I loved Red Barrels original Outlast, and it has been a perpetual favorite of mine in the survival horror game genre. Unfortunately, Outlast 2 doesn’t quite hold up to the original, and proves to be more linear, more frustrating, and generally less enjoyable than its predecessor.
Welcome to Hell
A helicopter crash plunks you flush in the middle of a dilapidated shanty town ruled by crazy religious hillbillies at war with one another. Your wife is inexplicably dragged off from the crash by these degenerates, and so begins your hellish quest through Hillbilly hell and gore galore to rescue her. You’ll also (for unknown reasons) wrestle with old demons from your Christian school upbringing, which adds a strange cross-section of gameplay and a wholly different (and seemingly irrelevant) story to the experience.
Like the original game, you have a camera that has night vision to help you navigate in the dark. In Outlast 2, you can also use a microphone to detect sounds from enemies you can’t see — a pretty cool mechanic that comes into play when you’re hiding inside a barrel or being hunted in corn fields. Also like the original game, batteries found in the game’s nooks and crannies are the currency of your camera’s capabilities — and your survival.
Welcome to Hillbilly Hell
I don’t mind tropes if they’re used well and in interesting ways. The original Outlast took place in an insane asylum, which is pretty much the mother of all horror movie tropes. Violent psychotic hillbillies are easily near the top of that list too.
Horror games work best when an intriguing story is married to a skillfully manipulative and immersive environment that cultivates the horrors of your imagination.
Unfortunately, in Outlast 2 they also strain the suspension of disbelief. There are more corpses (most of them gruesomely on display) than there are living people. What few living people you encounter are all unhinged, leaving you to wonder about what they do when they aren’t wandering around murdering things. I guess this is expected because they don’t appear to mind living in fetid squalor, casually stepping through a disemboweled cow and the curtain of corpses hanging from chains to grab a cold one from a refrigerator.
Horror games work best when an intriguing story is married to a skillfully manipulative and immersive environment that cultivates the horrors of your imagination. But often, Outlast 2 simply leans too heavily on gore and largely impotent attempts at ‘shock value’. Bloody mutilated corpses are little more than scenery to ignore, and you’re largely immune to it after the first twenty minutes of the game anyway.
“Oh look, another bloody, mutilated body,” you’ll sigh (possibly while rolling your eyes).
Psychotic hillbillies are apparently prolific and even skillful writers at times, despite the fact most of them just yell, gibber, and chase you with machetes.
Back to school
The story is largely told through notes found strewn throughout the game—an almost tired mechanism for video game storytelling—and one made even more annoying given the length and very tiny print of the messages you find. I stopped reading and began skimming them less than half way into the game. Side note: Psychotic hillbillies are apparently prolific and even skillful writers at times, despite the fact most of them just yell, gibber, and chase you with machetes.
Periodically, you are thrust back in time (or into your psyche) to experience something from your past that still haunts you. This is the strongest narrative work in the game. It tells you just enough to be intriguing, and at the end of the game it remains open for numerous interpretations. Yet it’s still a largely curious addition, because it seems like it has nothing to do with the main story aside from offering a welcomed break from hillbillies and an excuse to use another popular horror trope: the creepy grade school.
All that said, Outlast 2 still delivers some solid thrills. The game sparingly uses cat-scares but it uses them well. There are some truly exhilarating chase sequences. Outlast 2 is at its best when it gives you the freedom to stealthily explore its environments.
However, it drives you into too many linear trial-and-error chase sequences and other events that seem almost insurmountable unless you know exactly what to do and where to go. Expect to die. A lot.
This would be fine if some mechanism at least gave you some hint as to where to go or what to do. Most of the time it isn’t obvious and you rarely have the time to figure it out because you’re running like hell from machete-swinging psychopaths. (This problem is particularly evident when you flee the church in the 3rd act, which is nigh impossible to complete unless you know exactly where to go. (I confess — I died about half a dozen times and resorted to a walk through.)
Some of these problems plagued Outlast as well, but a stronger (and easier to understand) narrative and better pacing counter-balanced it enough to make you want to finish the game. At the end of Outlast 2 I really didn’t care any more about the characters, the story, or any of it. I was exasperated and just wanted to be done with it.
Overall — 6.5/10
As much as I liked the original Outlast, I honestly found Outlast 2 to be inferior to it on virtually every level. It still delivers some good experiences, but I found Outlast 2 to be more frustrating and generally less interesting and less entertaining than its predecessor.