Panic-stricken, I throw myself to my stomach and begin to claw away hurriedly at the earth with my hands; my fingernails quickly beginning to fill, empty and then refill with soil as I crawl, pull and rake away at the dirt beneath my body to gain any form of forward shifting momentum. Behind me, the grunts of a sinister being can be heard, its presence mimics my every move as I frantically attempt to make my escape through a seemingly never-ending tight crevasse; etching myself closer towards a distant light that would see me escape this eerie darkness.
I make the split-second decision to glance back at the twisted creation that would chase me throughout my claustrophobic hell, that choice would turn out to be one of many unfortunate missteps during my 6 or so hours with Outlast 2; stepping forward from the burnt out wreckage of a helicopter to discover my pilot attached to a tree, removed of all flesh and wrapped up tightly with razor sharp barbed wire, another of my horrid mistakes.
Outlast 2: Windows PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 [Reviewed]
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Release Date: 25 April 2017
Price: $29.99[Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
From the moment that very same helicopter which had previously carried journalist couple Blake and Lynn Langermann dropped out of the night sky somewhere over the desert plains of Arizona, Outlast 2 like Outlast tirelessly sets about earning its scares.
When it first released in 2013, the constricted confines of Outlast‘s supposed abandoned setting, Mount Massive Asylum provided the perfect breeding ground for hysteria, lunacy and unbridled suffering; a terror that reporter Miles Upshur and I would endure to the very end. Still, in spite of the ballsy reporter’s voluntary and then involuntary cascade into a hellish madness, nothing would prepare me for the terror that awaited one cameraman in his search for his beloved, deep in America’s terrifying Southwest.
Clutching a handheld camera tightly in one hand, Blake Langermann, like colleague Upshur ventures onward to document and record the harrowing events awaiting him ahead via the collection and conservation of batteries, a returning trait in Outlast 2 like the camera itself which featured so prominently during 2013’s indie breakout hit – Outlast.
For some though, the required discovery and use of batteries may be perceived an unnecessary ploy, designed to elicit unwarranted exploration or to frustrate the player to the brink of despair, yet it’s through that very exploration that Outlast and its successor arguably shine the brightest; its battery requirement, a necessary evil.
The fragile life of a single tiny battery not only intensifies the surrounding tension, it elevates it to a palpable state whereby thorough exploration of Outlast 2‘s grotesque unpleasantries is forcefully imposed upon me as I frantically search a chest of drawers, dining tables, abandoned tents or beside a long-decayed corpse for the rare bright object of my salvation.
Like Outlast, light or the camera’s night vision is your only friend; your camera – your lifeblood, without it the veil drops and paranoia quickly sets in. Although it’s incredibly tempting to allow the battery to drain of its life; to feign ignorance in the pitch black, sadly though, Outlast 2 refuses to afford me that luxury, instead, torturing and haunting my every step.
With wife Lynn mysteriously vanished, not among what little remains of the helicopter, husband Blake is forced to push onwards toward the glow of a remote village town. Where there should have been nothing but deserted wilderness, mountain ridges and spiky cactuses, it opens itself up into a self-contained populated area fitted out with wooden huts, a chapel, cornfields, lake and mining facility.
The sight of Outlast 2‘s setting is met by a story of confliction. One that is deeply seeded within opposing religious beliefs. Bellowing from loud booming speakers, the preaching voice of Sullivan Knoth can be heard, “God loves you” he echoes, a phrase that for a few seconds, fill me with some hope that help might be close at hand, rather though, Knoth, in fact, heads up an army of heretics, a strong numbered sect that believes the world is coming to an end and sees Blake as a possible sacrificial lamb.
The arrival of Blake and his wife Lynn to this quaint mining town trigger a nerve-shredding religious tug of war between differing beliefs that ultimately lay the foundations for which this horrific tale is situated upon. Though seldom appearing in person, the unerring weight of Knoth’s overwhelming self-righteousness resonates greatly from the collection and study of each piece of milky white paper adorning his various scribblings, letters about the man himself or addressed to him, presented in-game as collectables. While it’s clear many worship the self-proclaimed ramblings of this overweight egotistical Ezekiel, those who oppose him or cross him are dealt a severe punishment, as witnessed by the macabre trophies that hang, lie or rot in most scenes.
Knoth’s followers roam the village and surrounding areas seeking to act out the word of their famed prophet with unhealthy results, but even those evil doers that seek to strike fear into the player character at most turns have themselves a figure to fear. That figure – Martha – a dark oddity of a woman whose mere presence alone is enough to send the knife waving acolytes scrambling into hiding; slamming their wooden doors shut in haste upon her coming about.
Wielding a glowing miners axe, Martha’s appearance during pre-determined segments in Outlast 2 spell trouble for Blake and anyone else in her way; her introduction, often to prevent the protagonist from accomplishing laid out puzzles.
Whilst its puzzles have an air of simplicity about them, each result in further exploration or backtracking to locate a specific object for Blake such as the retrieval of a meat hook to pull open a hatch near a rather disgusting abattoir or locating a cog to prevent a wheel from turning. One glimpse of Martha’s fast-moving figure or the sound of her whispered words of madness will likely halt any or all progression, forcing the player to retreat, hide and re-evaluate to work a way around the deadly obstruction.
Disfigured creatures, the angry mob of bloody thirsty cult followers or Martha aside, interestingly, the most disturbing aspect taken from my time with Outlast 2 came in the form of flashbacks that occur to Blake at times throughout, whisking the protagonist from his current predicament to relive sequences or memories of the religious school he once attended as a boy.
It’s within these moments that Outlast 2‘s graphical fidelity expertly gleams. The school’s hallways lined with bright blue lockers show an almost photorealistic detail to them, a set design that comfortably separates its itself from the horror residing beneath the stars over Arizona, but it’s not all pretty. Projectors inside classrooms display disturbing hangman’s noose images, the boy’s locker room floods with blood, while a scripted swimming pool chase will have those afraid of water struggling to stay afloat.
Sparatic as they seemingly appear and then disappear, these flashbacks excellently break up passages of frantic exploration and gameplay from the horrors of modern day realisation; slowing down the pace and tone of the game as one blurred fragment mixes with the next to unravel and create its own side story before returning to reality.
Of its improvements, Outlast 2‘s setting is by far its biggest change. Doing away with the padded cells, the labyrinth of tightly knitted corridors and grimy dampness of Mount Massive’s rotten sewage system, Outlast 2‘s setting poses an entirely new threat. Sprinting to a nearby room to stow away in a locker, cupboard or submerging yourself beneath the water of a barrel might have sufficed in Outlast, in most instances in Outlast 2, however, the large-scale environments make evading a pursuer or group of enemies a far more daunting and morally draining task.
For all of its wide open spaces, Outlast 2 feels a far more linear experience when compared to its 2013 predecessor. As in Outlast, much of a players internal survival instincts rely greatly on a trial and error system that will have you dicing with death on a continuous basis as you cross paths with sharp object brandishing enemies while attempting to locate the only plausible exit to the next hell, be it a hole burrowed beneath a picket fence or by pulling yourself up and through an opening above a door. Thanks to the nature of Outlast 2‘s level designs, escape can be overcome largely without too much frustration.
In 2013, Red Barrels succeeded in blending a haunting atmosphere with a frenzied paranoia and all the suspense of a Hitchcock movie to brilliantly execute a tension-packed outing with Outlast, in 2017 the studio took that same formula to an entirely new level with semi-sequel Outlast 2. Brandishing a perfectly balanced pace that will have you racing for your life one moment before screeching to a halt to bear witness to its mausoleum of grotesque mutilation in the next, Outlast 2 is an unsettling roller coaster of an experience that grabs you firmly by the throat before dragging you into the depths of hell.