When I started playing Outlast 2, I wasn’t expecting it to play as the Splinter Cell of the murderous religious fanatics; the Metal Gear Solid of the lost and confused. I was expecting high thrill chases and a main character that has a minimum capability of fighting back, but instead I got a disoriented fellow that was wandering in the darkness for most of the time.
And getting killed, over and over again. No second chances.
Outlast 2 is a polarizing game. I don’t know if I like it more than I despise its dubious map design. Placing us in the middle of a pitch-black forest and running to/from a cult of religious fanatics AND a group of heretics, Outlast 2 isn’t a friendly game, and certainly not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s gruesome, gritty, controversial, unapologetically gory and incredibly unsettling. You can expect to see a fair share of tortured creatures: cows, men, women, animals, babies, you name it. It’s also flawed and badly paced, but when it works, it will get stuck in your head and give you chills.
Outlast 2 is off to a strong start. Protagonist Blake Langermann and his wife Lynn are on an investigative journalism assignment when a crash landing sends them in their biggest story yet. Blake must search for his missing wife who, suitably enough, was taken by a group of cultists who see her as the centerpiece for their ritual. The feeling of desperation and the initial revelations are quite impactful and set the mood for a gripping adventure that could have taken a few lessons from those starting moments.
Blake’s best friend is his handheld camera, which is used to record some key moments, but especially to help him navigate through the dark with the night vision mode. You need batteries for this and this is also one of my biggest gripes with Outlast 2. Considering the darkness that surrounds you at all times, for the life of me I can’t understand why Blake isn’t capable of picking up one of the dozens of flashlights that are oddly spread across the game’s locations. Dozens of them, just waiting to be picked up! This seriously irks me, as it made me ponder if some sort of mental illness was at play, and I’m not even going to talk about using a mobile phone for some lighting, as fickle as it could be. Hey, maybe it was destroyed in the crash, I can go with that, but flashlights everywhere? You have the batteries, just pick the goddamn flashlight already.
And that takes me to another detail that bothers me in Outlast 2. I’m pretty sure that fighting relentless, god-fearing creatures can take its toll, but making Blake utterly defenseless is baffling. Any kind of rock, chair or stick could serve as a last resource makeshift weapon, increasing his chance of survival by any percentage. It surely would beat laying down and dying, a sport where Blake is an expert. During my entire playthrough I only found a handful of situations where our hero reacted, and those were scripted scenes or quick-time events.
Blake is able to pick up a nice speed, jump over waist-high obstacles and crawl through some extremely creepy caves, but he is completely inept at combat and unable to jump over some small obstacles. The flawed map design also contributes to your disorientation, as you’ll often stumble looking for that specific spot where you’re expected to run to – finding this place, which could be a fallen tree or a rock that has bloody fingerprints on it can literally be a shot in the dark, turning Outlast 2 into a frustrating series of trial-and-error events.
Die, die again, die several times, until you rage and curse at the game for placing you in an environment desperately lacking in variety and reference points. Frustration sets in and you begin to wonder if the frequent retries are worth the trouble. The save system isn’t very friendly, as you’ll often find yourself dying over and over again at the same spot, clueless about where you should be heading until by some random chance you discover where you must go.
But when Outlast 2 works, it works. Some chases are exhilarating, with an authentic horror movie feel and will leave you breathless, when the design is clever enough to make sure you didn’t lose your way. Peeking back and seeing these creatures closing in on you is as exciting as it gets, and this is where the game truly shines. I can honestly say that a handful of chase sequences left me feeling tired, hugely stressed, heart pounding out of my chest, and when I thought I was finally safe I placed the controller down and took a moment to relax and breathe. It’s a shame then that for most of the time you’re thrown in the dark, walking in circles and expected to find this small, inconspicuous hotspot, instead of running for your life and enjoying the best of what Outlast 2 could offer.
Outlast 2 made me sick of cornfields for life, I can tell you as much. And features what is probably the longest raft ride in the entire story of videogames.
By the time you finally reach the mines – and believe me, it will take quite some time and detours –, you’ll find yourself fondly reminiscing of your time in the forest. Once again, Outlast 2 resorts to a design that isn’t particularly suited to its elementary chase mechanics, opting for a labyrinthine, convoluted map that doesn’t play to the game’s strengths. The claustrophobic feeling is accomplished, but there is no actual sense of progression, as you move from one corridor to another, occasionally evading enemies and hoping that you’re not backtracking.
Between these events set in the present day, you’ll often find yourself taken back into your childhood years at the Catholic school. These transitions start peacefully, but the mystery of Blake’s past gradually turns into something more sinister, ultimately ending with the big reveal. However, these corridors are too repetitive, with an exaggerated number of locked doors, and the way out – or back into the nightmarish reality – is usually far from obvious, so you’ll stumble, and you’ll roll your eyes as this change of pace eventually turns into a monotonous hindrance. Further proof that Outlast 2 is badly paced and that the game would benefit from being streamlined. At over 10 hours, the story feels bloated and almost outstays its welcome, and I didn’t find the connection between past and present particularly meaningful or logical.
The soundtrack of this game deserves all the praise. It encompasses every creepy sound, every tune that great horror movies are made of, making you eager and anxious even when you think that you’re finally safe from harm for a moment. It’s scary by itself, and almost feels alive, out there to haunt you just like the creatures in Outlast 2.
One final mention goes to the story. Beyond the underlying theme of cults with opposite beliefs with Blake and Lynn caught straight in the middle, there are notes along the way that will let you dive in the murky depths of this region and its inhabitants. Personally, I found them tiresome and cliched, mostly monotonous religious passages, along with a few letters that didn’t add anything significant to the overall theme. Luckily, Outlast 2 manages to place you in a few exciting set pieces that will get your heart racing, including one particularly terrifying Kill Bill moment.
It’s easy to see that I have mixed feelings over Outlast 2, but this is a great game for thrill seekers who aren’t afraid of being lost in the dark. For one, you can’t beat it in terms of atmosphere and a palpable sense of dread. On the other hand, the best moments are often weighed down by bad design decisions and questionable pacing, making the adventure frustrating to a point where you begin to wonder if it’s worth persevering. It is, as some of the key sequences are memorable and there’s this profound tension and claustrophobia to the game that may remind you of movies such as The Descent.
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