REVIEW – Outlast 2 is a sequel to the 2013 game where you as an investigative journalist infiltrate Mount Massive Asylum a The Murkoff Corporation was doing illegal human experimentation. The first game and its DLC was a hit both critically, commercially, and found its niche audience with the Youtube lets players rather quickly. Now after three years the sequel is here and aims to be even gorier, longer, and better than the first game.
While the first game was a small indie title, with a short running time, plus in a rather closed environment, the sequel is a much larger endeavor, and it is a bit more open compared to the previous game’s level. The developers have also aimed to up the ante on the insanity and not just the gore, in order for the player to question his sanity. Let us see if switching from an Asylum to a religious cult has done any favors for the franchise, and if four years was enough to reinvent the wheel.
South of Heaven
You play as Blake Langermann who an investigative journalist is trying to uncover what happened with a mysterious Jane Doe that was found near a highway in Arizona. He and his wife (Lynn) take a helicopter ride to the approximate location from where the girl could have come from. Sadly their ride is cut short when a blinding flash of light knocks out their helicopter, and they crash land near a village. When Blake wakes up, he finds the pilot to be skinned and tied to a post with barbed wire, and his wife nowhere to be seen. After wandering a bit on the hills you come across some “nice” people in a small town, and they try to kill, maim, strangle and burn you on sight. They also have your wife, as they believe she is bearing The Antichrist, so it is up to Blake to save his wife before the Cultists kill her.
While the story seems simple enough, in the beginning, it does go to a few places. Blake’s past is revealed to us over the course of the game through flashbacks that get more and more violent as the story progresses. There are also collectibles that shed light on the dealings of the cult, and the factions within the levels, and as to why they want Blake and Lynn. There is not a lot of references to Outlast 1, as it is not a direct sequel to the first entry of the franchise. Subtle hints are dropped here and there to the connection between the two. It is worth trying to secure all recordings and collectibles over a play through as without them the story will seem disjointed.
There are two plots running parallel within Outlast 2. The first is trying to escape with your wife, and the second is the “flashbacks” to your earlier years in a Catholic School. Both plots are built up slowly and do not plunge the player into a full gore bloodbath instantly. It starts slowly with meek scares, and even the jump scares are not the instant death kills for the first few encounters. As the story progresses, both sections become more violent, scary, and oppressive in their environment, and the sound design accentuates all this. The development team did a great job balancing out the two plots, and the switch between the two plots is rather well done and written in an impressive movie-like script.
However, the central villains of the game are a mixed bag. The Hag (the pickaxe wielding old woman) is a terrifying enemy, who is relentless in its hunt against you. Meanwhile, Papa Knoth the leader of The Cult is sort of just there, whom we barely see during the story, and speaks through a radio to his followers to find us. His followers and The Hag have more of a presence than him. Which is a shame, as his voice actor is really talented, and the lore surrounding him and his brutalities is well written. Still, within the game, he barely appears to do anything remotely interesting.
In the end, though the story of Outlast 2 is an interesting one, also has a few problems with it, especially near the end where some might ask: Is that it? Based on my experience I do hope that there will be a DLC too, even if not closure, bring some extra in-game story to the events of Outlast 2.
Sex. Murder. Art
While Outlast 1 looked okay and had some really gory situations within the Mount Massive Asylum, it did not feel like Red Barrels reached their potential with the hardware. Now with Outlast 2, the game looks stunning, visceral, and even more terrifying than ever (although the lack of VR support in 2017 is still disappointing to us). The most surprising part was that the game was still running on Unreal Engine 3, but the animation, the models, and the water/ weather effects were mind-bogglingly good.
The environment design is also superb, with the Catholic School going from a mundane school to a place that is “covered” with sin and death which is then reflected in the location. There’s also the Cult Town which the game mostly takes place in, and its buildings and set design are also great. From the Town Chapel that is full of bodies to the Caves that gave me The Descent tier movie scares, as it was claustrophobic.
None of the enemies and locations look, ugly, and the textures are highly detailed, plus the lighting is also very current gen looking, even though it is running on an Unreal Engine 3. Also, I do recommend in some cases to set the gamma correction to the maximum, as the game at places is too dark, even when it should not be in certain locations. Blood in this game is doled out by the gallons, and while most of it looks okay, some of it, especially in the Catholic School levels, make it look like syrup due to the coloring and lighting in the levels.
The sound design however here is probably one of the greatest for a horror game in 2017 and blows away the original games. The music is eerie as hell, and when there is a chase scene, it shifts to a fast paced – heart pounding, adrenaline pumping and matches to the scenes perfectly. The sound effects for the movement, and for the different hits against certain surfaces (such as the doors when an enemy tries to break in) and the screams of agony, or rage are breathtaking. It’s actually scarier to play the game with a headphone on, and the game is carried regarding scariness by its sound effects more than the visuals. In fact, the visuals at times for the horror and gore are rather generic, although disgusting looking, do not do much to strike a nerve.
Some of the over the top gore was boring at times and felt like the developers while wanting to double down on the gore from the first game, just ended up copying Eli Roth movies. It does not mean that the scenes are not entirely scary, but some Hollywood directors and even Asian directors have done this better, and more gruesome, compared to this game.
Read Between The Lies
Now we need to talk about the big problem with Outlast 2, and its lack of evolution compared to other mainstream games. In the original Outlast, we could not fight back against the enemy and the bosses. Sadly this design decision remained for the sequel which for all its talk of being better, does not include any option to defend ourselves. I was never hoping for us to pick up a gun, or an RPG, but maybe some melee and counter attacks would have been good, or the ability to use the environment to kill some of the lesser cultists, that were not bosses. Instead, you have to run, practically everywhere, and based on my experience, and others, there is not much point in hiding, as the script will sometimes force the AI to find you to get the plot moving.
That’s unfortunate, and what’s even more disappointing is the fact that you can get swarmed by the enemy rather mercilessly. Sure I can understand the player character not going toe-to-toe with a giant pickaxe wielding lady but against a bunch of old rednecks with machetes who are malnourished? The game also allows you to get out off an enemy’s grasp every now and then, but the character is so pathetic, that the only thing he can do is run and run.
I still think a perfect balance should be in 2017 in a survival horror game, especially after Resident Evil 7 is to kill the lesser enemies but not the bosses. Due to this, while the environments look good, and the game allows you to hide in location to sneak around, you are better off running around like a headless duck, grabbing items, and moving on to the critical path.
It is infuriating that in 2017, as a player character that is not old, or dumb, and is in his prime of his life, cannot use his fists, or grab a brick to bash in someone’s head as a last resort to survival. Nor does the fact that running away against people is a good option. There should be options to at least lure certain enemies to their death, and stabbing them in the back. Instead, we have not moved forward one inch with this survival horror trope of “You cannot kill enemies”, so just keep running or hiding. Even though they do drop their weapons, and could be easily used as self-defense.
Blake is a moron though, and developers really need to stop this “pacifism” and him provide alternative methods of dealing with a threat. Otherwise, we’ll just keep running off, next to them and ignore a high percentage of the scenery, details, and plot points. Even Silent Hill 4 back in the early 2000s did this concept where certain enemies could be killed, and some could not be killed. It makes the game flow better and did not make the enemy encounters annoying.
In the Name of God
Outlast 2, in the end, is a good game, not great, not average, especially after finishing the last act. However, I wish the developers; on the 3rd game will put in some form of combat, and a bit of a more coherent plot. As the ending of this game has already caused rage over the internet forums, they might need to tweak their writing process a bit. Everything else is on point, but the gameplay’s repetitive nature does drag down the overall package, plus some decision is frustrating rather than being scary.
The camera you have also drained the battery at an unbelievable rate, and I would squash this gimmick also, as at this point it has become laughable that near ten minutes of night vision use will drain the batteries. The semi-open sections are a bit annoying as if you take a wrong turn you can get instantly killed by the enemy, forcing the player to redo some chase scenes.
All in all Outlast 2 is a fun game, but I would handle this game more as an adventure game rather than a pure horror game. It feels a bit more action oriented in its script and set pieces, and the option to be stealthy is still there, but not worth the time.
+ Disturbing story
+ Great graphics, and sound design
+ Spectacular ambiance
– Not that scary though
– Plot is a bit of a mess
– Lack of combat defense is annoying in 2017
Publisher: Red Barrels
Developer: Red Barrels
Genre: Survival Horror
Release date: April 24, 2017