Outlast 2 Review – Sinister Transitions (PS4)
The original Outlast impressed many with its expertly-crafted ambiance, and nerve-wracking moments in a game where your only choices for survival are to run and/or hide. Over three years later, Outlast 2 sets out to take everything that terrified players in the first game, and amplify it with a new setting, new characters, and new chances to scare you silly. Time to find out if the wait was worth it in our review.
A New Frontier
In Outlast 2, You play as Blake Langermann, an investigate journalist and cameraman, who finds himself and wife Lynn en route to an extremely remote section of the Sonoran Desert in the Southwestern United States. Naturally, this story taking place in the Outlast universe means things quickly go south. Your helicopter crash-lands, and you are treated to an incredibly hostile welcome by the locals. It’s a completely different location, and completely different characters, and yet, the gruesome new area feels vaguely familiar.
One major change in Outlast 2 is that Blake talks, quite a lot. However, he is only really vocal during cutscenes. Most of the game revolves around you hiding and pacing your escape from various areas, and during these sections Blake stays quiet other than the obligatory breathing, panting, and grunting noises made as you traverse the many environments in which you find yourself. In a first-person game, there is always a risk of breaking immersion by having a character that is too talkative, so it is good to see a nice balance here.
Whereas the original Outlast generally took place in one large location, Outlast 2 has changed things up here as well. Expect to travel among the trees, along riverbanks, and even in some snow and other more exotic locations the further into the game you get. All is not as it seems, of course, as Blake appears to slowly lose his grip on reality as the situation goes from bad to worse. If you played the original, you’ll feel right at home in the sequel. Blake has made career and life choices which have not trained him in the art of survival. If an enemy spots you, with very rare exception your only choices are to run, hide, or die. Considering the finality of that last option, you really only have two choices.
Outlast 2’s main theme is that of the occult. Supernatural elements are evident in this story from very early on, in stark contrast to the original. This means that developer Red Barrels is able to have more elaborate set pieces from the word “go.” It feels like there are more jump scares this time around, but the series’ signature creepy ambiance remains, even though most of the game takes place outdoors. Outlast 2 features some of the slickest transitions between realities I’ve ever seen in a video game. Blake appears to have flashbacks to a traumatic event from his childhood, which get more and more vivid the longer he’s out on his own. My inner nerd was so happy to see a cool nod to the screensavers of the ’90s on one computer in particular, as well.
Composer Samuel Laflamme reprises his role for the sequel, and this is a game that you’ll want to turn the sound system up for. Outlast 2 features a full cast of voice actors, though occasionally the voice channel is a little too low. The soundtrack feels like it was ripped out of some of the scariest stuff in Hollywood, yet since it reacts to what you do onscreen, the effect is a hell of a lot more terrifying than any movie. The audio scaling back is generally a sign that you are momentarily safe, but these are fleeting moments.
Outlast 2’s scares are pretty intense the first time you come across them. However, since most of the game’s biggest, story-progressing scares are heavily scripted, they kind of lose their jump factor after the second or third time. Death comes often in Outlast 2, ensuring that before too long, you’ve seen all the death animations the game has to show you. Given all the macabre weapons and machinery seen in the world, it’s a shame there aren’t dynamic kills to see as your life is snuffed out.
Challenging, Occasionally Repetitive
The game’s difficulty level starts at normal, and ramps up to Hard, Nightmare, and Insane. Even on Normal, you should expect a decent challenge. You’ll need to slow things down to learn enemies’ routes, and will need to survey the area in order to plan something of an escape route if you are spotted. Outlast 2 has a fairly generous checkpoint system, though there are a few chokepoints where the game resets you with hardly any supplies or time to react. You might find yourself feeling frustrated as you die over and over again. Some advice in such situations is to try something completely different, or to rush over to an area you hadn’t considered before. Usually, repeatedly dying is the game’s way of telling you that there is some mechanic you have not utilized in the area yet. Outlast 2 certainly doesn’t hold your hand – there is little in the way of direct hinting, and no scenario is skip-able. Much like the previous game, with the Insane difficulty level, you are tasked with completing the game using only one life. Naturally, a gold PSN trophy is your reward for clearing the game on this setting. However, there is also another gold trophy awarded if you are able to beat the game on the Insane difficulty level without ever reloading your camera’s night vision mode – which is easier said than done!
It just wouldn’t be an Outlast game without the series’ iconic super camera that you utilize throughout the horror adventure. Blake’s camera gives us a hint as to when this game takes place – his device shows it is recording at 1080p, and it has a new trick or two available. In addition to night vision, the camera also has enhanced microphones that can be used to hear distant noises wherever you aim at. This uses the battery much like night vision, however it does use battery at a comparatively slower rate. This is most helpful if you’re hiding in a barrel or other closed object, the enemy is nearby, and you don’t want to risk blowing your cover by peeking.
Blake’s camera can also perform some state-of-the-art optical character recognition (OCR), whereby any story notes you pick up are transcribed, so that you can read them more easily. At certain points in the story, if you have your camera out, it will automatically begin recording some events, with a red circle that slowly fills up as you record the right area. You can use the camera’s menu to view your footage immediately afterword, where Blake will also narrate the footage, almost as if he is putting together a documentary of some sort…
Four years have passed since Red Barrels' nerve-shredding debut fuelled nightmares and had horror fans frothing for more, but are you ready to gingerly dip your toe into the imminent sequel?
It's the sequel to Red Barrels' breakout hit and it’s on its way to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. April 25 is the date for your diaries, and this time around, you’ll be stepping into the shoes of Blake Langermann, an investigative journalist and cameraman who joins his wife Lynn for a trip to Arizona’s famous Supai region, which brings us to…
From unhinged psychiatric patients to religious nuts housed up in the most remote community in the United States, Outlast 2 ventures into the Deep South to tell the tale of Blake Langermann, an "investigative journalist and cameraman working alongside his wife, Lynn, crash-lands and roams onto the Supai region of the Sonoran desert while following the mysterious murder of a young, pregnant woman only known as Jane Doe. While searching for his missing wife, Blake must travel through a village cut off from society where a sect that believes the end of days is upon them has taken up residence."
It's set in the same universe as its predecessor, and will be set soon after the horrific events that occurred in Mount Massive.
Per Red Barrels:
"No conflict is ever black and white. But once the dust has settled, the victors get to decide who was right and who was wrong. Who is good and who is evil. Human nature pushes us to extremes of violence and depravity, which we then justify by divine inspiration and a promise of paradise to come. Horror rises from desperation and blind faith. OUTLAST 2 will test your faith, pushing players to a place where going mad is the only sane thing to do."
Featuring the Cross of Saint Peter set ablaze in a creepy cornfield, the first teaser for Outlast 2 is decidedly dark and twisted. Red Barrels, you had our curiosity; now you have our attention.
And you thought the sadistic Richard Trager was bad. Outlast 2 looks set to administer a different, but no less potent dose of nightmare fuel straight from the bowels of Arizona.
Per Red Barrels:
"Children, you lovers of God and registration defenders of His paradise—all our years of suffering come together now on this glorious day of peace... Peace! Even in the corrupt and filthy tongue of the Romans, in the Puritan city... On the fourth month and the twenty-second day of the sixteenth year of the third millennium, our reckoning begins. The spider-eyed lamb waits at the harlot's brace, hungry for this world! Ready your knives, for the good earth thirsts for blood, and we, like the angels, must show no mercy. God loves you."
We're not quivering in fear, you are!
News of Outlast 2 first seeped onto the interwebs three years ago, at which time Red Barrels cautioned that the horror sequel would take a "little bit of time" before it was ready to ship.
Once slated for fall 2016, Red Barrels opted to push Outlast 2 back into 2017. It wasn't long before April 25 was locked in, and the studio explained the delay as so:
"We had to make a difficult decision recently. After weighing our options we’ve decided to postpone Outlast 2’s release until Q1 of 2017.
"We want you to know that we listen to your feedback, we see your excitement and we know you care about our work. Our mission as an indie studio is to deliver to you the best, most terrifying, most fulfilling experiences possible. That’s why we’re taking just a little bit more time to make sure our vision for Outlast 2 is in no way compromised and is the experience you deserve.
"This is not the type of news we ever want to deliver, but we are so fully committed to the world we’ve built and to our awesome community that we could not, in good conscience, release a game who’s limits haven’t been tested to the extreme.
"Thank you for understanding. We promise Outlast 2 will scare the crap out of you."
To offset the disappointment of Outlast 2's delay, Red Barrels rolled out a vertical slice of the survival horror title just in time for Halloween 2016. The free demo was only available up until November 1.
Curious to know how Outlast and its sequel exist in the same universe? The Murkoff Account, a five-part comic book series, is designed to fill in the gaps.
Per Red Barrels:
"The trans-national MURKOFF CORPORATION tirelessly pushes the frontier of scientific research and development. Partnering with the greatest minds of tomorrow, Murkoff expands the reach of every branch of scientific inquiry, including gene therapy, behavioral psychology, information technology, and medicine. In the event of mistake or oversight, the MURKOFF INSURANCE MITIGATION DEPARTMENT comes in to minimize economic fallout. Mitigation Officers are damage control. They are not here to save lives or help people, they are here to make sure it doesn’t cost the company any more than it has to."
Due to a "depiction of implied sexual violence," Outlast 2 was initially denied classification in Australia. That was in March, and after some back and forth between Red Barrels and the Australian Classification Board, Outlast 2 was "rated R18+ by the Classification Branch in Australia and will be released 26th April 2017. There will be only one version of Outlast 2 available worldwide."
However, it does appear as though the sequel was tweaked ever so slightly. Per IGN, the Australian Classification Board said that "it is satisfied that that the original version of the game that was refused classification has been modified to allow the game to be classified R 18+."
Read more at http://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2017/03/24/outlast-2-approved-release-australia-one-version-game-will-available-worldwide/#xALHvmtATrqmUkDo.99
In a follow-up statement, Red Barrels cited a submission error as the main cause for confusion:
"The original submission of Outlast 2 sent to the Australian Classification Branch contained the final game code and a video file for reference taken from an Alpha version of the game. This video file should not have been sent along with the game code, as its content was not representative of the final game.
"In the second submission, the same game code was submitted, with a video file reflecting the final game content. The game was then approved for release with an R18+ rating. There will be only one version of Outlast 2 available worldwide. These will be the final comments made on this release."
As part of PSLS' interview with President Philippe Morin (more on that later), we quizzed the studio's head honcho about the somewhat divisive ending to Outlast:
"I think the main issue with the ending was that we simply ran out of time to stage it well. It was a tricky ending to pull off and it should have been tackled a lot sooner in development."
On a more positive note, sales figures for Red Barrels' maiden title are at 4 million and counting.
Those looking forward to playing Outlast 2 on PS4 Pro are in luck, as Sony's mid-gen hardware upgrade will allow for "higher shadow quality, higher quality texture filtering and more detailed meshes. That’s what we have so far, but we’re still working on some improvements."
Outlast 2 is primarily a first-person horror experience and therefore the perfect fit for PlayStation VR, right?
As the studio's Philippe Morin told PSLS, Outlast 2 won't support VR at launch, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's off the table.
"No, it won’t be. I think that if you want to make a really effective and enjoyable VR game, it has to be built from the ground up for it. Since, we’re a small team of 20 people, we have to focus on one thing at a time. We’ll see once we ship Outlast 2 if we jump on the VR bandwagon."
Watch this extended, 10-minute gameplay for Outlast 2 if you dare.
PSLS caught up with Red Barrels President Philippe Morin to discuss Outlast 2, sales figures, PS4 Pro and the possibility of a physical release.
Our own Chandler Wood got a sneak peek at Outlast 2 back at E3 2016, and walked away shaken, but largely impressed:
"Outlast 2 looks like it breaks up the gameplay and milieu enough to keep each new moment fresh as the game flows terrifyingly forward. With the different environments and new tactics that Red Barrels is coming up with to not only scare players, but psychologically dig into their minds, I am as excited as I am terrified to finally play the full release of Outlast 2 when it launches later this year. We’ll see if I can actually outlast my wife’s incessant teasing of me as I act like a scared little child this time around."
Dubbed the "companion diaper," Red Barrels designed the tie-in product in such a way that it "combines practicality, comfort and style so gamers can experience abject terror without worrying about dirtying their egos (or their couches)."
Sadly, the Outlast 2 diaper will forever be remembered as a far-flung concept, as the Kickstarter campaign ultimately failed to reach its funding goal.
On April 25, Outlast 2 will touch down as a digital-only release. It'll be available for $29.99 USD, but for those of you who prefer physical versions, the Outlast Trinity compilation is right up your street.
Bundling Red Barrels' imminent horror sequel with the original Outlast and its Whistleblower DLC, you'll be able to scoop up the package for $39.99 USD.
Brace yourself, for the launch trailers for both Outlast 2 and Outlast Trinity have clawed their way online.
Paulmichael Contreras will be handling the Outlast 2 review for PSLS. And remember, April 25 is the date for your diaries.
Gotta Get the Shot
This new mechanic drives home the point that Blake is a cameraman and journalist by profession, and the thought of getting the shot remains in the back of your mind as you also try to survive. This emphasis was mostly missing from the original game. However, implementation here could have been a little more intuitive – you often may end up recording the wrong thing despite pointing your camera generally in the right direction, and so Blake’s narration seems a little off since the game is able to capture your exact camera movements at the time of recording. Objects of interest during these moments could have done with some red highlighting to ensure you’d focus on them, but this is ultimately a small issue.
Outlast 2 runs in the Unreal Engine 3, which is a bit unbelievable given that engine’s age. However, with maturity of an engine comes stability. The game hums along on the PlayStation 4, and maintains a solid frame rate no matter what’s going on on-screen. The game’s outdoors environments can be a bit rough-looking at times, especially terrain. In some of the more complicated environments, there is the occasional odd-flashing asset as well. But considering this is Red Barrel’s first crack at such varied environments, this can be forgiven. Where their hard graphics work can be most appreciated is in a certain Catholic schoolhouse that is depicted in numerous nightmare flashbacks peppered throughout the game. You’ll have some serious P.T. vibes while playing these sections – it looks seriously good here and contains some of the game’s best ambiance.
Outlast 2 is an intense adventure that will keep you up for many sleepless nights. Red Barrels knows how to keep players on their toes. The game’s heavily-scripted scenarios can annoy if you don’t get the mechanic at play immediately, and are thus forced to repeat a section multiple times, but generally the formula continues to work in Outlast 2. This is survival horror at its most base level, where you are a mostly defenseless layperson caught up in a horrifying ordeal, who would feel lucky just to escape with your life. The wait was indeed worth it, and Outlast 2 should be on the must-play list of horror fans everywhere.
Review code for Outlast 2 provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.