. Weak characters ultimately hold an otherwise decent narrative back from being truly memorable.
Outlast 2 plays a lot like the first game, but with a few changes that make the gameplay a little more challenging. The camera is still central to the gameplay. Your trusty night vision setting is back and you'll need it more than ever as you sneak around the pitch black landscape of the Sonoran. Blake, as a professional cameraman, has a better camera in his possession than Miles did in the original game. You are able to store both video footage and still images of the various notes you come across, acting as a video journal that allows you view scenes you've already come across and delve deeper into the plot of the game. The biggest change to the camera is the addition of an audio system that picks up footsteps, voices, and all manner of creepy noise through the device's built-in microphone. Gameplay wise, I felt that the audio system didn't add a whole lot to the Outlast experience, but it made the game feel amazing in the audio department (more on that later).
Other than the changes to the camera, Outlast 2 also adds a stamina system that drains while running and swimming. Running from the crazies that chase you for too long will drain you, allowing them to catch you and impale you with all manner of objects. This addition does a decent job of keeping the player from dashing around areas, avoiding enemies until you find an escape, and forcing the focus back onto sneaking around, peeping around corners, and moving around as carefully as possible. Outlast 2 features a new health mechanic as well, though it's pretty inconsequential. You can find bandages to patch up the hits you take from the cultists, which adds some nice realism over the regenerating health of the first game, but most of the time if you've been caught, you're dead anyway. I ended up with just a pocket full of bandages that I rarely used.
Moving around with care is a must as combat is still not an option. Blake is almost Ghandi-like in his use of nonviolence, opting instead to be a voyeur to the violence all around him. Just like the original, this design choice is simultaneously refreshing and frustrating. It certainly made peering around every corner more suspenseful, knowing that I could strike back if corner, but certain situations where there's a very obvious weapon near me like a pitchfork – or hell, even just a well place punch – could save my life and save me from returning to a checkpoint, it seemed a little absurd that all Blake could be bothered with is filming his own death.
Overall, the gameplay of Outlast 2 is largely the same as the previous game, which isn't a bad thing at all. The sequel continues to offer its unique and entertaining blend of heart-pounding stealth and lack of combat, with only a few missteps along the way.
Outlast 2 is a great looking game when you can see it. You'll spend most of your time navigating by moonlight or night vision, which can create some truly haunting images: corn stalks swaying in the wind as beams from the flashlights of villagers thread their way around, trying to expose your whereabouts; the glowing eyes of a cultist staring right at you; falling from a barn into a pile of shimmering blood and dismembered body parts, swarming with flies. These are the moments that Outlast 2 gets right and that will chill you to your core, though sometimes the game leans too heavily on visual shock factor for its scares. The sheer amount of gore can be exhausting and desensitizing, but that's a pretty minor complaint.
The dark, moonlit environments of the desert are contrasted nicely with the brightly lit, sterile environments of Blake's childhood flashbacks. You'll spend time navigating barns, fields, caves, and then you'll be suddenly transported to a blindingly white Catholic school classroom. It's a nice effect that's visually more exciting than the same brown walls of Mount Massive Asylum from the first Outlast.
Everything in Outlast 2 looks better than the first game, from the footage shot with your camera to the character models of the bloodthirsty villagers that chase you. The signature visual of this game – your enemies caught in night vision, staring you down as if they know your exact location – is much better this time around, and overall this is a title that will visually nest itself in your memory and become the stuff of nightmares.
In Outlast 2, the audio design has reached new heights of dread-inducing screams, creaks, and moans. As mentioned earlier, the addition of a microphone to your camera that picks up the noises around really ratchets up the intensity and fear over the original. It's a nice effect that you can hear the religious ramblings of the villagers, their muffled footsteps growing louder, growing closer with every spike in the audio levels.
The score of Outlast 2 is strong as well, hauntingly eerie at all times. The music sharply crescendos when you've been spotted, then recedes back to a soft lull when you've reached safety. It perfectly mirrors the action of the game in a way that few other horror experiences have matched.
For as strong as the soundtrack and sound design of Outlast 2 are, it does stumble a little bit with its voiceovers. The voice acting is okay for the most part, but not by any means great. I'm sure after a few hours of gameplay, Blake's incessant panting and the numerous times he has nothing to offer other than "Oh my God" or "Oh shit" will begin to grate on players like it did me. I wish he had a little less to say – or nothing at all, like Miles. Not every decapitated body needs a reaction when you'll see hundreds over the course of the game.
Despite that, Outlast 2 has some of the best sound design that a game this year has offered.
Outlast 2 is, in my mind, nearly better in every way than its predecessor. The plot and characters feel a bit weaker than the original, but it's overcome by minor improvements in every other aspect of the game. It's a shame there couldn't have been some deeper characters or a more compelling plot, because this game has almost everything I want in a horror title. Developer Red Barrels has taken the first-person horror elements, video camera-based gameplay, and nightmare-inducing jump scares it introduced in Outlast and has come close to perfecting them in Outlast 2.
|+ Chilling soundtrack and audio design||– Weak characters|
|+ Great graphics and environments||– So-so plot|
|+ Good gameplay additions|
|+ Every bit as scary as the original|