The original Outlast was a fantastic frightfest when it came out. Though the idea of a game where players had no weapons and were forced to either run or hide from their pursuers wasn’t new even at the time, Red Barrels took the formula and made something great with it. Though there have been any number of titles that tried to imitate it, the original still sits on the top shelf. So when Outlast 2  was announced, there were many who couldn’t wait to see what else the developer had up their sleeves.

Off to a romantic vacation spot

Off to a romantic vacation spot

Though apparently set within the same universe as the first game, there are no obvious ties between them and no knowledge of the original is needed. You take on the role of Blake, a cameraman working together with his wife to track down the story of a murdered woman. The journey leads to the canyons of the Arizona desert. The land is impassable by car, so the pair decide to take a helicopter and do an evening fly-over.

Because that’s always a good idea in horror games.

After the flight comes to fiery end, Blake wakes up to find himself alone. He knows exactly what to do, though. Look for the wife? No, of course not. He grabs the camera before ever uttering his wife’s name. The job comes first.

Disbelief aside, the camera does become your best friend throughout the night, as there are evil things lurking in the darkness and it’s the best (and only way) to spot them thanks to a handy night vision filter. Just a word of caution: evil things are not always fully dressed. Mainly used for detecting evil, the camera is also used at places of interest, which require Blake to stand still recording what’s happening. The video can then be played back like a journal, which is both interesting and confusing as he seems to be making commentary on the fly despite the very dire situation.

Once situated, Blake finds that his wife is missing. He soon finds that she’s been taken by a strange religious cult that is obsessed with birth rituals, new blood, and fire. Oh, and they really, really don’t like outsiders, so you’re not exactly welcome. Exploring the village nestled in the canyons soon becomes difficult when the villagers are set out to kill you. Things become even more complicated when a rival religious cult shows up and…well, they want to kill you, too. Instead of raising a hand against them, though, you’ll be sticking to carrying nothing but the camera. Live by the sword, die by the…

Just a second. This will be great for the highlight reel.

Just a second. This will be great for the highlight reel.

…non sequitur. Oh, sorry about that. Just thought I should mention there are also spots in the game where it takes you out of the wilderness and into Blake’s past. Apparently at some point he was involved in a horrifying event and is reliving it. Somehow your camera follows this leap and can be used to record more commentary, despite the fact that you’re apparently recording nothing but fever dreams. The connection with the main story is slim at best, with both incidents simply having some religious connotations, making it unclear why it’s even included at all. Especially when the timeline starts getting really messy.

Time-jumping side, for most of the game your mission is to play hide-and-oh-god-please-don’t-find-me as you try to move from Point A to Point B and progress the story a bit. There are houses to sneak through, barrels to hide in, and beds to crawl under as you slink about avoiding the patrols. It has certain elements of a puzzler, as villagers make mostly circuitous routes and it becomes a matter of finding out when it’s safe to move. If spotted, it’s possible to run away and hide in several spots, but go too slowly and you’ll meet a grisly end. That’s no exaggeration, as some of the death sequences in this game are particularly nasty.

Even when not being chased, there’s a constant air of tension if only from the anticipation of knowing that something is just around the corner. The problem is that tension then gets dispersed through some questionable game design choices. For one, several segments of the game have you entering a brand new area and suddenly forced to run for dear life. Scary? Sure, until you die because you simply couldn’t figure out where you were supposed to go. It’s rather hard to intuit a string of moves like vaulting over tables, scrambling under porches, entering this door but not that door, etc. while on the fly.

There’s usually a checkpoint just as these chase sequences begin, so it’s not a major setback, but it does drain the fright out of the experience. In fact, there are so many checkpoints in the game that it simply feels like there are never any true consequences. This isn’t helped by the fact that resetting at a checkpoint will instantly recover any lost health or battery power in the camera. Since finding batteries can be difficult, it’s sometimes better simply to find where you’re supposed to go, make a break for it, hit that checkpoint and toss yourself off a cliff to bring yourself back to 100%.

There's no skimping on the heavy sense of dread in the aesthetic tone. Some impressive designs.

There’s no skimping on the heavy sense of dread in the aesthetic tone. Some impressive designs.

There’s a lot that Outlast 2 gets absolutely right, from the dismal atmosphere and the feeling that something is out to get you almost all the time to the excessive unease that comes with dealing with the horrible human beings that live within the Arizona wilds. While the checkpoint safety nets and confusing waypoints can drain some of that tension, it will inevitably return when things get heated once more. Dig in your heels and you can survive the night…and get it all on camera for posterity.

KAIJU VERDICT

2/4 Pops: Decent  There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

Review based on a digital copy of the game played on a PS4 Pro

Review code supplied by the developer.

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