Also available on Xbox One and Windows
I suppose it's fair to say that I was moderately excited when Outlast II was announced. Actually, if we're being completely honest here, I was basically the conductor of that hype train. The original Outlast remains in first place on my "Games that Scared the Most Shit out of Me" list, and I wouldn't wait to wet myself again with Outlast II. While the game didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations, it's certainly a competent sequel and a must-play for fans of the horror genre.
Outlast II's setting is actually my first disappointment with the game. The first Outlast took place in a creepy af insane asylum, but this one takes place in a village called Temple's Gate run by this insane Christian cult in northern Arizona. Now, this setting does do one positive thing for the game; it harkens back to Resident Evil 4 with the general feel and aesthetic of the village. I can't say for certain if Resident Evil 4 was an intentional inspiration for the game, but that's definitely what I kept thinking about. Personally, however, "decrepit insane asylum" is at the top of my list for perfect horror game/movie locations right in front of "run-down school" and "overly ornate mansion." Sure, creepy cult village is probably #5 or #6 on that list, but the setting was a definite downgrade in my book. To the game's credit, however, while the setting interested me less than in the original game, the develops did an EXCELLENT job of creating that village and the surrounding areas with an atmosphere very conducive of suffocating existential dread.
Having mentioned the game's superb use of atmosphere, allow me to take a moment to explain how Outlast II establishes the horror in the game as that's one part of horror games that developers easily screw up. If you're at all familiar with modern horror games, I'm sure you're well aware that jump scares are typically overdone and poorly used as if they're the only way to "scare" the player. Outlast II, like its predecessor, shows how jump scares can be used artfully and sparingly to enhance an already-existing feeling of terror rather than trying to force one into existence. Out of the four main methods I see of creating a "horror" feeling - jump scares, atmospheric existential dread, being chased, and "everything's fucking me in the anus" - Outlast II strikes what I feel is the perfect balance. It's about 60% existential dread, 15% "everything's fucking me in the anus," 15% being chased, and 10% jump scares. The game doesn't rely on lots of enemies (since there's no combat), constantly being chased, or frequent jump scares as many horror games these days do. Those are all used to accentuate and enhance the oppressive feeling of terror and helplessness that you're already made to feel by the game's brilliantly crafted atmosphere. From the ambient sounds to the minimal light to the derelict and blood-soaked appearance of most of the game's environments, it finds a way to scare you without quite knowing of what it is that you're scared, and that's the kind of soul-penetrating terror that few games can pull out. Outlast II, on the other hand, does it masterfully.
The game is very much one of psychological horror rather than your more traditional survival horror games, and the plot of the game ties into that directly. Unfortunately, for me, the plot was the game's weak point. The player character, Blake, is investigating the mysterious death of an unidentified pregnant woman in Arizona (hence why the game takes place in the village) with his wife, Lynn, but the helicopter crashes. When Blake comes to, the pilot's body has been skinned and strung up to a tree, and Lynn is missing. You go hunt for your wife only to discover that she's been kidnapped by the psycho cult because she's pregnant with the anti-Christ. Then you start having bizarre flashbacks of the Catholic school Blake, Lynn, and some chick named Jessica all attended in their youth. Yall were all BFFs, but it appears that Jessica hanged herself. Perodically throughout the game, you'll go - seemingly at random - between the village in Arizona and the Catholic school where you're tormented by Jessica's spirit and some weird monster that would not be out of place at all in a hentai video.
My big problem with the story is that it feels disjointed and unresolved. To be fair, it's entirely possible that I'm just an idiot and/or didn't pay enough attention to ancillary story texts lying around in the game world, but even having finished the game, I still don't quite understand how Jessica's death plays into the context of the larger story aside from the common thread of religion. There are definitely similarities between the story of Jessica and the story of the batshit crazy cult, but aside from "Blake was going insane," I still don't understand why Jessica became a major element of the game. By all means, if someone can explain to me why I'm an idiot, feel free; I'm desperately curious because I felt absolutely no closure after the credits.
As a horror experience, Outlast II is fantastic and an example of what the genre should be in 2017. The visuals are great, the atmosphere is perfect, and the gameplay is tight and well designed. My only real complaint - aside from the personal opinion that the setting is a downgrade from the first Outlast - is that the story is rather convoluted and obtuse, and it felt to me like it lacked a sense of closure and finality. Some games do that if they're setting up a sequel, of course, and it's entirely possible that Outlast II will get DLC that will provide a little more context and information as Whistleblower did with the first game. As it stand now, though, the game's story, while not bad, was a bit of a let down for me. It was great throughout most of the game, but like a sneeze that builds and builds and builds before vanishing into the ether, it just ended and left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.