Outlast 2: went looking for nightmares and found the wrong kind.

As I fly through the stormy sky in my chopper, wife and pilot in tow. I start to think maybe flying out here in this kind of weather was a poor idea. We had gotten wind of a cult operating in the area. One of these crazed communes that think they have found the new messiah, we’d been sent by the station to take a look, record what we could and haul ass back to the civilised world. Little did I know that was about to be cut short by a helicopter crash that would not have been out of place in the last Call of Duty game I’d played before leaving. What follows is an account of the enduring pain that followed.

It’s rare these days to create such a simple concept and have it do so well in the industry. The first outlast game was a small atmospheric horror game that saw you battle crazed and deformed people in an asylum gone to hell. Battle maybe isn’t the right word, outrun should have been the title as no weapons or combat mechanics are present in the game at all for the player. Now this was a little weird to get used to BUT I powered through it and really enjoyed the game and its DLC Whistle blower which acted as a kind of prequel to the main game. Fast forward to 2017 and we get the long-awaited sequel. I was so set for this game that I put off playing several other things just to get a crack at this game, the first game was tense, filled with atmosphere and made you feel afraid when in a tight spot. This game had such great building blocks to work with… so why on earth is it so god damn frustrating and headache inducing to play Outlast 2?!

As the intro covered you play as Blake Langermann, a camera man and investigative journalist that works with your wife Lynne to go deep into the stories that nobody else will touch. On this one particular adventure you are on the heels of religious commune leader Sullivan Knoth who has started a gathering in the Arizona desert to prepare for…wait for it… the end of days (this in itself screams originality). Now normally that would be fine. People do that all the time but Knoth appears to be tied to the murder of a young pregnant woman known only to you as ‘Jane Doe’ and in light of this fact you have set off in your helicopter to uncover the truth and expose Knoth! Only that would be the plan had you not been involved in a helicopter crash that leaves you beaten to hell and with your wife now the hostage of Knoths Commune. I find it hard to nail the story of this game down because even now as I write this I’m not entirely sure I understand the six hours I spent playing it all that well. There was some weird stuff in a swamp, then some school sequences which are arguably some of the best parts of the whole game. Damn if anything great came of this game then the school sequences are the bomb. Then there was some weird cult stuff going and that ending…. If the ending is cut for DLC then I’m finished because the end of this game is totally unrewarding for me and fails to bring about a coherent end point to the game. I feel I’ve been harsh up to now. the problem I have with this game and the reason it bothers me so much is that Outlast 2 is NOT a bad game. In fact, it’s arguably a good game on a lot of fronts which I will cover later BUT those redeeming good game qualities are just buried under some serious flaws overall. I wish there was a MEH recommendation for steam, games that are not bad but they aren’t great because outlast 2 fits right into that niche spot perfectly.

Other than the story my biggest issues with Outlast 2 come in the gameplay department, now this a tough one because it isn’t a clear cut as the complaints I listed above. The gameplay for the most part is totally functional. Everything works the way that it’s meant to. It’s just that it clearly wasn’t meant to work very well in some areas to begin with. You move around well enough and the game was clearly optimised for PC very well as I got smooth frames and no tearing without V sync which is always great and shows effort poured into a title, as you move around though you will start to notice some issues with Outlast 2. To be precise with this I played the game on hard difficulty. I was looking for a scare, tension, to feel my heart racing as I played like it had in the first game and I got that but for all the wrong reasons. From what I can state clearly is that A.I on anything above normal have been programmed to operate like a T-800 Terminator hunting John Connor. They are insanely perceptive and beyond the point that you would assume “ah damn, the A.I is just tougher” they’re ridiculous. You can be spotted through walls, in hiding spots, and don’t think lying belly down in the grass in the pitch of night will help you because they will find you and you will get ruined by them.  I’m not entirely sure what the guys and girls at red barrels were expecting from us here. Are we meant to be like Sam fisher, because I tried that too and it again ended in a very unpleasant fashion. To go with the crazy A.I you also have some really poor level design choices which saw an insane amount of trial and error before I could advance past a lot of stages. Now this needs some clarifying. I know the game isn’t meant to handhold, I’m not meant to have some shining god light showing me the way but even then, there is no clear direction given. Even in the first Outlast you had a clue where It was you were meant to be going but here it’s about as clear as the water supply in Knoths little shanty town. I spent a long while trying to outrun that crazy woman that seems heel bent on a death kiss because the level obscured the exit point in such a way I had to YouTube it to advance and this level design is such a god damn shame because I honestly believe that the levels for this game are downright GORGEOUS!

The sheer level of detail and effort poured into the levels of this game is astounding. Despite the flaws stated I did stop for a bit in a lot of levels to take in the games environments. You can tell in an instant that a lot of time and effort went into this games environments and aesthetic. The water physics are exceptional and that sounds like a really boring thing to say and why would you stop in a game to pay attention to that but do you know how hard it is to make water looks and react naturally in a game? I tried it once many years ago during my games development days and it is damn hard work, now add to that the fact that majority of the water has particle effects in it that do operate on their own in some cases and you get a real technical master feat. There is just an all-around exceptional level of polish and shine that has been brought to the table that I really enjoyed. Everything has finesse and detail from water to weapons to environments and especially character models. Damn those cult folks looked spooky as hell. The best showcase though for detail in this game has to come from the sequences involving the school! The school scenes were SO GOOD! If the whole game had been the school id have enjoyed it way more and that’s harsh in a way but it’s true. The schools have a very clean and pure aesthetic for the most part that you do see in most catholic schools. This when coupled with the outstanding lighting and shadow detail that you have creates that real tension I wanted this game to be overflowing with, you feel afraid moving through the halls, you jump at shadows, you feel your heart race as you open a door. Now the scenes aren’t flawless. I can’t help but feel the person in charge of the blood visuals has never actually seen blood before because it’s like trying to outrun a Kool-Aid Tsunami at times and that’s being generous about it but the Kool-Aid blood doesn’t take away from the experience and overall I loved it. The game needed more of what those moments had in spades!

Another solid thing that this game got right is sound work. Like the design work the game has some great audio going! The ambient sounds when you’re in the swamps make you feel like you’re there and when you hear those floorboards creak under the weight of an approaching enemy you do feel yourself gulp a little bit right before they identify exactly where you are out of the dozen spots in the room. Voice acting in this game is also really strong and feels emotional and heartfelt in its delivery especially from Lynne and Knoth. You have a few moments yourself where it’s a little shaky but overall the protagonists voice acting is also very high level. The overall work really makes you feel like you’re in the locations and when you are playing in the dark with your headphones jacked all the way up (the ONLY way this game should be enjoyed for maximum immersion 😃) you get those Goosebumps at times that you just don’t get when playing other games.

Coming to the end of this I want to reiterate again that Outlast 2 is NOT a bad game, but that’s what seals its fate for me. The fact that this game has all the right tools and building blocks and still fails to be a great game is painful. The confusing story, the crazy perceptive A.I and that ending … damn that ending cannot be redeemed by the gorgeous environments, the well managed school sequences or the top flight voice acting. Overall this game is worth the money that I spent on it, BARELY. I beat the game in a solid six ish hours and felt the game had enough in it despite the flaws to warrant my purchase. As a product, it’s reasonable and that again is more of a fault than a plus. This game should have been great. It had all the right tools and with a few changes this game could be great but in its current state with its raft of poor design choices and that story that I feel takes a lobotomy to fully comprehend the way it was meant to be comprehended. Should you buy this game? Maybe. If you haven’t played the first game then get that and the DLC instead. If you have, I’d get resident evil 7 and if you have that THEN I would get this game. Because then you’ll have exhausted the better options available and you’ll enjoy this game for what it is.

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