The first Outlast, while certainly not up there with the likes of Amnesia or Silent Hill, was a dang good horror game. It managed to take the stereotypical asylum setting and make something new. The parkour gave it a faster pace than the rest of the genre, but the found-footage presentation kept the terror and tension up all the same. I blasted through the whole thing in a wee-dribbling night, and loved the whole thing.
Outlast 2, on the other hand, felt stale almost from the get-go. The stellar visuals didn’t help it at all from it winding up a trite, predictable, frustrating experience that I feel like I’ve played a hundred times before.
Outlast 2 is completely disconnected with the events of the first game. New characters, new setting, new scenario. It follows a husband and wife TV news duo as their helicopter crash-lands into a conflict between two opposing cults – the Christians (except more child-killing) and the Heathens. It’s up to you, as husband Blake, to sneak, run and hide to survive long enough to save your wife, while also uncovering the mystery of what happened to a childhood friend.
The setup is fascinating, and the early environments suggest the game was going to be something special. Those first few hours spent running blindly through villages and chapels, almost as if in a haze, trying to piece together just how screwed up the whole situation you’re in is, was great. The environments were detailed and allowed for a fair few tense situations hiding mere inches away from a cultist with a pitchfork or pickaxe.
The setup is fascinating, and the early environments suggest the game was going to be something special.
Unfortunately, that good level design falls away just after the two-hour mark. The panic faded, I got my bearings, and then it was off to the mines, via the forest. Almost everything past the initial jaunt through a terrifying village is set in identical woods and tunnels, sometimes with the odd rickety building thrown in for good measure.
All the detail and scale of those first few locations give way to linear, enclosed spaces that feel devoid of any sort of aesthetic design or attention to detail. The latter two thirds of the game can be mapped out as a corridor, followed by a frantic chase sequence in a maze you’re not given enough time to take in, followed by another linear space. They try and jazz it up with a few trees or a needlessly long boating sequence, but it’s the same corridor-runrunrun-corridor the whole way through.
The game frequently does flashbacks/dream sequences/I-don’t-know-whats to drag the action into a school, for seemingly no other purpose than having a section featuring a ghost girl.
To top it all off, the game frequently does flashbacks/dream sequences/I-don’t-know-whats to drag the action into a school, for seemingly no other purpose than having a section featuring a ghost girl. Tromping about the same classrooms and corridors every hour or so made me wish to be put back into the cultist chapels, where at least the stuff happening was vaguely interesting.
Just to make matters worse, some enemies scattered around come with instant kill sequences should they catch up with you, but they’re often thrown at you in tight, limited areas with very little room for mistake. Outlast 2 turns into a game of trial-and-error, figuring out which gap in the treeline or which mineshaft is the one you’re meant to run down. Pick the wrong one and you get to enjoy a blade being rammed through your spinal cord for the eighth time. I can count on one hand the number of times I hid, unlike the first game, and instead opted to just power past everything until I hit the next scripted sequence.
The game’s full of stereotypical mission objectives, to the point where it almost seems like a parody more than a legitimate horror game. Find the crank for the generator, find the switch to turn off electrified cables, chase the ghost girl around a school, find some batteries because yours ran out of charge in thirty seconds. It’s all there, as it has been in every half-assed Unity engine horror game for the last three years, presented without a hint of irony.
Outlast 2 blows its proverbial load by throwing jump scare after tropey jump scare at the exact time anybody who’s played even a bit of a horror game would expect.
Good horror games play on the fear of the unknown. The dark corridor, the movement just off-screen, the building, pervasive sense of dread that creeps up your spine as you know something is going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon, but you don’t know what or where it will come from. Outlast 2, on the other hand, blows its proverbial load by throwing jump scare after tropey jump scare at the exact time anybody who’s played even a bit of a horror game would expect.
Crawling under a tight gap? Yep, murderer’s on the other side. Walking past a school locker? You bet your arse they’re going to loudly crash open. You get a great look at enemies every time they do their lengthy instant-kill sequences, numbing you to their horror. When the game shows you its entire repertoire in the first two hours, things get old super-fast.
To add the cherry to the top of this cake made of spunk, the story was initially interesting, before turning into yet another rote horror game bollockfest. The setup for a fascinating, almost BioShock-y, story was all there – religion gone horrifically wrong, a ruling class challenged by opposing outcasts, an isolated, otherworldly setting the player’s (literally) dropped into. But instead, Red Barrels went all in on showing ‘edgy’ elements like dead children and bleeding vaginas with all the subtlety of a bulldozer over giving it any sort of depth or purpose.
Character development is thin on the ground, and when it does happen, it’s presented through the player character literally monologuing about how they’ve changed. There’s more than a few bits where Blake ponders like a primary school kid about how killing kids is bad, but also being a heathen is bad, and so…? Something? I don’t know, and I don’t care, Blake. Shush.
Blake ponders like a primary school kid about how killing babies is bad.
The long and short of it is that Outlast 2 is generic, stereotypical, and poorly designed. There was so much initial promise, with a great premise and some truly stunning visuals, but the onslaught of everything we’ve seen a hundred times before in horror games with much smaller budgets than this left me feeling bored, frustrated, and even vaguely insulted. Truly a sequel in name alone.
A code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC [Reviewed]/PlayStation 4/Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Red Barrels Studio
Release date: April 25th
- Great visual style.
- Interesting premise.
- Pretty much bug-free.
- Generic environments (mine, school, spooky).
- Frequent, predictable jumpscares.
- Story is distracted by cramming in as many edgy scripted events as possible.
A bad sequel and a bad horror game in its own right. Outlast 2 is too predictable to be scary, and to committed to genre tropes to be original.