Producer: Red Barrels
Genre: Survival Horror
Released: April 25 2017
Consoles: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows & Nintendo Switch
Outlast 2 is the dread-inducing sequel to the 2013 game Outlast, continuing the popular horror franchise and placing it in a new location, the Arizona desert.
This title puts you in the shoes of camera operator and investigative journalist Blake Langerman as his helicopter crash lands while he and his wife are exploring the murder of Jane Doe. Blake find himself stranded in the Supai region of Arizona, a rocky mountain region filled with cliffs, dusty trails and unprecedented horrors. A welcomed change of setting from the overused insane asylum that is commonplace is modern horror games. Blake wanders in search of help upon discovering his helicopter pilot brutally killed, skinned and crucified, stumbling upon the town of Temple Gate and the bloodthirsty religious cult that occupies it. Even from the main menu, the soundtrack fills your ears with the trepidation you will feel at every moment of the game, as well as the frantic, ‘think on your feet’ chase sequences that build up the apprehension from the moment you start playing, with a fitting piece of music for these dynamics.
This new instalment to the terrifying series assumes the role of its predecessor; you are unarmed, equipped with little more than a night-vision camera to guide you through the dark and dingy locations. Hiding in crawl spaces and running being your only means of avoiding a swift and gruesome end. In many of Blake’s encounters with Temple Gate inhabitants, the best cause of action is fleeing, strategically jumping through windows and climbing ledges and remaining out of sight is your best chance of survival. Likewise, to the original title in the series and its DLC ‘Whistleblower’, there is no combat featured, you are vulnerable, alone and very afraid. This is how a lot of the dread is produced, as the next step you take could be your last.
For the purpose off adding authenticity to this review, I made some amendments to enhance the experience: the lights were turned off, my curtains closed and noise-cancelling earphones plugged in. I would not describe myself as a squeamish person regarding horror games or films. However, in the case of Outlast 2, I would truly eat my words following its roughly thirteen-hour story mode. As you take each step forward through Temple Gate, you are filled to your core with dread. Creaking doors, rustling bushes and moving shadows will constantly remind you that even in the quieter moments you are always being watched. Fearing what lurked around every corner or behind each door was a constant thought process during Blake’s search for wife. Outlast 2 masterfully uses setting and the player’s own imagination to its benefit; the fear of the unknown played a huge role in the overall experience of this game. This is not for the faint of heart.
As previously mentioned, Temple Gate houses a sadistically insane religious cult, with the village strewn with macabre religious imagery, from eerie portraits of priests in every dilapidated shack to the bloody remains of human sacrifices. More shocking however, is the moment Blake learns the town has specifically sacrificed all of their children from the fear of them being the resurgence of the anti-Christ (I warned you that this game is not for the faint of heart). This is symbolic of a recurrent theme in the game, the questioning of faith, and the horrors of extreme religious practices. The narrative regularly jumps back and forth in time, where it takes us back to the devoutly catholic school that Blake attended as a child. As the horrors unfold in these sequences, the more we learn about Blake’s psychology. This is similar in nature to The Evil Within (2014) whereby horrific and hallucinatory visuals can be indicating of deeper and more complicated human psyches.
Additionally, these themes reveal themselves when you are tasked with photographing or videoing aspects of the world around you to gain a greater insight into these controversial ideas. It is not often a game will explore such divided subject matter, but Red Barrels are to be applauded in their attempt to do so in this nature. It is a testimony to the maturing of narratives in their series. The ending to Outlast 2 exemplifies this idea and will definitely divide opinion; however, for the sake of future players; I will not reveal it in this review. If you are willing to endure a thirteen-hour nightmare, you will understand what I mean.
Although there are no detectable bugs or technical flaws, Outlast 2 can occasionally suffer from pacing issues. While Blake is capable of vaulting waist-high fences, windows and can leap across ledges, other similarly sized obstacles will be out of his reach or cannot be jumped over. An annoying movement inconsistency that may have been intended to add a greater extent of panic in certain situations but in others, it slows the pace of play down quite a bit. On a positive note, visually, Outlast 2 has held up well as a game released over two years ago at the time writing. This is thanks largely to the Unreal 3 engine, making lighting and textures look sharp with no conceivable lapse in framerate.
Having played and thoroughly enjoyed both the original Outlast and the Whistleblower DLC, my expectations for Outlast 2 were already set to a high standard. This sequel used the core mechanics of its predecessors meanwhile perfecting on the map layout, allowing for a greater freedom of exploration and creativity when fleeing from attacking occultists. This is classic ‘jump out of your skin’ gory horror combined with deep and meaningful psychological interpretation. There certainly is room to improve though if Red Barrels are to add to the franchise. A greater consistency of movement is crucial for a follow-up title to perfect on the mistakes of Outlast 2 and a longer story would be warmly welcomed. For fans of games such as The Evil Within, Alien Isolation and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I would recommend Outlast 2 on your shopping list.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good