I started my approach to Outlast 2 as I always do with horror games – I closed all the blinds, turned off all the lights and turned the volume right up.
With a spare set of batteries ready to go, I settled in for what would be at least several hours of horrifying, deranged, and psychologically challenging gameplay.
Having recently played through the original Outlast again, I felt that I was prepared for what I had ahead of me, I was wrong. Outlast 2 raises the bar to a terrifying level that leaves you wondering if the story writing team at Red Barrels potentially needs a psych evaluation.
I completed Outlast 2 in one sitting. From beginning to end on Hard Difficulty which took me approximately 10 hours in-game to complete. During those hours, I had a couple of knocks on the front door from concerned neighbors, consumed three bottles of water, managed to remember to stop and eat a couple of times, and am now able to bring you my review of Outlast 2.
As you would expect from most survival horror games, someone is in trouble and you now must subject yourself to an array of terrifying scenarios to save them – lucky you, right? Changing pace from what we ‘experienced’ in the Mount Massive Asylum setting of Outlast, you now find yourself in the countryside of Arizona.
Development studio Red Barrels wastes no time getting you straight into the action, with the first few minutes sending you crashing from the sky into unfamiliar and eerie terrain. Naturally, it’s pitch black and your saving grace is your trusty camera which will be both your savior and also the source of much frustration as you search for batteries to keep it running.
Blake Langermann is the lucky fellow, who ‘heroically’ makes his way through a farm run by cultists, filled with camp sites and structures, on a mission to save the damsel in distress (his wife Lynn). As you progress on as Blake, you find multiple letters/notes left to provide you with insight into the insanity that’s at play here. Biblical stories of the word of ‘Knoth’ along with letters of confession create a tangled web of violent and sadistic acts, twisted sexual behavior, and genocide masquerading as religious fanaticism.
This new layer of mystery surrounding the motives of this cult that is seemingly obsessed with pregnancy, provides an intriguing backdrop that pushes you forward on the search for more clues as to how this community spiraled down into the layers of insanity that is their norm, and working out how on earth you are going to be able to rescue your wife and stay alive.
This side of the story runs in parallel with ‘flashbacks’ of sorts that take you out of the farm/countryside and places you in a Catholic high school where you are searching for a young girl named Jessica who has clearly met an unfavorable end. Blake evidently has some unresolved issues which become quite apparent as you progress forward however, I won’t talk anymore on that now though as that is something you really need to explore for yourself. I will say that this inclusion in the game keeps you constantly guessing at what is going on and provides an extra layer of intrigue and terror to the entire experience.
I found this approach really refreshing and rather engaging, which proved to be quite a nice addition to break up the more ‘survival’ based elements of the game. This also helps you to create an attachment to Blake and ensuring that you put an end to the atrocities you encounter.
Gameplay / Mechanics
Red Barrels has placed a lot of focus on evolving the control system/options available for how you interact with the game. New additions such as being able to use the microphone on your camera to listen through walls to hear if the crazed psychopath on the other side has left or is still lingering waiting to gut you, helps you with your decision-making processes and can quite often save your life.
Peeking around corners, or lifting the lid of a barrel you are hiding in to see if the coast is clear, is also another very welcomed inclusion. Additions such as these to the games' mechanics allow you to have more control and interaction with your character. Don't get your hopes up too much though about your aspirations of being able to fight back, as you are still restricted to your trusty camera to help you survive and nothing more.
You still have some ‘fetch’ style objectives to complete, which I found broke up your travels quite well and really made you focus on memorizing your location, especially if you were being hunted down. Those are the moments that make it very hard to remember whether you should be taking two lefts, a right, and another left, or if you are completely lost again. When you are running for your life and fear really sets in, all geographical awareness went out the window for me.
With the effort that has clearly been placed on mixing up the gameplay style from the original Outlast, to give you more control over how you play the game, I was surprised to see that every time I was injured I was still tending to the exact same wound. I understand that this is a very common formula in survival horror games however, I think there was room for that to be expanded on and would have added more concern for me over Blake’s well-being.
With the level of gruesomeness at nearly every turn, and the hundreds of ways that you will inevitably die over the course of your time with Outlast 2, I would also have liked to see more variety in the death sequences. Initially these scenes are horrifying, causing me to put my controller down and cover my eyes however, after a few hours I become desensitized to them after seeing the same sequence for the 20th time. This is another thing that I would have liked to see more diversity in to keep my level of revolution peaked for longer. The death sequences included are most certainly horrifying and repulsive in some cases, so don’t worry, you still get your fair share of gore.
As for bugs or framerate issues, I am very pleased to report I encountered basically none. Towards the end of the game, maybe 3 to 4 times, I had an issue where a door wouldn’t open even though it was clearly meant to. This only took about 10 seconds of pressing ‘open’ a few times to rectify, making this basically the most bug free game I think I have ever played.
Overall, I was very impressed with the gameplay, mechanics and control system. This is a definite move in the right direction from what was already a very well put together formula in the Outlast franchise.
Graphics and Audio
Instantly you can see a massive difference from the quality of graphics in Outlast 2 from its predecessor. Which says a lot as Outlast was an extremely artistic game with amazing dynamic lighting that created a horrifyingly gorgeous world.
The graphical improvements really shine when you are taken into the ‘flashback’ segments of the game, with the artistic design in the high school setting really standing out. This is most likely since you have lights on for a fair portion of this area which is a bit of a relief after long stints hiding in the shadows or under beds.
The very specific use of lighting throughout the game creates a constant feeling of dread and helps to focus your attention to where you need to go when you are fleeing for your life. This attention to detail often saved me from becoming helplessly lost when I was too busy squealing at the top of my lungs with my eyes darting all around the screen to HOPEFULLY find a barrel to hide in, a bed to crawl under, or an escape route of some sort. It’s moments like these that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and it’s created through a brilliant use of the environment and sounds.
The way sounds are implemented into Outlast 2 is where a great deal of genius lies within this game. By using audio prompts to alert you to imminent death you immediately feel your heart start pumping as you frantically search for sanctuary. Hearing deep panting following you just out of vision ensures you are constantly on your toes. Rustling in bushes, doors squeaking open all ‘Silent Hill’ fashion, even the petrified breathing patterns from Blake, all these sounds work together to create a foreboding sense of dread through the entire game.
The only gripe I have about the character voices is that the sounds the deranged psychopath that is hunting you makes can be very repetitive and sometimes rather cliché. At times I almost wanted to stop and ask my attacker if they would like a lozenge? It was in these rare moments that I felt a break in my immersion into the game however, this was a rarity (only amplified by how often I died in a certain section).
The fact that you are so on edge throughout the game, which is influenced massively from the audio prompts and ambient sounds around you that are extremely well orchestrated, is a massive testament to how much thought and planning has gone into this element of Outlast 2.
The Level of Horror
On the richter scale of the amplitude of seismic disturbance in the force of Outlast 2’s level of horror, I’m ranking this craziness (based on my experience) at a 9 out of 10 for this element of the game. Now having said that, please keep in mind I have played a lot of horror games on VR lately so I think that has increased my tolerance level significantly, so that should also put into perspective how haunting Outlast 2 is.
I had moments of disgust, moments where I jumped out of my seat, and even times where I realized that it wasn’t just Blake’s broken and scared breathing that I could hear, but it was also my own.
The atrocities that you will see, the twisted and demented psychology at play, the isolation and darkness, all work together beautifully to create an extremely terrifying survival horror game.
Please see below for my summary and overall review score for the latest addition to the survival horror game genre.