Outlast was a frightening experience, but not one without problems. Unsettling foes and tight corridors made for a claustrophobic gameplay, but dead ends, fumbling in the dark, and a strange conclusion marred the experience. The developers have learned some lessons from that game with the release of Outlast 2, opening up the playing field and putting a stronger focus on the horrifying fun of being chased in darkness.
Outlast 2’s large, open fields make for a welcome departure from the previous game’s tight corridors. Much of the game offers up wide spaces with small clutches of houses, each with multiple routes in and out, giving players a lot more options on where to run should one of its kindly townsfolk stumble across them. Getting seen is less of a problem for that reason, as you no longer have to remember the layout of the last few corridors to know how to escape. You just have to run.
This might have made it a little too easy if you were only being chased by one frightening opponent, which is why Outlast 2 throws most of the cast of Resident Evil 4 at you. Villagers in old clothing will dog players for much of the game, and in large groups. Wide open spaces give many places to run, but multiple enemies are spread out in each area, so players are likely to stumble upon another enemy in a house or field if they’re not careful.
Hiding is always an option, but it’s still not a very good one. Most hiding spaces in this game don’t allow the player to look out, or offer a very limited view. Players can peek out, or they can use their camera’s audio function to listen for noise to see if anyone’s nearby. Some hiding places, like in water, come with their own danger of drowning, so players are discouraged to stay in them for very long. Also, players are really only prolonging the inevitable in these moments, as they aren’t progressing when hiding. It’s there if players prefer it, but with the wide areas, it’s almost always better to run.
The developers also did a very good job of making the levels lead the player where they need to go. There were many, many panicked chases during the play through of Outlast 2, and yet getting lost or turned around was only a problem once or twice. Lights, natural level funnelling, and multiple forest paths leading to the same place all subtly guide the player while letting them feel the panic of fleeing from the game’s cast of villains.
The enemies help ensure players’ pulses will race, as well. Many of the townsfolk mutter some truly unsettling things, so when they’re rushing forward in packs as players glance back over their shoulders, it’s truly frightening. Other, even more dangerous villains await as well, such as the nude, masked men whose howls will have players automatically running, to the large, hulking Marta, who wields a pickaxe-like cross as she mumbles in a gravelly voice as she stalks you.
Contact with most of these characters isn’t fatal, giving the players a little grace to make mistakes. It will wound the player and blur their vision, though, which can make it easy to screw up more and get killed. Players won’t want to get touched at all, but should they do so, bandages are relatively plentiful to heal up, although fixing yourself up takes time you may not have while running. Running into Marta is instantly lethal, though, just so you know. Although she’ll likely make that clear. Multiple times.
Running from these foes is where Outlast 2 shines. Whether it is a dedicated sequence where players have to rush through a maze of specifically designed paths or just rushing through a corn field, the game is exhilarating and tense. With excellent level and monster design, each chase keeps the player moving without constantly killing them with dead ends. It lets the player savour their panic without having to worry about dead ends or taking the wrong path.
As enjoyable as fleeing is, wandering around in the dark isn’t. Players have a camera equipped with night vision, but that drains batteries quickly. Players need to use found batteries a lot (which they may not have if they flee instead of exploring often). If they don’t they’ll have to run blindly and hope for the best, which often results in getting lost, or getting caught by enemies while concentrating on where to go. It can get frustrating, and while darkness is important to horror, the pitch dark in Outlast 2 is a bit much.
Outlast 2 also pushes its gory story and visuals a little too far. That isn’t to say that gore has no place in a horror story, but even with the game’s excellent visuals, corpses and torn bodies still seem plastic and fake. There is an element of unintended ridiculousness to each scene of carnage that undoes the emotion the developers wish to convey.
Also, the hyper-creepy sexual elements of the game’s story just feel like they’re pushing too hard to be edgy and unsettling. Outlast 2 goes over unpleasant things in great detail, rather than have it happen in the player’s imagination. Implication often makes for stronger horror than being explicit, and while these elements are still uncomfortable, they could have been more frightening with some restraint. The story, despite this, is a vast improvement on the original, and will leave the player with some sickening questions when done.
Outlast 2 builds on what the original did well, crafting terrifying chase sequences with care. It’s excellent when players are dodging creepy religious fanatics through the woods, but it’s when players have to explore in the dark that it loses its footing, making for an unpleasant play experience. Its reliance on gore and over description weakens what would be a chilling horror story as well, but overall, players will have scary nightmares about fleeing for a while after they’re done.