Being the sequel to a critically acclaimed indie horror game, Outlast 2 began with high expectations. And unfortunately, failed to meet them.
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Outlast 2 is a long anticipated sequel to the well received Outlast, the magnum opus of two ex-Ubisoft developers. Outlast took place in an insane asylum, where the patients ran loose and went batshit insane without restriction. The game took elements of the “found footage” sub-genre of horror and snuff films to create a realistic, gory experience that frightened the living shit out of so many people.
I liked the original Outlast. It was an intense game that kept you paranoid the entire time, giving you a show of true ugliness from humanity. So naturally, I was one of the many people excited for the sequel! I was even disappointed when its deadline got pushed back, so I waited and took my time. Eventually, I got to play it just in time for the fall season!
And… well… ugh… just… why, Red Barrels…? Why…?
Bloodthirsty Cults and Haunted School Hallways
Outlast 2 features a new story that is mostly unrelated to the original Outlast, so you could play this game without story context of the previous game. This time, you’re Blake Langermann, husband to investigative journalist Lynn Langermann and her cameraman. The two of you set out for Arizona to investigate a mysterious murder of a young woman. On the way there, your helicopter crashed and your wife went missing. So you set out to find her in the dark and foreboding wilderness, through the sinister town of Temple Gate—again, very subtle name, guys.
But in true Outlast fashion, you will come across dead people who were horribly disfigured by the locals. But instead of an insane asylum full of mental patients, you’re facing against secret societies of psychotic Christian and Satanist-maybe cultists.
Yeah, you know those neighbors who are stereotypical rednecks? They speak in a southern drawl, prefer to live in the country over the city, and worship Jesus like he’s the world’s most precious treasure? Let’s make them into psychotic killers. And if you’re a non-believer, you die. That’s Outlast 2 in a nutshell.
Because what could be more terrifying than gullible simpletons who believes in the words of a man who claimed to follow the will of God?
Not trying to insult Christians out there. I’m talking about the people who never question anything preachers tell them, no matter how ethically unsound their messages are (like telling you had to perform specific tasks to be a “good person” in the Lord’s eyes, even twisted things). You know, just being easily manipulated by people taking advantage of them. You have your beliefs and I have mine. But please… don’t believe every word that comes out of one person.
If you found the religious undertones of the original Outlast creepy, now we have a whole game full of overzealous Christians. Sounds like a recipe for good horror, right? Well…
Blake just so happens to stumble upon the possibly only sane resident in this godforsaken town, where he learned that the residents kidnapped his wife because they believe she was pregnant with the Anti-Christ in her. The Christians were called the Testament of the New Ezekiel, led by Reverend Sullivan Knoth, and they want to murder the Anti-Christ. And there was a group of Heretics, led by a possibly transgender woman named Val, who wants the Anti-Christ to be born.
Annnnnnd… that’s about it. The rest of Outlast 2 is Blake searching for his wife while he experiences weird hallucinations that may or may not be related to the actual plot. Questions like why this stuff is happening and how it’s happening are left in additional documents you need to search for.
Egh… well, that’s… interesting…?
The first thing you notice about Outlast 2 is that it’s an absolutely gorgeous game. The town of Temple Gate is an absolutely creepy place, full of poorly built houses, bonfires, effigies, corpses of farm animals, and crucified people… all under the watchful eye of the moon.
The game managed to capture the insanity and the deranged behaviors of a cult frighteningly well. No one can deny that the gritty realism in the game’s art direction was flawlessly executed. The human models were especially well done, with crazed facial expressions that shift about subtly. It’s easily one of the best-looking horror games I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s no exaggeration. Combined with a reasonably good soundtrack for a horror movie, Outlast 2 managed to pin down the atmosphere it wanted.
But… the game shot itself in the foot the moment you reached Temple Gate. Considering the amount of time I had to wait to play the game, it pains me to say this: Outlast 2 is not that good of a game. It just… failed at a fundamental level. And we’re going to see why.
Death is the Final Unknown?
Outlast 2 is a 3D survival horror game in first-person view, where you cannot fight back against the enemies—much like its predecessor. So when faced against enemies, the only thing you can do is run and hide. Your main objective is to solve puzzles and progress through the town of Temple Gate without getting caught.
The camcorder mechanic makes a return in Outlast 2, once again functioning as a means to provide some backstory, via commentary from our protagonist. Additionally, you can use the camcorder’s sound channels to listen for anyone close to you. So far, so good. Starting to feel like a real sequel.
But then you realize something off about Temple Gate. And no, I don’t mean the obvious batshit insane cults living nearby. It’s the fact that much of the game is designed with many more open areas than before, in contrast to the original Outlast’s multiple hallways and passages. And that is a big problem.
To ensure your survival, you have to keep a mental note of possible hiding places. But this is much easier said that done. For one thing, much of Outlast 2 takes place during nighttime, in poorly lit areas. Now, this doesn’t seem to be a problem, as your camcorder comes with a night vision function and you can use it to your heart’s content.
…Or not, because this camcorder drains batteries faster than a group of vampires sucking all of the blood out of a single human being!
Seriously. If you keep the night vision on for just one minute, you’ve already drained over half of the batteries. What the hell kind of batteries are these anyway? Does Blake use a super old camcorder with incredibly inefficient energy consumption? Or were these batteries manufactured by bootleggers completely half-assing their product?
Whatever the case may be, the batteries drain even faster than before than the original Outlast, so batteries are much more precious than ever. Even worse, the original copy of Outlast 2 drains the batteries even faster if you turned on the camcorder’s sound channels. Thankfully, that got patched out.
Sure, this shortage of decent batteries provides some extra challenge… and that’s fine, if the challenge was fair!
On top of more open areas and hiding places that are harder to find, you’ll have to deal with many enemies. And I mean many. More often than not, you would have to deal with mobs breathing down on your neck. If even one of these assholes finds you, the rest of the mob goes after you. To make matters worse, Outlast 2 often forces you into scripted segments where you must escape a mob as quickly as possible, through a map you haven’t familiarized yourself with yet.
But here’s the problem. Because you’re not acclimated to the large maps before the game sends a bunch of lunatics after you, you would have to run around in circles until you find decent hiding spots. You’re going to get confused a lot and you’re going to run into a lot of dead ends. Most enemies kill you with one or two hits, with very little recovery time. Even if you survived the first hit, the second hit will definitely kill you because you will move even slower now.
And that is the crux of what makes Outlast 2 unbearable to play through. Even on Normal difficulty, the lowest setting, enemies can spot you ridiculously well (even through hiding spots), run faster than you, and even potentially kill you in a single hit. Most of them will likely patrol the area with flashlights. And once you walk into their line of sight, they’ll pursue you immediately. This is much less a survival horror game, and more of a gory death simulator.
A well-made hard game tests your ability to improve your execution and learn from your mistakes. Once you do those two things, the obstacle will eventually become easy for you. Outlast 2 is not that kind of hard, though. Most of the time, you’d just have to get lucky through a lot of trial-and-error. It’s just not fun.
Case in point, this game’s new Chris Walker: a female executioner named Marta, who wields a glowing pickaxe. She meets all of those sins I mentioned: she can easily expose you from hiding spots, moves ridiculously fast, and kills you in one hit. There are very few obstacles you can use to slow her down, because of the open area designs of the maps.
But it’s not just Marta. Nearly every NPC in this damn game can easily kill you. This is one of the biggest differences between this game and its predecessor.
In the original Outlast, there is a mix of passive and aggressive NPCs. Some of the mental patients will attack you if you get too close to them. But if you keep out of their way, they’ll ignore you. This level of unpredictability is one of the reasons why the original Outlast is so scary. You never know when one of those guys will go after you. It even makes the jumpscares more effective without feeling too cheap or forced. A NPC can be passive for one minute, then lunge at you the next. You just don’t know when they’ll turn on you.
In Outlast 2, over 90% of the NPCs are trying to kill you. You can’t trust ANYONE, even if they look incapable of harming you. Even people crawling on the ground and those with only one functioning arm. Are you for real? What kind of weakling is Blake?
And some of the maps have very little room to maneuver in, so moving around a camp infested with these bastards is a true test of your patience. Your enemies can easily block your escape, so you can’t just barely slip by. Escape is nearly impossible in situations like that.
This makes the game ten times more frustrating, because you don’t know when some asshole is going to randomly kill you with a single cheap blow. Most of the maps is like going through a goddamn minefield.
I mean, seriously. Just piss off already. I’m just wandering around, trying to gain my bearings. And suddenly, some asshole appears out of nowhere and assaults me. Then more of them come and finish me off. For fuck’s sake, I’m just trying to find a way out. I’m getting punished for simple exploration, in a game where I HAVE TO explore to get to the next part of the story. AND THAT SERIOUSLY PISSES ME OFF!
Now, I think I kinda get it. Outlast 2 was going for a level of unpredictability in order to keep you on your toes. Like when you enter a situation in real life like the events of the game, you can’t trust anyone you come across. So you can get randomly ambushed if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings enough.
But why does 90% of this game have to be so damn dark? Why can’t you defend yourself when an enemy attacks you? Why is it so easy to run into dead ends when you got several crazed people on your tail? Why is it so easy for those bastards to track you, even when you think you’re well hidden?
I get it. Outlast 2 is meant to be a survival horror game where you can only run and hide, so action mechanics are out of the question. But the game, with its overly aggressive enemies and their placement, feels like it’s designed more for an action/stealth game. You’re surrounded by aggressive maniacs with twisted visions who kill in the name of God. Why WOULDN’T you just grab a fucking hammer and cave someone’s skull in?
Or wait… actually… WHY COULDN’T BLAKE JUST GRAB A WEAPON FOR SELF-DEFENSE!? There are so many dangerous farmer tools lying around. Even if the game claims “you’re not a fighter,” putting up SOME fight is better than nothing! Sometimes, you couldn’t hear an enemy coming towards you before he sticks a knife into your skull!
The closest thing to “combat” is that the game sometimes puts you in a quick-time event where you must break free from your captor. Sometimes. And even if you break free, it only buys you maybe… ONE second of escape before the guy comes after you again?
Outlast 2 gives such few opportunities to slow down your pursuers, it’s insane. Even if you close the doors in front of their faces and lock them immediately, those doors will break down in several seconds. Those doors must be made from cardboard or something, because these are just ordinary (or as ordinary as they can get…) people. They’re not an army of Arnold Schwarzeneggers!
It’s almost comical how unfair Outlast 2 is. The game barely did anything to improve the gameplay of the original game (i.e. the sound channels mechanic). In fact, it made it worse. Because the game barely cuts you any slack and it constantly throws you into one scripted chase sequence after another, it’s just more tiresome and frustrating than scary. The shock and horror lose their effect quickly as a result.
There’s a lesson in all this. In a story-driven game, pacing is important to get right. You need to know when to speed things up with action, and slow things down with suspense and character interaction. Having too much of either one can test the player’s patience. The first Outlast managed to strike a balance between the two. So did Amnesia: The Dark Descent, another horror game I loved. Outlast 2 just puts you in a constant state of stress, making the game feel longer than it actually is.
What the Fuck is Going On?
No, seriously. What’s with this narrative? Why are we traveling back and forth between two games?
Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mention it yet. While you’re exploring a town full of crazy and violent Christians, Blake sometimes flashes back to a traumatic event in his past, at random points. Why of all times? I have no idea. The game never explains what these flashbacks mean.
So from what we know, Blake, Lynn and another girl named Jessica Gray attended Catholic school together when they were kids. But Jessica met an untimely death at the hands of a stalker. Blake explores these repressed memories… he just does. There is no given reason why he does it.
And in these flashbacks, you will encounter the scariest piece of work in the game: a humanoid monster coated in blood and has a very long tongue. This guy can appear at just about anywhere in this dark, creepy elementary school. He can teleport, search hiding places and warp the environment. These school segments are by far the best parts of Outlast 2, because of the silent and suspenseful moments they put you in.
Yeah, these school segments are pretty much the main parts where you actually get some reprieve from all that action. But unfortunately, there is no direct connection between present-day events and these flashbacks. It’s like we’re playing two different games at once. It just makes no sense.
Why even stuff the two unrelated plots in one game in the first place? Because they had something to do with evil religious figures? Well, okay… but what does Blake rediscovering the cause of his childhood friend’s death have ANYTHING to do with him fleeing from insane Christians and Satanists in the present? Just… nothing connects the two together, aside from “religion is evil.” Or maybe even, “Christians are evil.”
And when you think about it, this story… didn’t go anywhere. Once you begin the initial premise of a cultist village, it seems interesting at first. But the novelty quickly wears off when you realize there’s not much depth to any of these bizarre cults. They’re all brainwashed wackadoos who have no qualms in slaughtering innocent people in the name of God, and their only interest is Lynn Langermann. Aside from notes that you would have to painstakingly collect, you don’t learn much about these people and how they managed to develop their way of thinking. We’re just expected to think of them all as unrepentant, evil lunatics.
The ending only raised more questions than answers. Lynn had the baby (though she claimed it was never there to begin with), before she died from childbirth. The baby seemed normal, so we don’t know if it was actually the Anti-Christ or not. We don’t even know if the baby was even REAL. And the game just ends with the fate of Blake and the baby unknown. If anything, it’s a cliffhanger acting as DLC bait.
As for the school flashbacks, it turns out that one of the teachers/priests murdered Jessica during a possible attempt to molest her. Blake had apparently kept quiet about this. And that’s about it. We don’t know what this story had anything to do with the present events.
There’s a number of theories and backstories, as shown in this post, that helps connect the events of Outlast 2 to its predecessor, which is by far the only connection between the two games. But there is far too much to decipher here with some leaps of logic.
You don’t care about any of the characters here. Our protagonist Blake Langermann is just a BORE. Compared to Miles Upshur in the original Outlast, Blake’s dialogue is quite generic. Whenever anyone wrongs Upshur, he will swear vengeance on that person. Miles Upshur is a bold and brash personality who was more than capable of holding grudges, which gives him a depth of badassery.
But for Blake, his main reaction in a stressful situation is repeating profanities over and over—to the point where he sounds BORED while saying them. I almost want to give him the nickname “Mr. FuckShit,” because those are his most commonly spoken words. Guy has no personality aside from panicking like a wuss. He does it from beginning to end. There is no character revelation or any development on his part whatsoever.
In the end… Outlast 2 is one of the biggest disappointments for me this year. As much as it pains me to say this, I could not in good conscience call Outlast 2 a good game. This honestly blows, because… I really want to love it. I liked the first game just fine, despite its flaws. And this sequel looked absolutely promising, with an indie developer wanting to make a more ambitious project to top their original masterpiece.
It’s definitely a well crafted game in terms of visuals and sound design. But the actual gameplay and that boring story… oh my god. Outlast 2 is a prime example of, “Good graphics don’t make a good game.”
As a sequel, it’s definitely inferior to its predecessor. As a standalone game, it’s a very tedious survival horror title where getting a pickaxe to the crotch somehow loses its shock value over time. If you’re a fan of the original Outlast, you’re probably going to be real disappointed here. If you never played the original game, you might get some sort of enjoyment out of the sequel due to low expectations.
I dunno. If you want to try the game out, be my guest. Just know I don’t personally recommend it if you’re expecting something amazing.
- Exceptional graphics from an indie developer, easily being at the same quality as AAA games.
- Decent sound design to emulate a horror movie.
- The school sections were pretty spooky.
- The open areas and darkness make it more difficult to navigate through the game without getting caught by enemies.
- Camera batteries drain too fast in a game that is mostly dark.
- Too many scripted chase sequences, which get tedious and boring after a series of trial-and-error attempts.
- Too many aggressive enemies that kill you too quickly, giving you very few moments to take a breather.
- A nonsensical story that fails to connect two parallel storylines together, and gives very little context on what's going on and why it's all happening. Also, terrible ending.