There’s something fascinating about the concept of fear. Emotions on a base level can be mostly hidden from others. But fear is something so instinctual that it’s nigh on impossible to conceal, it’s primal and raw, it’s a binary emotion. Video games on the most part have taken their inspiration from films in terms of how it presents horror and fear by implementing the cheapest of fear tactics in media, the jump scare. Well here comes Outlast 2, the king of the jump scare and the queen of Youtubers scream montages.
Outlast preys on a simple concept, the player’s lack of senses. Games can only really access two of the five senses a player has, sight and sound. You can’t feel the air on your skin or smell the putrid flesh littered around you and you can’t taste the smoke in the air; you can only see and hear. Outlast’s main gimmick is removing one of these senses, your sight. With only your night vision camera for company, in Outlast you play a cameraman who’s helicopter has crashed in the arse crack of nowhere America and your reporter (also your wife) has been taken by some people who subscribe to a religion, and in the game’s logic that means they must be insane.
Honestly, I don’t subscribe to any faith myself but as an overly sensitive social justice warrior it’s hard not to see an issue with the fact that there are three religions covered and represented in this game, and literally all of them are made up of murderers. There seems to be a subconscious, or maybe conscious, bias from the game’s writers to just make religion the bad guy here. Don’t get me wrong, that’s mostly fine as a story arc and there has to be a bad guy somewhere, but man, it’s just not very subtle about it.
You as the protagonist decide to venture out into the woods and find your missing partner. To start with the Christian’s have her, and then some heretics ( psuedo-Pagans) nab her and then basically you’re wandering around trying to stumble upon your lady. The game does a great job of giving you an objective of go from point A to point B and then make the most convoluted route possible. It’s genuinely impressive how confusing an amazingly linear game can be in terms of direction of travel.
The moment to moment gameplay of Outlast 2 is quite repetitive, you’ll enter a camp or building and one of three things will happen; you’ll either have to avoid the stumbling religious nuts, run away from a religious nut who can spot you no matter what and insta-kill you or you’ll be scavenging and looking for bandages to heal up any mishaps that have befallen you or grabbing batteries to keep your one way to see the world going, your camera.
The camera is actually a fascinating mechanic in Outlast 2. You’ll need it to be able to see as 95% of the game is in areas best described as “dark as hell”. The batteries do last a fair while but as soon as they start to run low you’ll be getting a flickery image that when it does show is so out of focus it does start to hurt my eyes. The camera does take some suspension of disbelief, if this was a third person game you’ll see that in some cutscenes your character is just holding the camera up at completely illogical times and in cutscenes that have the player getting punched the fist always comes right into the lens.
The main reason people will be wanting to play Outlast 2 is down to the series reputation as a scarefest. And I can confirm, yes, I jumped during Outlast 2. But honestly, that’s not the horror you should be looking for in Outlast 2. There’s a few moments in Outlast 2 that have stuck with me days after I completed it. I can’t go into a their details as to be honest it’s worth experiencing the ride yourself. But in the opening 30 minutes there’s a set piece that got me to a level I don’t usually feel with horror. All horror tastes are personal but in Outlast 2 occasionally they justify the world and the game in a way that is comforting to know thought went into. Talking about the player’s senses before I mentioned the inability to touch the world around you, but in Outlast 2 you do have control, you can choose where to walk and what to hide under. Early in the game you’re ambushed by various people and two of them pin you down to the ground, you’ve lost you ability to move and you can’t control the situation, all you can do is watch as someone goes over to your wife and straddles her creepily. There’s something to being restrained and having an inability to do anything that really struck me and unsettled me throughout this scene. The same concept is replicated a couple of times later in the game and it works, it really works.
It’s hard to say that Outlast 2 looks amazing, graphically when there’s light it does a good job, in fact there’s a few scenes in a school that look damn close to photo realistic, but when the rest of the game is near pitch black or occasionally through a green hazy night vision camera it’s a tough thing to compliment. Also the frame rate takes a battering during larger vista scenes in the mountains of America but on the most part the PS4 version on a non Pro model handled things fine.
The main thing this boils down to is ‘if you’re not a youtuber will you enjoy this game?’ and to be honest, yes. There’s a lot to mock about the game and the series, as I have been doing. But there’s no denying, it was an intense experience from start to finish for the 8 hour run.The jump scares can be incredibly predictable and the story goes…places. I would love to spoil so much about this game as around act two Outlast 2 just seems to throw its hands up in the air and say ‘fuck it’ whilst huffing glue and drinking vodka but obviously I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience. And that’s what this game is, it’s an experience, there isn’t much ‘game’ here, sure you occasionally have a puzzle like ‘find this crank to turn this wheel’, but really you’re just going from point a to point b looking for the next bit of horror to give you a jump, a hit of adrenaline and then for the calm come down after fear has struck. Much like reviews, fear is subjective, but Outlast 2 does at least try, and occasionally it will make you look into your webcam and scream.