Red Barrel Studios has yet again delivered a triumphantly terrifying survival horror that’s as unrelenting as it is unsettling; and trust me, this game can be extremely disturbing.
There are few survival horror games that can deliver a consistently tense, intimidating experience for more than a few moments. Outlast 2 gives players a 6-8 hour trip through hell that never lets you feel like its ok to stop and catch your breath. From the very moment you are dropped into the game, there is a sense of foreboding that hits anyone who has watched a horror movie before; shit is about to hit the fan, or in this case the propellers…
Blake Langermann is a cameraman for his wife Lynn, both of them are investigative journalists in search of answers for the seemingly impossible murder of a pregnant woman, known only as Jane Doe. Clues have led the duo deep into the Arizona Desert. The game starts with Blake and Lynn in a helicopter; the light of the full moon seeping through the clouds. Instantly you know things are about to turn south quick. What horror movie or game has ever let anyone safely travel in any kind of vehicle?? Blake and Lynn share a brief discussion and then begin recording, which pretty much tells you the aforementioned details. Lynn refers to the event as a murder, you (Blake) correct her and say it shouldn’t be called a murder until you know more. “Oh so a pregnant woman just strangled herself?” Lynn retorts. On the second take Lynn gets a few seconds in before a bright light shines, a fog horn blares and the helicopter is falling out of the sky.
Welcome to Outlast 2.
Blake comes to, alone and stumbles around to find his camera. The graphical improvement in this game is blatantly apparent. Everything looks gorgeous. You jump down to the wreckage of your downed helicopter and Lynn is nowhere in sight. As you come around the burning remains of your transport you find your pilot… Wrapped in barbed wire, strapped to a tree with his face mostly torn off and his innards on display for all to see. A helicopter crash didn’t do this.
My advice? Take in these opening moments, because they’re the most relaxed you’re going to have until you see the credits role.
After you get passed the mutilated remains of your pilot, the game grants you a brief few moments to get used to the controls and your surroundings. Basically, they’re the same as the previous game. L2 and R2 let you lean out, R1 brings up the camera, R3 activates night vision, L3 is sprint, O is crouch, Triangle heals and reloads a battery, and the D-pad lets you zoom in and turn on the microphone to pick up noises so you can gauge how close enemies are.
Then the fun starts. You trek up a dirt path and come upon a dilapidated shed kind of structure. As you approach it you hear mumbling from a scraggy, old woman’s voice; the fog is thick so your vision is limited, get used to that. I grab my first battery, walk around the shed, pass an old wagon and the woman screams. Emerging from the shadows, standing about 7 feet tall (they must grow them big in Arizona), and carrying a lantern strapped to a scythe-like weapon, she gives chase. I immediately turn and run around the shed and past my pursuer. There is a house to my left, the door is locked. Past that is a gate that’s chained shut and a barred up window. “I’m trapped”, I think to myself as I watch the black, obsidian make-shift scythe erupt through my chest. Death number one. I probably spent a solid 15 minutes playing cat and mouse with this crazy bitch until I finally figured out how to get passed her.
Taking the time to explore your environment and your surroundings is crucial. Running through expecting there to be an obvious exit will get you killed, repeatedly. This game doesn’t hold your hand, you won’t find a giant “exit” sign anywhere, you need to take your time, breathe, use your head and think fast. You’re going to die in this game, there’s no way around that, but that’s OK, its part of the experience.
Having said that, a good practice I found myself using was intentionally dying. Now, I don’t mean just running up to an enemy and letting them kill me. When you get to a new area, run around as much as you can until you’re caught and take in EVERYTHING. Where the fences are, what windows can be opened, what doors are jammed and which aren’t, do the fences have any holes in them that I can try and squeeze through? Trust me, that last one is a big one. There were quite a few times where I found myself frustrated because I had no idea where to go. Whether there was a gap in the fence or a dug out hole beneath it, those were solutions and exits I accidentally overlooked numerous times.
Again, this game will NOT hold your hand, it won’t tell you the answers, and there is no map to let you know where to go. Accept the fact you’re going to die and use that to your advantage. Taking the time to just run around will help you in the long run. You don’t necessarily need to do it in every area, some places the objective is obvious while others require a bit more time and exploration. Generally this wouldn’t be an issue but there is a major time sensitive variable I haven’t really touched on yet.. The camera you use takes batteries, when those deplete you will literally be left in the dark.
Using night vision drains it faster as does the use of the microphone to pick up voices and footsteps. Another perk of running around and exploring until you’re killed is that every time you re-spawn you will have a FULL battery. Now I’m not sure if the day one patch will correct this or not, but in my time with the game, this was an exploit I used repeatedly. Not sure where to go but you only have one battery? Get yourself killed and try again. Night vision is needed but I used too much battery already; hey big guy, come kill me with that nice machete so I can have my battery back. Using these couple tricks made my time with the game slightly less tense. Just slightly.
The enemy AI in this game is pretty sharp. There are places that grant you moments of relief, like barrels, lockers, tall grass and closed off rooms, but aside from that, if the AI notices you, turn tail and run for cover. From what I could see there are no noticeable patterns that I could recognize, the movement of enemies seems random and depends on if they see you. Remember that she devil with the obsidian scythe? Get used to her because she frequently shows up and gets in the way of where you need to go. There was a point where the game even acknowledged this, which I found pretty comical. “Jeez, does this lady ever give up?” Blake says as she nonchalantly walks around a corner.
Another great thing about the enemies in this game is that not all of them chase you! There were times where I’d be walking through and see a woman holding a knife in the distance. Exploring the area showed no way to not literally walk right by her. I held my breath, slowly approached her and skirted around her. Her eyes followed me, her mindless chanting about Father Knoth kept going but she never gave chase.
This is actually a clever trick and setup for a false sense of security that Red Barrel threw in there. Obviously not all enemies do this and the worst part is it’s impossible to distinguish who will hunt you down and who won’t. It’s a roll of the dice and one that caught my breath every time. The game eventually transitions from decrepit towns and corn fields to woods and mines.
There is a moment where you need to walk through a small settlement of rotting, disease ridden locals. Thinking they were too busy rambling on about the one that will cleanse them, I figured I could just walk through. NOPE! A few lunged at me, a few grabbed me and prompted me to react to a quick time event, while a couple actually were faking it and then proceeded to hunt me down.
Now, I briefly mentioned before that this game can be unsettling, Christ, it was almost banned in Australia for it’s content. The unsettling things aren’t always in your face which is something unique about this game. Sure there is plenty of blood and guts and sacrificed victims, but what truly makes this game unsettling is the bits of lore and chapters of the “good book” you find throughout the game.
Talks of butchering children, or reading about how one became intensely aroused by slitting a child’s throat so deep they heard the blade scrape against the spine…. Yea, this game gets dark if you take the time to read everything. As unsettling as things can get it, they’re there for a reason. It shows you just how messed up this cult is and it makes you fear them that much more. They’re not just mindless hillbillies with weapons. These people truly believe that the sacrifice of children and the slaughter and mutilation of others will lead to the coming of the anti-christ.
This game is truly an accomplishment. It takes an open setting like a desert and makes it feel just as confined as an asylum. The clever use of fog allows them to make things feel like there is no room to breathe even though you’re in the middle of the desert. A forest can feel just as tight as a hallway when there are enough trees to maneuver around. Hands down, one of the most anxiety fueled experiences is being chased through a corn field and having no idea where you’re going to come out. A night time setting instantly makes your brain feel claustrophobic, your sight is limited and the night vision only extends so far ahead of you. This mind trick works wonders for the atmosphere of the game. Add some fog, tightly constructed houses, or corn stalks and you have a setting that rivals it’s predecessor.
Outlast 2 is the sequel this series deserves. Its obvious the team at Red Barrel take these games seriously and there is no shortage of scares here. Anyone who was a fan of the first one should be excited to get their hands on this sequel. It truly builds upon the foundation the first one achieved and delivers another experience players will not soon forget. So put on your headphones, turn off the lights and grab a fresh pair of pants. Outlast 2 sets a new bar for survival horror.