Game: Outlast 2
Developer: Red Barrels Studio
Console: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 25, 2017
If you’re simply wondering if Outlast 2 is terrifying, the clear answer here is yes. Often while playing the game in its earlier moments I had to decide if I wanted to continue on for this review or come out with a DNF and go watch some cartoons to soothe my tortured soul. Seriously, Outlast 2 has some of the scariest moments you’ll find in a video game.
Outlast 2 harnesses its environmental design and setting to extract a general sense of dread, creating the first layer of underlying fear and anxiety that you take with you through the game’s entirety. It’s the base of the horror smoothie that the devs have created. The second ingredient is the horror found in being chased by the unknown. Even two hours in, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was actually running from, simply because I didn’t want to stand around and find out.
Chase sequences are hectic, and even after playing, the pit in your stomach will remain. Finding hiding spots and watching your attackers search for you creates some truly tense moments. Hiding under a bed and watching your predator stand in the room you’re hiding in will get your heart pumping. Hiding in a wardrobe, entirely encased in darkness forces you to only use your hearing to tell when the coast is clear, and it’s just one of the many tense moments you’ll find yourself in.
Visually speaking, Outlast 2 looks great, and it runs smoothly at a full 1080p 60fps, without a single framerate issue or technical glitch to be found. In fact, it’s commendable that Red Barrels Studio is able to deliver a steady framerate because it helps players to feel entirely immersed in the world they’ve created. Character models have a much better design than in the original Outlast, with each character looking more detailed and fully realized than in its predecessor. (Although, to be fair, in many cases you won’t notice or care how a character looks; you just know you want to run the hell away from it).
Scattered around the game’s many environments are numerous demonic displays, ranging from contorted humans hanging from chains, crucified dead bodies, blood, barbed wire, and a multitude of scripture verses and warnings found painted in blood. Of course, the game is generally dark, and since there are no brightness settings in any of the game’s menus, you’ll be begging for light by the end of it all.
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Dynamic lighting and environmental realization is key here, and it’s clear that the developer put a lot of care into crafting their backwoods world. Flickering lights are certainly not a new idea in horror games, but when it’s just one of the numerous subtle details contributing to the game’s atmosphere, it’s done right. That’s the case with Outlast 2; the moving and flickering lights mess with your mind. Seeing a moving shadow, or rather, thinking you’re seeing a moving shadow only adds to the feeling of dread.
But even more impressive is Outlast 2‘s sound design on all fronts. Composer Samuel Laflamme makes his return to Outlast to try his hand at the different setting in Outlast 2. The soundtrack is filled with pulse-pounding soundscapes, tension, and unknown sounds that are wholly unique to Outlast 2. What I mean by that is that at certain points, the sounds emanating from my headset is so unique that it’s unplaceable, only adding to the apprehension. But it’s not just the game’s general soundscapes that deserve our applaud, as the use of sound effects to drive the fear is also commendable. As you’re making your way through the environment, you’ll hear various types of effects, ranging from distant creeks, clangs, rustling branches, and more. Some of the game’s creepiest moments come from the eerie biblical chanting of the Heretics.
While Outlast 2 might take some cues from other horror games, it does them in its own way. Sure, it has a backwoods setting with paranormal undertones and tense chase sequences like in Resident Evil 7, but it does it to the nth degree. While in RE7, you at least have some options along the lines of weaponry, you have nothing of the sort in Outlast 2, with your only form of defense being to run like hell; this adds that extra layer of fear. There’s also similarities to be drawn between RE7‘s Marguerite Baker and Outlast 2‘s Martha. In fact, in the earlier portions of the game you’re being chased by Martha, and it is reminiscent of the Marguerite chase scenes in RE7. What’s more, there’s the same added fear you get from the possibilities of horrific acts performed against your significant other that both games have. That’s not to say Outlast 2 is wholly derivative of RE7 — it’s not. It does, however, take a few cues from it that are worth mentioning.
The leader of the Testament of the New Ezekiel (the cult you’re up against) and featured antagonist Sullivan Knoth bears definitely strikes a creepy chord, bearing resemblance to Legion‘s big bad demon with the yellow eyes. Although he’s not actually seen in the flesh until later on in the game, you’ll find his portrait scattered about the various houses, and the portrait alone is enough to make you quiver.
Outlast 2 does little wrong in our book, and its constant tension from beginning to end make it a standout in the horror genre. Capturing true fear that’s realistic and believable is a tough thing to do in a video game, when most horror games are filled with monsters, the paranormal, or zombies. But Outlast 2 does it and does it well, and it’s an improvement in all aspects upon the first game in the series — which is what a sequel is supposed to do. It’s most impressive in its use of environment, dynamic lighting, and sound design to create tension, and its these elements that make it a memorable horror experience.
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