Outlast 2 offers up a mix of jumpscares and twisted cult horror in a disturbing, unnerving package. But while the sequel doesn’t do anything majorly wrong, per say, it also doesn’t pack the same punch as the original. It takes no major strides forward to keep the formula fresh and terrifying. As a result, Outlast 2 isn’t as consistently scary as the original. But thanks to solid storytelling and moments of pure horror, it’s still a follow-up worth playing.
Outlast 2 puts players in the shoes of Blake Langermann, a journalist headed to the Arizona desert along with his wife, Lynn, to investigate the suspected murder of an unidentified pregnant woman. But during the couple’s trip to their destination, their helicopter crashes, separating the two. The player must help Blake find Lynn, armed with nothing more than a video camera, some batteries, and a pocketful of bandages.
As Blake pushes into the desert, he comes in contact with a cult that believes the end is near and that the Langermanns are involved in the impending apocalypse. The story becomes one of not just finding Lynn, but of simply surviving.
The gameplay is focused on slinking around the game’s environment without getting caught. Blake has no weapons and runs from his enemies instead. The game’s suspense revolves around making hasty escapes and staying alive while enemies follow close behind. Combined with the game’s spooky story, it all culminates in an engrossing experience.
The storytelling is better in some ways than the original and worse in others. In a direct sense, Outlast 2 tells a more straightforward and arguably better story. This time around, the protagonist can speak and sometimes interacts verbally with other characters. It’s not that Blake talks much, but that when he does talk, it adds to the experience more so than the oddly quiet Miles Upshur from the original did.
In the original, papers and other indirect cues scattered throughout the game helped weave an intricate tale, but in Outlast 2, they don’t hold as much weight. I don’t feel as though I would have missed much had I not collected pages as I progressed. It’s a bit unfortunate because it takes away the investigative “I’m a journalist, and I’m going to get to the bottom of this” feel the series was built on. Outlast 2 feeds the player more of the story rather than letting him or her figure it out independently.
The story itself is a two-pronged head-scratcher. There are essentially two storylines present in the game: One in the present and one told through flashbacks. The new back-and-forth approach is carried out impeccably. The transitions feel silky smooth and make the game feel even more eerie and complex than if it had told a single story. And the stellar voice acting really helped sell the whole experience. Even after taking some time to decompress, I’m not sure I fully grasp what happened in Outlast 2, but it’s not for a lack of bad storytelling. It’s due to my own inability to wrap my head around it and connect the dots.
A couple other changes mark Outlast 2. First, Blake’s camera is equipped with a microphone feature as well as zoom and night vision modes. The microphone can be used to easily detect which direction a sound is coming from and how close it is, something especially useful when hiding in the dark. But knowing where the enemy is takes away a level of suspense. It’s a give/take scenario. The other change is that Blake can use the aforementioned bandages to heal himself when injured. This, unlike the microphone, adds some suspense, because healing of heavy damage doesn’t occur manually, and the screen will be obscured with blood until the player gets patched up.
Most notably, the game takes advantage of the outdoors. Much of the original Outlast took place within the walls of the Mount Massive Asylum, but Outlast 2 includes many changes in scenery. Cramped, indoor portions of the map still instill a fear of feeling trapped, but jaunts outdoors can leave the player feeling frantically helpless and unsure of where to run. The variety thrown into Outlast 2’s map is probably the single greatest improvement made upon the formula and helps redeem the fact that the game can sometimes feel stale.
I say it sometimes feels stale because during most of my six-and-a-half hour playthrough, I had a good sense of when something bad was going to happen. Only on a handful of occasions did the game legitimately scare me the same way its older sibling did. I had a good sense of the formula by playing the original game, and because the sequel did little to switch it up, the experience just wasn’t as scary as the original.
Don’t misunderstand: the enemies are still gruesome, the cult is certainly disturbing, finding and conserving batteries is still nerve wracking, and everything else about the game feels like a horror game and like Outlast should. But it also feels predictable much more often than it probably should. The original was terrifying because it utilized the mechanics that made it new and unique. But Outlast 2 doesn’t change the formula much and often feels like a “been there, done that” experience. It doesn’t make the same, constantly terrifying punch as the original, but it still maintains the freaky, revolting vibe. It certainly feels suspenseful but lacks the original’s plethora of outright terrifying moments that made me frequently put the controller down.
The soundtrack adds magnificently to that suspense and often acts as an audial cue that something bad is about to happen, as it should. The sound design, for the most part, makes the player feel like he or she is in Blake’s shoes. Even without the camera’s new microphone, it’s possible to listen for footsteps and screams relative to the player’s location. The only odd sound effect occurs when walking through hay in the game’s barns. Rather than a gentle rustling, walking through hay produces a sharp, loud sound akin to a horde of people sliding around right behind the player. Visually, the game makes great use of lighting, shadows, water reflections and more. Outlast 2 looks as great as it sounds, and the visuals enhance the eeriness of the experience.
But the game does have one outright misstep. A new mechanic encourages the player to record certain scenes. At some points, a red circle will begin to fill in the screen’s center when Blake points his camera at important footage. The player should aim at the scene until the circle completely fills. In many instances, the player will have to stare at something as static and mundane as a dead body for 10-15 seconds when a simple still image would have sufficed. The mechanic just seems unnecessary.
Everything above isn’t to say the quality of Outlast 2 is bad. It’s not a bad game at all. There are suspenseful chases that made my heart pound. There are puzzling instances of learning how to outsmart a foe and progress to the next segment. There are sickening depictions of violence, gore and supernatural freakshows. And there are certainly heartstopping moments of terror. All the hallmarks of a good Outlast game are still there. It’s just that for the most part, the game has less shock value for the veterans who soldiered through the first. Newcomers, however, will likely find Outlast 2 as terrifying as the rest of us found the original.