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Outlast 2 review diary: part one

Outlast 2

The original Outlast still remains one the best horror games I’ve experienced (and was in fact one of the first titles I reviewed for Gearburn). Now, three and a half years later, Canadian indie studio, Red Barrels, has released the next chapter of their sinister franchise, Outlast 2.

But how will it hold up to its predecessors? The previous two entries were quite unique at the time but, by now, the Outlast formula has been established: “Run, hide or die”.

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In this review diary I will be documenting my experience as I search for these answers… hopefully effectively supressing my fears as I do so.

I will be going into a lot of detail so there will be minor spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.

Entry #1 – Welcome to the hillbilly nightmare

Duration: 50 minutes
Difficulty: Hard

As I start the game I am met with a familiar sight, a short line reading: “Outlast 2 contains intense violence, gore, graphic sexual content and strong language. Please enjoy.” A small hint of nostalgia stirs within me as I read those last two words.

As they fade away I am presented with a small paragraph setting the premise of the story:

“Lynn Langermann is an investigative journalist seeking the answers behind a pregnant woman murdered under impossible circumstances in rural Arizona. You are Blake Langermann, her husband, assistant, and cameraman. Record everything. Neither of you are fighters; navigate the horrors waiting for you in the desert, you only choices are to run, hide, or die.”

I give a slight nod. This will be the first time in an Outlast title you will have a companion. I’m excited to see how it will pan out but I’m not sure how long it will last.

I press continue and for a moment the screen goes black. I can hear the voice of a woman in distress. She is calling out Blake’s name. Suddenly, the scene changes and Blake finds himself sitting in a flying helicopter. It was just a dream. Blake’s wife, Lynn, is sitting across from him and for the next few seconds they launch into a small argument because he continuously said the name “Jessica” in his sleep.

The characters feel at ease with each other and their conversation draws me in, immersing me in the moment. I’ve only encountered Blake and Lynn for a few seconds but I’m already curious to know more about them.

In this shot period I realise two things. Outlast 2’s graphics are absolutely gorgeous, the character animations fluid and realistic, and the voice acting convincing and genuine. All of this would be further echoed later in the game.

The married couple eventually get past their argument and Lynn suggests they start recording the intro. Blake picks up the small handheld camera in front of him, the staple “weapon” of the Outlast franchise (and the closest thing you’re ever going to get to a weapon).

As he starts filming, I can see nothing but the endless mountainous landscape of the Supai region stretching outside the helicopter window. We’re obviously in the middle of nowhere. After a Google search, I learned just how off-the-grid this place can get. It’s so remote that, apart from Microsoft Word not even recognizing the name, it can only be reached by helicopter or foot, and still gets its mail delivered by mule.

Blake starts filming the intro and for a brief moment everything seems calm. But this wouldn’t be an Outlast game if everything didn’t go to shit. And it does. Suddenly, the helicopter starts careening uncontrollably in the air. Lynn almost flies out the now open helicopter door but Blake manages to pull her back in at the last moment.

Everything becomes a blurry mess and then, BAM… crash landing.

Once again, everything goes black and for a brief moment the Outlast 2 logo appears, burning upside-down cross and all, and in another abrupt shift, Blake suddenly finds himself in an abandoned school hall. There are no windows but I have the distinctive feeling that it’s late at night.

As he makes his way through the hallway, Blake encounters some basic horror clichés: an ominous droning score, the sound of glass breaking in the distance, a locker door inexplicably opening up by its lonesome as he walks by… almost predictable but admittedly still quite effective judging by my current heart rate. Blake on the other hand seems quite fine.

I take a closer look at the poltergeist locker. Inside you can see a few photos of school children and a prize ribbon carrying the name “Jessica”. That’s the second time this name has come up in the last five minutes. Curious.

I eventually make it to the end of the hallway but just as I am about to walk through the exit, the doors shut in my face, propelling Blake backwards. The music peaks and my heart rate along with it. I swing around and see a young school girl. She whispers the words “we’re not alone” as a wall of blood comes flooding from behind her. And once again everything goes black. Blake must have fallen asleep again.

Typical Blake.

Once again we’re back in Supai. Night has fallen and the forest around me has become a mass of dark, ominous shapes. Blake seems in a pretty good condition for someone who has just survived a helicopter crash, taking into account the way he thrusts a large and heavy metal helicopter door off his body.

His vigour fills me with confidence and I immediately start walking towards the burning helicopter wreckage in the distance, somehow not registering that I’m walking Blake right off a sheer cliff. Blake has been under my control for mere minutes and already I’ve sent him plummeting to his death. Sorry Blake.

Fortunately, after a very brief loading time, I’m back in the land of the living. This is a relief, considering that death is something Blake will probably exercise quite a few times before this sinister adventure is over.

This time around I take the pathway down the cliff instead of just blindly walking off it. I’ve decided taking more of a patient and careful approach would probably serve me better for the rest of the game. After a series of drops, slides and shimmies, I can confidently say that Outlast 2’s environment feels considerably more dynamic than its predecessors’.

As I approach the wreckage, Blake notices the lack of bodies. Lynn and the pilot must have gotten out. But where are they? I’m also prompted to start filming: “Important events will automatically be recorded when your camera is raised.”

This mechanic is a new addition to the Outlast franchise and one I quite enjoy, as you’re able to review this footage exactly the way you recorded it, giving your gameplay experience its own unique flair.

But this isn’t a watch-a-helicopter-burn simulator so I move on. Beyond the light of the burning wreckage the world grows pitch black. I take out my camera and switch to night vision. It barely lights up more than a few feet in front of me and, in fact, only makes the whole experience a whole lot creepier.

Luckily, there’s camp fire burning not too far away. But then I get closer…. I think I’ve found the pilot. He’s tied to a tree with his entrails hanging out. I assume this is not good a sign. Blake is also finally showing some fear and has a mini freak-out. But it seems his journalistic integrity remains intact though, as I’m once again prompted to start filming.

In the next few minutes Blake makes his way through the forest and discovers a small town. My tension is running wearingly high at this point as I wait for the shit to really hit the fan. But it doesn’t, and I’m kept on the very edge of the seat, my breath shallow to the point of non-existence. The constant reminder that my camera’s battery is running low isn’t helping much either.

For some reason Blake feels it’s a good idea to knock on the first door he finds just after seeing his disembowelled pilot. Luckily, nobody is home and we press on.

For the next ten minutes or so I have quite a few tense encounters, including my first sighting of the machete-wielding hillbilly cult sneaking around the town. Another notable moment is the discovery of a pit filled with burned infants inside a basement marked “satanas inimical dei”, which loosely translates to “Satan, enemy of God” according to discussion on Steam. This is a place I found just after reading a note (lying to a nest to a dead body) that mentioned a man’s remorse for sacrificing his children.

As utterly revolting and sinister this sight is, at this moment I can’t help but think that I’m being shown why I should be scared instead of actually being made scared.

But then I walk into my first hostile. It’s an old woman. She’s mumbling some creepy religious mumbo-jumbo to herself. I crouch down and very slowly start sneaking towards the sound of her voice. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the previous Outlast titles, it’s to make sure you see your enemies before they see you. As prepared as you think you are, once the crazies start chasing you, logic flies out the window.

But I’m finding it rather difficult. It’s pitch black and a thick mist is hanging in the air, making my night vision nothingmore than a wall of green. And then, without warning, I hear the old hag let out a hair-rising screech. The unbearable tension I’ve been feeling breaks into a fit of fear as I try to make a run for it but it’s in vain. As I try to make my escape I run into a plethora of objects, to a point that I no longer know which direction I’m running in. Like I said, all logic flies out the window.

The crazy old woman comes running around the corner, wielding a pickaxe and with one swing she sends Blake falling to the ground. As if that’s wasn’t enough, she decides using the pickaxe to remove his genitals would be a good send-off for this trespasser.

This ordeal replays itself over at least another five times as I’m shredded and impaled in more ways than you’re able to tie a knot. The monotony of replaying a single scene over and over, saps the fear from me and replaces it with pure frustration, to the point where I give up sneaking and run right past her… and miraculously it works.

Maybe, instead of sneaking around, I should just run my way through this hillbilly nightmare? Filled with new-found confidence, I sprint into my next encounter head-on. Of course it turns out to be a big mistake. I quickly get surrounded by the ugliest human specimens I’ve ever seen, each of them affectionately introducing me to their machetes… and more than once.

So I’m back to sneaking and, now that I’m taking things at a slower pace again, I notice the introduction of a new mechanic I missed in my previous frantic scamper.

By pressing “V”, you can activate the camera’s internal microphone and use it to track hostiles when you can’t see them.

The decibel meter will shoot up when pointed in their direction (even through objects like walls) and, judging by the intensity of the sound waves, you can also discern their distance.

But as handy as this mechanic is, I once again go into the loop of trying and dying, sneaking through tall grass, climbing into barrels, through windows… whatever I try, poor Blake just keeps meeting his maker in the most gruesome way possible.

This loop goes on for more times than I care to count but somehow, with sheer luck, I get past.

The relief is almost overwhelming. It feels like the first time, since I’ve started this game, that I can take a deep breath and relax. I do just do that and decide I will continue this terror-ridden affair another time.

Impressions so far…

If you’ve played the previous Outlast titles, you’ll feel right at home. Apart from the introduction of a few new and welcome mechanics, the gameplay remains pretty similar. As an experience though, Outlast 2 has a very different atmosphere. Except for a jump in graphical and animation quality, the openness of Supai is a big departure from the claustrophobic hallways of its predecessors.

It makes for a visually pleasing environment but narratively, it felt strange being herded into pathways when, I real life, I’d probably stay as far away from the roads as possible.

Also, like I mentioned earlier, so far the experience is tense but not necessarily scary. It’s still quite early in the game though and I’m sure Outlast 2 will pull all the stops before Blake reaches the end… if he reaches the end.

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