April has spoilt us with a multitude of good releases, including an interesting multifaceted collection of horror titles as well. Check out Little Nightmares, if you haven’t already, for its quaint and fun platformer take on traditional horror tension. But let’s talk about Outlast 2, as it’s one of the most anticipated releases of the year, and one of the biggest triple A game titles of the genre out there at the moment.
The original Outlast completely pulled the rug from under survival horror’s jittery feet. It was an ambitious project, which diversified the genre by introducing a full-fledged title which incorporated the best bits of past successful games.
You had your cliché setting of a mental asylum, à la Alan Wake, and the Fatal Frame and DredOut-esque technological aid to traverse through the dark with, which of course intensified the player’s panic instead of alleviating it. But Outlast also tied all that up with unsurpassed tension, palm-sweating score, congruent plot, justifiable main character, and fresh twists.
In other words, it was a solid bullseye which left the sequel a pair of pretty large shoes to fill. In order to up the ante, the developer would have to find and lead us to an even deeper rabbit hole of intriguing, yet terrifying themes. And so Red Barrels, the developer, threw all caution to the wind and dove head-first into religious cults.
This time around, you are searching for your lost wife Lynn in an unmapped Arizona village, which you both had crashed in, following a suspicious helicopter engine failure. You quickly discover the locals’ plot as to her capture and their plans regarding you, but you’ll also find there is more than one group out to kill you, each with their own motives (not that that helps you much).
This makes for an interesting dynamic, as you need to employ different tactics in order to avoid each specific group of hunters i.e. successful hiding from one will result in being discovered by the other, which can only be avoided by fleeing etc. That makes for quick reaction decisions, fantastic chasing scenes and creative, bloody, hiding spots as you manoeuvre your way between a scythe and a nailed club.
The sequel also successfully plays around with flashbacks into seemingly alternate lives, giving you some backstory as well as infusing the plot with supernatural notes (always a bonus). This connects the plot dots for the player, leading to a tidy resolution, and also adds depth and meaning to what it is you are actually searching for.
Speaking of which, your role as a photojournalist is finally fully justified in the sequel. You are no longer the fool going around with a camera, talking to himself. In Outlast 2 you are able to record vital events into entries, which you then review and potentially gather clues from, which offers your camera some purpose other than nightvision.
The one thing I didn’t like, and which I presume will break the immersion for many, is how easy it is to die in this title. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of invisible walls, and stupidly walking off a ledge or a cliff should indeed kill the character, in order to retain a level of realism. In Outlast 2 though, you will die a lot and often, simply because the puzzles are harder, the amount of locked doors is higher, the enemies are plentiful, and panic mode is on. At first.
After failing to escape the same house three or four times, though, that will turn to frustration. And all the screeching of your adversary, the light-flashes, the blaring music and your own lack of breath soon turn to irritation, as you attempt the same linear sequence again and again, attempting to find what you missed through trial and error. This is a standard staple of any game, but it absolutely does not work with horror.
The point of the immersion and the atmosphere of the genre is to make the player as psychologically vulnerable as possible without crossing the line into actual death and inevitable respawn, which breaks the magic. By demanding more from the player, the sequel breaks this fragile balance, as any part of the game you are forced to replay is obviously rendered not exciting, new or scary anymore.
Apart from this, I’d call the game a solid follow-up. It traverses very dark waters in terms of themes, but that’s the only way the developer would have had a fighting chance of measuring up to the original. The graphics and fluidity are much improved since its predecessor and since the demo, the plot is thick and divergent, the horror seems real and palpable, unlike the farcical humour of Resident Evil 7, and the plot twists actually carry a story, not cheap jumpscares.
Outlast has by now become pretty mainstream, but this is the kind of mainstream I wouldn’t mind getting behind. Defo recommend.
Available for PC, Xbox One or PS4. Cheapest I’ve seen was on Steam at circa £22.