Game: Outlast 2
Release Date: April 25th, 2017
Developer: Red Barrels, Warner Bros.
Outlast 2 is a disturbing game, perhaps the most disturbing I've ever played. Unlike the original game which had some mutated monsters, Outlast 2 features all humans. They are incredibly messed up and insanely twisted cult members, but humans none the less. That being said, even though it's Outlast and you may think you know what to expect after the original, it is extremely graphic with the types of images that are shown. If images of slaughtered babies and ritualistic killings disturb you, it may be in your best interest to play in extremely short bursts.
You are Blake Langermann, investigative journalist. Along with your wife Lynn who is also a journalist, you are trying to solve the murder of a pregant woman deep in the Arizona desert. The victim, Jane Doe, has no details known about her other than being eight months pregnant. The chopper you have chartered to reach the area crashes due to unknown circumstances and sends the crew along with you and your wife crashing into an Arizona desert canyon. Blake wakes up a bit later to find the crew dead and Lynn missing. You quickly find the area you crashed belongs to a ritualistic cult, and your only mission is to find Lynn and escape alive. Standing in your way is Sullivan Knoth, the cult leader of the Temple of the New Ezekiel. Knoth believes he has heard the true word of God, and has left everything of this world behind including sanity.
Any further details would include game ruining spoilers, but it's Outlast so you should of course expect some oddities and twists. There are some slight changes to game mechanics in Outlast 2. One very helpful one is the ability to slide while running. This comes in very handy while trying to avoid pursuers and let's you slide under barriers such as low fences or tree limbs quickly. The camera HUD has been modified to include a microwave detector as well. This let's you hear sounds through walls to better gauge where enemies are and plan your escape accordingly. You can bandage wounds to heal, but unfortunately the battery life in the camera is still just as bad. Extras are all over the place, but the reasoning behind it really doesn't make much sense. Why would camcorder battery packs be located in remote shacks and deep woods of Arizona desert where the cult that resides there uses fire and candles for light? Other than those couple of changes, the mechanics are virtually identical to the original. You can still hide or crouch behind objects to avoid detection, as well as lure enemies out in order to circle around them to proceed past guarded areas.
Outlast 2 is a standalone game with its own story separate from the original. You do not need to play the original game to get a grasp on the sequel, but there are some references to the first which are obvious spoilers if mentioned. Blake basically has to figure out what the f*ck is going on with these insane cult members in order to retrieve his wife. A lot of the gameplay takes place outside, which is a welcome change from the first and Mount Massive Asylum. The freedom of manueverability not only made for some impressive landscapes, but more fearful encounters as well. There was some enemy around every bend in the first game. Outlast 2 ramps up the anticipation by never letting you rest on your laurels. You can find a wide open area full of enemies or a dark, desolate basement with no one in sight. This change increased the fear factor of the game, not to mention your pulse rate. Gameplay areas including desert shacks, cornfields, desolate villages, mines, "churches", mountain ledges and more really opened up the horror experience for Outlast 2.
Certain areas, one in particular, didn't make much sense for the game and were oddly implemented. At points in the game, you'll find yourself in flashback scenes when Blake was at a Catholic school in 4th grade. They deal with a childhood friend of yours named Jessica and circumstances surrounding her life. These flashbacks don't occur from being knocked unconscious or during a dream, but instead during normal gameplay. You'll just be walking around and all of a sudden find yourself back in a 4th grade class room. Once you figure out how to get out, of course you're sucked right back into the real world. Blake is aware of what's going on, in fact even asking "What the f*ck?" on about umpteen different occasions. What doesn't seem to makes sense about it is when you go back to the present day you are in a different spot then where you left off and first entered the flashback. This means that Blake was also moving about the compound full of enemies at the same time without being noticed. But how? The part of the story that is told in the flashbacks could have easily been told by other means, and there is no real point to them as no further information is revealed during their gameplay. Even without these flashbacks included, there was more than enough in Outlast 2's story to keep you engrossed. Unfortunately, the flashbacks served only to remove you from total immersion in the game.
What Outlast 2 does best is to implement the illusion of exploration. It may seem that you have some freedom to roam about and explore, but it's all in your head. While some slight off path gameplay is necessary to retrieve some extra batteries of bandages, pure curiousity will take you further than you need to go. We found this out many times as what we thought was an alternate path to proceed was simply a hidden enemy waiting to slaughter us. There is only one path to pass any point in the game. No matter how far off the path you travel, you'll still need to come back to that little hole under the fence or one window you'll need to crawl through in order to progress. Outlast 2 really capitalizes on the combination of fear and human curiousity in making something seem much harder than it really is. That's the secret to a true horror tale though, isn't it? Trying to figure out which way to go at the fork or whether you really need to enter a certain space is the key to Outlast 2 and is what makes it stand apart as a staple of the horror genre.
If there was ever a game to describe the graphics in, it would be Outlast 2. That's because the graphics are just that, EXTREMELY graphic. There are slaughtered babies, crucified people, impaled people, pits of dead people and more. Like the first game, Outlast 2 is made in Unreal Engine 3. As a result, the images are not as eye popping as they could be which is a definite saving grace for the ill at heart. Environmental affects are very responsive at some points and yet non existent at others. Walking through corn fields will let the "crunch" of every foot step be heard. Water sloshes as you move through it. Droplets even appear on screen if your face/camera get wet. With such responsive details like this, it was a bit odd to see Blake able to pass through smaller tree branches like a wraith without them moving.
The craziness of Outlast 2's story is what makes it so good. What really separates it from the original is that it's more realistic. Freaky religious cults exist in real life, and it's more palatable to believe that rather than some group experimenting on insane asylum patients while trying to mutate them into literal monsters. Whether or not you believe yourself to be a religious person is not the point for Outlast 2 when it comes to horror of the story. The depiction of images is what counts. Things are scarier to us when we can personally identify with them. Also, seeing innocent or good things taken down bothers us more than others. This is the main reason why things like good super heroes dying in movies or even the possibility of an animal getting hurt in a movie bothers us, yet seeing a hundred people or so in Terminator get mowed down goes over easier than a morning cup of coffee. There are few things in this world that are purely innocent. Babies are one of them. It's bothersome to see something perfectly innocent destroyed, especially when it's as helpless as a baby. The feeling of anger and sadness this causes is only compounded by the fear of the game's story, and truly puts Outlast 2 at the top of the horror genre. What makes a horror game great are things that we don't want to normally see and talk about. Outlast 2 throws all that and more right in your face, drops the mic and says "deal with it".
Just as you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, you can't make a true horror game without breaking some spirits. Outlast 2 does the latter, and the game's ending is truly gut wrenching in both the literal and the figurative. Outlast 2 is an amazing horror game that will give you about 10 hours of jumping out of your seat, followed by days of looking over your shoulder. A must play for horror game that will make you see how much "I can't take any more of this" you can take.