Okay, I have to make a confession. I disliked the original Outlast. It seemed to be nothing but cheap spooks and violent thrills. The story, the mechanics, and the overall design never pulled me in. This comes from someone who has played horror games since childhood. So, of course I wrote Outlast 2 off as more of the same.
Holy shit! Let’s not mince words. Outlast 2 is to Outlast as Silent Hill 2 was to Silent Hill. Red Barrels managed to craft a world so intense, so powerful, that I dare say that it’s the best horror game I’ve played in the past sixteen years. The easy conceit is that it’s as good–if not better–than the terrors of P.T. So why sixteen? Because I’m saying it’s the best since Silent Hill 2.
Similar to the first game, you are a professional battery hunter with a cameraman side job. This time your name is Blake. As is usually the case, I won’t bust out any spoilers about the story just in case you want to go in as cold as possible. His name is as far as I’ll go.
So many moments left me in shock, awe, and fear for Blake’s life. And that’s not projection. For once, a horror game remembers that having a speaking, breathing, mostly likeable character is key in pulling the player in. I found myself laughing at his early thoughts and comments, screamed for both him and I. He even reacted exactly how I would in certain situations.
And every character that comes along in this wicked path is memorable in their own right. Each has their moment to shine.
Here’s what puts Outlast 2 closer to Silent Hill 2 than to Resident Evil 7: The mysteries have meat. Most of the big, dangling questions aren’t resolved until the decimating climax. Even then, many are left to hang.
Taking an old page, mixed with the new.
Shocks and thrills intertwine with mystery, and that’s how horror is supposed to be. Jump scares and easy kicks can only evoke so much emotion, and I’m happy to say that, even when jump scares pop up in Outlast 2, they’re restrained and tasteful.
More often, you’re either exploring terrifying locations or forced to outrun the monstrous entities lurking in the small, crazed cult that the game is centered around.
Your camera is the closest thing to a weapon the game gives you. Night vision and sound amplification drain the batteries quicker than straight-up recording but, at least in the difficulty level I played, batteries were in full supply. Still, nothing beats the desperate ducking of a man hungry for batteries.
You’re meant to record vital moments and gruesome scenes but I learned pretty quickly that this was almost strictly for driving the story and less about actually documenting the backward town’s evil acts. “OH, RIGHT, THIS ISN’T IMPORTANT. NO NEED TO RECORD THIS TRIPLE-SODOMIZED CORPSE!”
Overall, I thought the controls felt better than its predecessor. It’s hard to say exactly why, as is often the case with subtle yet necessary changes. I never felt out of control of Blake, except when the game actually took control away.
That’s not to say any of this is perfection. One can’t claim Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece without noting the hammy voice acting and tank controls, even if those add to the experience.
Outlast the criticism.
Remember how the character is relatable? This is in spite of the voice actor. Have you ever seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know the character Riley? Now, amp that up to sound thicker and older. That’s what you get most of the time. Not to say he didn’t have his moments, and I didn’t mind it too much by the end, but it’s agonizing at times–especially when all the other voice actors pull their weight with ease.
Oh, and when you have to outrun your enemies? Guess what? A lot of the time, it’s a matter of trial and error. Too often, I saw the loading screen because of one small error or wrong path. Which would be absolutely fine in most games. Dark Souls is built on that premise.
But here’s the biggest issue with Outlast 2, and the new age of horror games in general: Stealth and horror do not mix. At first, you think they’ll make a delicious complement. The tension of sneaking slammed against the panic of the spooks, what could be better?
Here’s why that thought’s wrong: The juiciest of horror games relies on the unknown. You don’t know your enemy, you don’t know if they’re even real or beatable. Stealth, on the other hand, relies heavily on learning your adversary. You watch their patterns or wait them out until their AI tells them to run off in some other direction.
Sitting under a table, watching a spooky beast bounce about, strips away the unknown. Soon you’re playing solitaire and wishing you had a bowl of popcorn. I could go on much longer but you probably get the picture.
I said I wouldn’t spoil anything, and that’s still true, but I will say that there is a part near the middle of Outlast 2 that might honestly be the worst gaming experience I’ve had, period. It was filled with confusion, annoying checkpoints, and pacing that made it feel three times longer than it actually was.
And here’s a complaint about the genre as a whole, as it currently stands: Give a man a damn weapon. I kept hoping throughout Outlast 2 that he’d eventually pick up a discarded axe or plank and start walloping the villagers. This ties closely with stealth and horror.
If all you can do is be scared, the fear eventually recedes. Give me a pistol, with only three bullets, and you’ve just ratcheted the tension up in a whole new way. “Should I use these bullets here, or is something much worse about to burst through the door?”
Modern horror can achieve much more than its ancestors, but this is one area that I wish it would go back and take a page from them. For example, I think Resident Evil 7 showed a great balance in that regard.
All of this might just be personal opinion. Maybe more people love jumping every couple of seconds rather than actual, honest dread, but ambiguity and tension have always been vital for my enjoyment of the genre.
Outlast 2 is a wonderful leap in the right direction. It manages to ask so many questions and still ties them up in a pulsating, petulant package. I found the best parts to be when fear crept beside me, instead of chasing after me. Too often, the actual outlast sections amounted to “Oh, here we go again!” whereas the story sucked me dry, and I still begged for more!
All the same, Outlast 2’s not for everyone. It’s a phrase I hate saying, as I’d hope to live in a world where people are capable of consuming all manner of entertainment. But, in this case, it’s true.
Religious iconography, deeply sexual themes, and the general message of the game will ruffle a lot of feathers. That actually makes me happy. It doesn’t hold back. The tropes and cliches of the mainstream horror engine are often neglected.
The game feeds you rotted clues that allow your mind to barely string answers together, and then makes you question all the theories you just built. You dread it, every bite making you sicker, but you must feast until revelation comes.
For us, this is a high form of flattery: When the game was over, Jessica and I dove into the game’s wiki, hungry for answers we might’ve missed. The main course had ended and dessert was just about to begin.
I’m giving Outlast 2 the Platinum Penny. Almost nothing compares.