Horror Tropes: The Game
The best thing I can possibly say about Red Barrels' latest horror experience, Outlast 2, is that fans of the original will absolutely eat this game up. And much like its predecessor, I found that Outlast 2 does next to nothing to advance the survival horror genre in any meaningful way. Newcomers to the franchise will probably wonder what all the hype is about and may find that their experience was worth the $30 asking price. While I am sure that many returning fans will probably eat this game up as it offers much more of the same, others will undoubtedly feel as disappointed as I did.

As you may have already gathered, Outlast 2 is full of religious overtones, excessive gore, and garnished with tales of the apocalypse and no fewer than two warring cults. They really throw the whole "religion is terrible" at you hard and fast throughout the roughly eight hour long campaign. I'm talking about a cult leader that writes his own Bible, churches, crosses everywhere, the idea that your wife is birthing the Antichrist, and even flashback sequences that take place in a Christian school.

On a technical level, Outlast 2 is a shining example of how you can make a good looking game without sacrificing performance. I had a difficult time finding any real issue with how the game looked. Locations such as caves or closets that you expect to be dark are indeed pitch black. Good luck navigating some areas if you run out of batteries for the night vision function on your near ever present camera. The game is populated with all manner of abhorrent creatures that will try to hunt you down as you hide in dense corn fields and tall grass, make your way through putrid piles of viscera, and shimmy along perilous cliff sides towards your final destinations. Even on my aging GTX 770, the game ran like an absolute champ on high settings at 1080p. Couple that with seamless background loading between areas and you have yourself a game that, whether or not you like it, is difficult to put down.

Sadly, the game shipped with no way to easily disable effects such as chromatic aberration and a subtle noise filter. The combined effect does result in a picture that is a bit on the soft side. Chromatic aberration may be my most disliked visual effect to infest games from the past half-decade or so. I suppose on some level the use of chromatic aberration makes some sense when you are viewing the world through your video camera, but it doesn't make much sense when the effect persists when simply viewing through your character's eyes. To those wondering, it is possible to tweak .ini settings to remove or lessen these effects but it is a step that players shouldn't have to do. An in-game solution to enable or disable these effects would be far more desirable.

The overall sound design is superb with plenty of quick musical beats to accompany jump scares. The musical score is reminiscent of classic horror mainstays, right down to sequences where you can hear the iconic plucking of violin strings. Outlast 2 also features some great sound effects, chilling ambient noise work, and crystal clear dialogue during conversations. Unfortunately, the clarity of the dialogue really drives home just how poor the writing is in Outlast 2.

The game opens simply by telling you that you are Blake Langermann, the husband to Lynn Langermann. Together you are a couple of investigative journalists, a factoid that conveniently explains why you have a camera with you. You two have set out on a helicopter to investigate the strange murder of a pregnant woman known only as Jane Doe. Naturally, your helicopter crashes and you find yourself seeking out your wife's whereabouts in the middle of middle-of-nowhere, Arizona. In an utterly unsurprising turn of events, it seems as though your wife survived the crash but the locals have kidnapped her and you must then spend the rest of the game trying to save her. Oh, she may or may not also be pregnant with the Antichrist, or so the locals claim. Also, you're going to start having flashbacks to your old Christian school where your best friend may or may not have been murdered by a horrific priest.

The night wears on and the locations slowly change. And while you find that your task may sound as simple as making it from point A to point B, you find that you must travel to points C through X hours before ever arriving at B. It feels disjointed and you are often left going, "oh yeah, this is the place I said I needed to go three hours ago and well, here I am. Why am I here again?" The fact that the game forces you to traverse all of the place in an effort to get to another place is arguably the least of the game's problems.

Story telling is middling, at best. Despite being out in the middle of nowhere, you still find yourself encountering two separate but equally deranged groups of individuals. The groups were the result of a fictional religion that can be seen as an offshoot of Christianity. However, due to differences of opinion two separate but equally deranged groups formed. Both of these groups, or cults, seem to be united in their love of torture, murder, genitalia, and the murder of children. There were many times through documents you can read where you find out that a lot of these people got really turned on after having murdered their children. Scripture like writings include quite a few instances of words like "cunt" or "cock." Really, the game is just full of good, old-fashioned, wholesome stuff like that.

The highlight of the game is undoubtedly the "flashback" sequences that take place in a pristine school environment. It's a nice change of pace from the "present day" sections that focused more on high-octane chase sequences. The school segments were more about building up tension through the setting and environment with a reduced focus on being chased. The school felt more like a proper psychological horror experience. These sequences also do the best job of rounding out the story in a way that the "present day" material does not. Fortunately, due to a flimsy tie in to the first game, these flashback sequences become more and more frequent as the game progresses. If you happen to miss what the tie-in is with the original, don't worry too much, it's only explained in one easily missable text document.

Turning our gaze back upon the cults we find that one side is led by Sullivan Knoth. He and his crew love to procreate and then murder the babies because they worry that they're giving birth to the antichrist. As you may guess, this leads to a lot of sexual violence, and violence in general, particularly against the women in the cult. One such example is a scene where you are hiding in a church confessional as a husband is forced to listen to his wife being pulled apart on a torture rack. Worry not for the man's wellbeing though, as he was also brutally murdered during this sequence.

While some of the story is presented through the use of in-game cutscenes, a majority is conveyed through these awkward inner monologues and through picking up a multitude of confusing and often poorly written documents in the game world. There is a lot of reading if you want to get the full depth of the game's story and even then it probably won't make a ton of sense to you. In fact, even with the confusing story, it was easy to see that the game left quite a few loose threads hanging in the breeze. It may be a safe assumption that Red Barrels will attempt to tie up those threads with some Whistle Blower style DLC for the game.

The inner monologues are just an annoyance because the only way to trigger a lot of them is a multi-step process. First, you need to have your camera out to record special objects in the environment that the game deems important. This takes up to 15 seconds of you just staring through your camera as a little red circle fills up. After that, you then need to access your camera, select the clip you literally just recorded, and watch it back through your camera to finally hear what Blake has to say about the situation. Being pursued by enemies? Good luck getting that next story beat recorded. It should be noted that I only missed out on a few of these sections due to being disrupted by enemies but the fact that it's so tedious every single time was enough to make me not give a damn about how Blake feels about what's going on.

The longer you slog through the game, the more apparent it is that Outlast 2 is really just a way to sit through an eight-hour long interactive "snuff" film. It's torture porn. Blake is shot at with flaming arrows, beaten, and raped, just to name a few of the non-death sequences. To really ram home the idea that [i]religion is totally super bad y'all[/i9], there is even one sequence where you are crucified in first-person. A lot of people are talking about this sequence, seemingly forgetting that it's already been done before back in 2012 with The Darkness 2. If you are ever caught and you do run out of health, you are often treated to special animations of your genitals being ripped out by one of the game's more persistent pursuers, or you are impaled through the gut, or just beaten to death by a foe's bare hands. And throughout all of this, Blake doesn't have a single thought for finding anything to defend himself with.

I get that this is sort of the shtick of these games. Oh, you're defenseless and the only thing you can do is hide or run! So scary! Well, not really. It's unrealistic. Sure, the argument could be made that there really isn't anything realistic about the scenarios presented in the game in the first place, but a willing suspension of disbelief only goes so far. There are countless ways Blake could have defended himself, even if these items were a one and done consumable. Break off a loose wooden board and smash it into the face of the next foe that finds you. Stun them long enough so that you can run off. The pursuer is only momentarily stunned not dead, it doesn't break the whole thrill of the chase, and that item was consumed and cannot be used again. The extent of Blake's defensive options are to hide, run, or sneak. At the very least, it's nice that Blake is capable of hiding in a multitude of objects, which includes hiding under water for brief periods of time. It is also nice that Outlast 2 outfits your camera with a microphone feature that allows you to zero in on where enemies are even if you cannot directly see them. Unfortunately for you, the microphone takes up battery juice just as much as using the night vision does.

I think that the fact that your character chooses not to fight back or do anything that isn't self-serving is one of the game's biggest pitfalls. At one point in the game, you come across a woman that is chained up to a bed. She's obviously been through a lot as she's curled up and shows signs of being abused. Blake's only remarks are something along the lines of how this "must be where the magic happens." He doesn't try to help her. He doesn't get pissed off. He just makes some flippant remark and goes on his way. The same can be said about him as he makes his way through the ever growing pile of corpses he comes across. Between the in-fighting and the fighting between the two cults, there is no shortage of death all around him. Blake's overall response is akin to just shrugging and going on his merry little way. It would be funny if it weren't so totally fucked up and tone deaf.

Honestly, the game is more frustrating than frightening. A lot of the game felt like trial and error. If I failed a sequence during the first try, any sort of tension that might have been there went away upon the next checkpoint load. The game's toughest foes that hunted you down through large sections of the game were met with rolled eyes after their initial encounter. There is only so much of the gore and "shocking" material a player can take before it just loses its intended effect. It also does not help that the AI in this game is borderline broken. I have been spotted through solid walls more times than I can remember even while prone and motionless. Other times I was very clearly in plain sight and the enemy AI did not see me. As I said, the game quickly loses any sort of horror element when you have to repeat sections due to bad game design, ambiguous goals, or poor AI.

I know it's not exactly kosher to talk about other game franchises when offering up a review for another game but I cannot help but bring up Resident Evil 7 as a comparison. Resident Evil 7, which launched weeks ago, proved to the world that it is possible to do a first-person survival horror game where you can still blend elements of hiding and running with the ability to defend yourself should the need arise. Outlast 2's gameplay mechanics feel archaic at this point. Mechanics that worked well in the heyday of horror games like Amnesia just do not hold up that well now.

For a horror title, Outlast 2 did very little to actually scare me. To its credit the game did make me jump once, so I suppose that's something. Maybe my dislike of the game has more to do with how I don't really care much for the whole jump scare style of horror that this franchise is rife with. After all, I am a far greater fan of psychological horror, and while this game did have a bit more of a psychological horror aspect to it compared to its predecessor, the entire package just didn't do it for me. Or Maybe Outlast 2 just isn't a good game.

Outlast 2 did very little to make me care about finding Blake's wife. It did very little to craft a coherent experience. It did very little to be anything more than a series of overused horror tropes. I have no doubt that there are people out there that will find the game to be a thrilling and often times scary experience, but I was not one of them.

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Additional Information
Outlast 2 (Developed by Red Barrels, Published by Red Barrels)
Starting at $29.99 (USD) for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (PC version reviewed)
Rated M for Mature 17+ for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Content, Nudity, Strong Language
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.