I consider myself somewhat of a horror fanatic across all mediums, much to the dismay of my social circles and mom. I love the adrenaline rush you get from watching horror movies, or the nerve-wrecking experiences horror video games can conjure up. After the first Outlast game mostly craved my desire for a good horror title that puts atmosphere and dread ahead of gameplay mechanics, I was interested to see where Outlast 2 would take this new-found formula that was so quickly replicated by the indie-gaming scene. I began the game with a lot of enthusiasm, but it deflated slowly and painfully as the game progressed.
Outlast 2 begins with the plane crash (quite the metaphor) of a news crew who get stranded in the mountains while investigating a mysterious religious cult. Blake Langermann, the main character, wakes up to find his wife missing and pilot skinned alive and hung on a cross. Blake realizes this isn’t going to an ordinary walk in the park, so he equips a camera and heads out into a town inhabited by backwards religious zealots who hold his wife captive.
The game, at least on a bare concept, should sound familiar to those who already played this year’s (and much superior) Resident Evil 7. Blake, like Ethan, is an everyday man who must go against some pretty disgusting nightmares to save his beloved, but while Resident Evil 7 at least developed its protagonist to somewhat likable standards, Outlast 2 has a problem trying to figure out what to do with Blake. He doesn’t possess any defining characteristics at all, so getting on his good side when things go awry can be difficult. It’s probably intentional, but sacrificing characters for the sake of “immersion” is not the best way to go about creating a great horror game. It should at least present a believable protagonist with a clear-cut goal that escalates with progression, but Blake has no such aspirations outside of whatever the player projects on him.
Outlast 2, apart from a cast of pretty bland and uninspired characters, also sports a muddled plot with barely any urgency in its progression; a staple of the first game that unfortunately can’t find its stride here. The idea of infiltrating a religious cult in the middle of the mountains is horrifically enticing and should provide ample opportunities for horror, but it sadly amounts to the repetitive task of hiding and dodging hillbillies far weaker than you – or so it should seem. With so many weapons lying around, one would think Blake would at least arm himself against an onslaught of delusional zealots, but it never gives players that freedom. Instead, it irritably confines them to a formula that Outlast should’ve at least broken in a sequel; the chance to defend yourself in some shape or form. While I get it’s not the intention of the game, it also doesn’t make sense in the context of the situations to not have your character retaliate accordingly. I don’t think going the Resident Evil route of arming Blake with an arsenal would be wise, but a melee object or two might suffice.
The run-and-hide horror sub-genre has had plenty of great entries, namely the first Outlast and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but in an age where (once again, I hate to bring this up but it must be said) Resident Evil 7 has single-handedly reinvented the horror genre, Outlast 2 seems too stuck in the past to try and switch up its own formula for the better. It pioneered it in some way, but it doesn’t mean lightning will strike twice in the same place either.
For as much as I can criticize the plot and characters of Outlast 2, I must sing praises about the graphics and sound design of the game. On a technical level, Outlast 2 is bloody excellent. The graphics are a blend of hyper-real environments and refined, eye-popping textures that all contribute to the dreary feeling of isolation and confusion that the game prides itself on. From the grassy, dark cornfields to the incredible school dream sequences, the visual fidelity of the game is astounding (plus, the raining blood segment of the game is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in the horror genre).
Sound design is, for lack of a better word, near-perfect. It utilizes the quiet intensity of the fine details, such as the rustling of leaves or Blake’s gentle footsteps on the various floors. It all culminates in a beautiful, symphonic orchestra of delightful horror soundscape that never once failed to awe. It’s a pity that the plot doesn’t carry these technical achievements.
Outlast 2 is a missed opportunity for greatness. It could’ve easily built upon the mechanics and formula of the first game while injecting it with new ideas, but it never goes that extra mile. In fact, it rehashes everything the first game offered and only tweaks the setting to an admittedly poignant occult town, but even then, it feels like wasted potential given the simple-minded nature of Blake and his inability to do anything other than scream and hide, even if the game is primarily built around the premise of being completely helpless – the least the game could do is create a compelling protagonist. Outlast 2 may be fun if you’re looking for a visual treat, but try not to set any expectations.