I was a fan of the first Outlast game because it was an indie developed gem that gave players some genuinely frightening thrills and showcased gruesome brutality and a defenseless protagonist thrown into a thoroughly haunting narrative. The sequel lives up to the original’s premise in many of the same ways and boasts incredible graphics as far as technical advancements go, but alas it doesn’t do much else differently. I’m not saying I’m tired of the agenda that the first game pushed however going through virtually the same gruesome experience with the only differences being a slightly less obviously linear setting and better visuals obscured by the prevalent darkness that envelops the Arizona countryside isn’t going to garner much more kudos from me.
The previous Outlast title pushed the boundaries of what is allowed by the mature rating beyond a doubt, featuring genuine anguish and suffering on screen as well as more gruesome fatalities than Mortal Kombat has in its entire roster. The experience was haunting and memorable and for that reason alone many people have undoubtedly tried Outlast II in the last few weeks. If you’ve already played the first game or if you’re starting with this sequel it makes virtually no difference as the stories bear little connection (save for some obscure references) and you’re essentially playing the same game anyway as all the mechanics are there.
What Outlast II does get right is horror- visceral gripping horror like the bogeyman stalking you through the night and psychological intravenous horror like the blood rushing through a dreamy corridor. You’ll ultimately meet your maker more than a few dozen times by the end of Outlast II because you were either jumped by the seemingly endless horde of bogeymen waiting in the shadows or gutted like a fish by a witch-like woman or you simply tried to take in the beautiful scenery through the film grain of your night vision camera and didn’t see the horribly scarred monstrosity before it was too late. The story is very much rooted in horror both physical and mental or spiritual and yet for all intents and purpose the environment and the encounters themselves tell a more intriguing story than the convoluted cultist conspiracy that Outlast II is at times.
That’s not to say I wasn’t thoroughly interested enough or invested enough to forego searching for notes and clues along the way or to read plenty of theories online with regard to the calamitous ending that wasn’t nearly as clear as Outlast’s Wahlrider ripping things apart. And while things are truly interesting because you’ll be questioning your sanity and surroundings as much as you did in Eternal Darkness or The Evil Within, they’re still inevitably confusing and ambiguous as can be which will prove frustrating for many gamers (or anybody who played Alan Wake). What is easy to grasp however is the vicious cycle of murder, rape, incest, greed, gluttony, suicide, and general sinfulness that the story follows and touches upon- whether through cultists in the present or the backstory of your camera-wielding protagonist.
While the first Outlast game offered many of the same opportunities for hiding and discovery as the sequel does, one of the most annoying aspects of the game is the fact that despite being in a much larger environment you’re somehow always running into enemies. And when you encounter an enemy this virtually means death unless you can run around in circles or luck out and manage to hide underwater without being found. Outlast II is both at its most annoying and most harrowing when you’re evading death by the skin of your teeth and that’s a real shame because it felt so much better in the original when you were confined to a lunatic asylum. Ironic that players had more freedom there than they seem to in this sequel.
One of the most intriguing advances in Red Barrels’ gameplay formula this time around is the ability to actually record footage with your camera which is not just a gimmick but doubles as your checkpoint feature and a way to commemorate portions of your deadly adventure. Of course you’re not likely to take part in some Blair Witch activities such as readily videoing a man being vivisected by cultists but then you never know what may be required when the time comes. The microphone on your camera will also tell you when enemies are nearby but considering the fact they almost always are and it’s pretty much never guaranteed whether or not they’ll sense your presence, don’t leave your hidey hole as soon as it says the coast is clear.
Some people accused The Walking Dead’s most recent television season of being veritable torture porn whenever Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan came on screen but if there’s anything that’s legitimately torture to watch it’s the sequences when you’re caught by cultists or other foes. I’ve witnessed many gruesome deaths in games such as Mortal Kombat and Dead Space before but the death animations and sometimes even the gruesome encounters that you actually survive are virtually scarring. Impaled, pick-axe to the scrotum, fingers chewed off, face mauled, head caved in- the list goes on. While the chases get your heart pumping and the consequences make it all the more important for you to escape your heartless and frenzied enemies it’s quite literally hard to stomach watching the same gruesome scene over and over again because some dumb AI can sniff you out no matter how long you run for.
The game has a lot to offer and expands the potential of the previous title and yet it never fully cashes in on any of what it has to offer- ultimately it falls down in the third act in terms of story and repetitive gameplay. What was once fresh and exciting becomes overdone and less tense or terrifying and more annoying and anticlimactic. It is one of the most visceral and intriguing glances into the mind and mental issues in gaming as well as the effects of torture and trauma on human beings yet the overall experience ends up being shallower despite the oozing ambition and potential. Outlast 1 was great because it was developed on a small budget and we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Outlast II could’ve been great but it delivered too much of the same experience and doesn’t push the envelope enough to make the deep dive into uncharted horror territory. Instead you’re just a timid man with questionable mental issues and a puny camcorder, facing off against the dark.
Concept: You’re a journalist (again) making his way through a cultist infested Arizona landscape and trying to escape the nightmarish hallucinations and equally horrible reality.
Graphics: A step up from the original but it’s a real shame that you won’t be able to appreciate the majority of it due to the fact that the game is cloaked in shadow.
Sound: The sound quality and design make the experience a horrifying one as everything from the light tread of lurking footsteps to the shouting of cultists approaching rapidly adds to the tension.
Playability: The controls are minimal and handle smoothly enough but all you’ll have to worry about is handling your camera, reading notes, flipping switches, and running for your life.
Entertainment: Whereas horror was the reality in the first game, horror is more the mentality in this sequel. The game offers what seems to be a promising story only to yank it away at the end and leave you dumbfounded but not in a remotely good way. The gameplay is as tense and horrifying as before but it grows stale after awhile.
Replay Value: Moderate.
Overall Score: 7.0