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…
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.