Red Barrels latest entry into the psychological horror genre feels like a step in the right direction for the award-winning indie developer. Outlast 2, unlike its predecessor, presents an openness to its linear gameplay that puts the player in a constant position of fear, tension and vulnerability.
The narrative follows the story of Blake Langermann, a journalist who’s helicopter crashes in rural America. From the offset Outlast 2 begins to build suspense. A dark opening presents its self to the player, the centre illuminated by the wreckage of Langermann’s helicopter and the mangled body of the pilot fixed to a post by tightly wrapped barbed wire.
With fast farms, rural areas and village alleyways to explore Outlast 2 uses it’s environment to develop a sinister tone throughout. Unlike Outlast where enemies would often appear out of nowhere bursting round the tight corridors of Mount Massive Asylum, the sequel instead celebrates the use of NPC’s in open play.
This tactic does two things for the overall sense of fear that the title hopes to promote. Firstly, it creates a constant feeling of being outnumbered. Quite often there’ll be multiple enemies searching for you throughout the rural areas of the game. But, moreover there’s a sense of uncertainty that comes with that, the dimly lit spaces whilst open are often populated by small buildings, bodies of water or other immovable objects that the patrolling religious fanatics can easily disappear behind. It’s often difficult to be certain of the number of people you’re hiding from or the exact timing at which to move from one hiding place to another.
The dimly lit spaces whilst open are often populated by small buildings, bodies of water or other immovable objects that the patrolling religious fanatics can easily disappear behind
With a vast amount of the game set in the “great outdoors” so to speak, the range of available spaces in which to hide in has grown. Unlike the first game, however, Outlast 2 offers some spaces that can be utilised for a limited time. Filled barrels and bodies of water are often necessary to avoid the fleeting gaze of a killer, but spend too long in these places and Blake will quickly need to come up for air. This technique of adopting a timed environment into Outlast’s gameplay can lead to panic fuelled situations where thinking on your feet is key to avoiding detection.
Filled barrels and bodies of water are often necessary to avoid the fleeting gaze of a killer, but spend too long in these places and Blake will quickly need to come up for air
Alongside the interesting water based mechanics, the new title also gives players the option to lock many of the doors that you’ll discover throughout the game. Though I often found this to work against my favour, on many occasions forgetting to close windows and inevitably locking myself into a room with a fast approaching maniac closing in on the open entrance to the building.
Outlast 2 in a similar vein to its predecessor has brought a video camera into its gameplay. Whilst I enjoy the use of the night vision mode that the camera adds to the game, overall I find its incorporation into the Outlast franchise too often deducting from the overall experience. Firstly, both Blake and Miles seem to have bought cameras that suffer from major battery faults, the power on those things is a joke. Yes, it’s certainly necessary to develop a survival instinct, but because it has to do this, it detracts from the reality that the device brings to the experience.
In addition, how many people in this backwater environment just so happen to have batteries strewn across their houses. True, they all have torches and it definitely feels far more plausible than the previous title where batteries appeared to litter across the inside of a mental asylum, but it’s a rather large coincidence that every battery found seems to be the exact shape and fit to work with that damn video camera.
It’s a rather large coincidence that every battery found seems to be the exact shape and fit to work with that damn video camera
Moving on. Cut-aways. I think Outlast 2 almost perfectly adopts cut-away moments into its gameplay to enrich its narrative. These sections transport Blake into a school, from the opening it appears as if these areas of gameplay are resulting hallucinations from the nasty crash that you’re involved in at the start of the story. These areas directly contrast from the game’s main quest line whilst also adding a relatability to its tone. The school offers some direct contrasts to the usual setting. The inhabitants of the deprived society that make up the majority of play are cut off from the civilization, they appear uneducated and living by a severe and unforgiving religious code. Their houses are basic, dirty and possess very few signs of technology throughout.
The school, on the other hand, looks typical for that of an American high school. It’s an area filled with signs of modernity – lights, lockers, clean rooms and even an organised bookshelf or two. True, it’s still at a time where blackboards were a prevalent method of teaching, and religious undertones help to connect the two worlds, but from the outset, the theme of religion is presented in two very different ways. The school feels cherry picked from a book of horror tropes. It’s not long before the game starts pushing its disturbing imagery into the clean kept halls of high school. These sections are also well integrated into the title’s overall play, often Blake will blur in and out of the school, with a jumpscare or two helping to link between worlds.
I thoroughly enjoyed Red Barrels bold decision to explore dark religious tones throughout its gameplay. Notes litter the cut-off world depicting scenes of murder, adultery, lust and the killing of children. Whilst it’s hard to say I enjoyed reading these, I thought the decision to include such controversial themes within the game was one that worked in Outlast 2’s favour.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my time with Outlast 2. It’s a game that constructs horror well, not relying too often on cheap jump scares but instead creating a sinister world that swallows you up into the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and vulnerability. An impressive horror game that acts as a suitable successor to its popular previous installment.
This copy of Outlast 2 was supplied as a review code by Evolve Terminals, representing Red Barrels. Our Editor in Chief, Jared Moore has spent 6 hours playing at a safe six metre distance from the screen so that you don’t have to!