Alright, so my headline is a bit misleading. I’m not out. I’m all in with Outlast 2, but I’m such a chicken I want desperately to be out. You should have seen me there standing in the Microsoft booth (which is scary enough by itself for a PlayStation guy like me), a crowd of people and lights all around me, and yet I’m still terrified of everything that is stalking me through cornfields, barnyards, and oddly enough, a school. It’s the same feeling I had when I first previewed the original Outlast three years ago, yet it’s in a completely different environment and fear permeates the player in a completely different way. How have they managed to evoke the same kinds of fear responses from the player, and yet evolve off of the original enough to avoid growing stale from the same old tricks?
The first way is simple. Anyone who has ever worn glasses knows the fear of losing or destroying those in a crisis situation, and if you haven’t, let me assure you it’s a terrifying proposition. I’m glad I’ve gotten laser surgery and don’t need to worry about that kind of thing when I find myself stranded in a backwoods town with murderous people things. Horror movies have shown this aspect before, as characters who struggle with poor vision try to find their glasses when certain death is looming, but I can’t recall it being implemented into a game. The demo opens with the audio of what sounded like a helicopter crashing. Two video journalists were on board, and as Blake Langermann, you wake up and are instantly worried about your wife Lynn. The screen is blurry though, and it doesn’t get clearer until Blake scrambles around for a moment and finds his glasses. This technique is used a couple more times to instill fear, and as a previous member of the visually impaired, it set up some great scares.
Through the Lens of a Camera
Blake sets off through the town ahead, and again we’re using the camera’s night vision mode to pierce through the darkness. The beeping battery indicator still drives a level of horror as you pray to whatever deity still cares that you either have a stock of batteries or that you’ll find some up ahead. Psychological horror played a critical role in the first game, but Outlast 2 steps it up a notch by taking away comfort zones and doing the unexpected. One transition had me being grabbed by a tongue like thing and pulled into a well before waking up in a tight and narrow vent that collapsed and left me in a brightly lit school classroom decidedly unlike the dingy and terrifying village I had just come from. When you give me a safe spot like this, I’m just expecting things to go to hell sooner rather than later.
This is soon followed by a sequence of running up and down the school hallway only to be met by locked doors before being assaulted by something on the third or fourth repetition. This portion does an excellent job of forcing the player into a sense of trying to figure out how to proceed, only to then scare the ever living fuck out of you. Excuse my language, but that’s just how things are. It’s little things like this that show Red Barrels has gotten into players’ minds and used how they traditionally play games against them, targeting the scares for the opportune moments when they know you’ll be at your most vulnerable. I actually played this demo myself but just realized I’m projecting with words like “you” and “the player” here because it really was that eerily terrifying. See how the psychological impact affects me hours later?
And of course it wouldn’t be an Outlast game without those moments that just make you feel icky. They like to go between the feeling of discomfort and jump scares, and add in some good genital mutilation just for effect. In Outlast’s Whistleblower DLC, it was watching somebody else have their crotch sent through a buzzsaw (and very nearly having it happen to yourself). At the end of the Outlast 2 demo however, it’s far more of a blunt force trauma. Just after finding his glasses again, Blake is thrown onto his back by an insane lady and a pickax embeds itself very firmly into the lower part of his pelvic bone. He looks down at the gaping bloody void that used to be his crotch as she scrapes the pickax away and lifts it again for the killing blow. It’s drawn out enough to make you feel quite gross, but short enough to leave you wondering if you really just saw that happen.
One of the biggest issues with the first game was the tendency to have the ambiance wear quite thin by the end of the game. 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.