Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Release Date: April 25, 2017
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Genre: First-person survival Horror
In this review, it's my responsibility to answer two main questions: should you pay $30 for Outlast II, and if so or if not, why?
Now let's get something out of the way first and foremost. To really enjoy Outlast II, to get its full effect, you should be a horror fan. I say this because you truly have to set aside doubt and cynicism in order to get the full brunt of what this game has to offer.
Horror fans are used to suspending their disbelief and can enter a world with impossible circumstances for the sake of entertainment. We surrender ourselves--our minds, imaginations, hearts, and eyes--to the story and let it whisk us away to a land of terror.
Horror movie fans are tuned to the frequency of the macabre. We look for certain things from the genre and are open to possibilities.
That's really important for this game. While I would say it's important for players to be open to every game they play, Outlast II requires you to "get into" the experience.
This is the type of game you play in the dead of night with the lights out and headphones on. That last part is critical: you really need headphones. Not only do headphones consistently help you avoid death, but they add a true depth to immersion that will help transport you into the horrors of Outlast II.
At its core, Outlast II is riveting, haunting, and creatively macabre, but it doesn't solely rely on cheap scares or gore to send its message.
This game has a delicious mix of numerous horror themes and tropes and reminds me of two Ti West films: Sacrament, and the Safe Haven segment from V/H/S 2. The flashback sequences are more metaphorical at times and genuinely feel like something from a Stephen King novel.
This is a personal and more involved journey into the black pockets of a world ruled by sacrilege and blasphemy; a world where the Virgin Mary cries blood and religion twists the hearts of men, where profane clergy praise sinful monuments made of human flesh.
Outlast II preserves the same mechanics as the original game, and the controls are quite fluid and well-designed. Players duck, lay, lean, hide, and use a variety of tactics to stealthily evade and counter real-life terrors.
Your camera is your life-line and lets you see in the dark, zoom into areas to watch enemy movements, and record footage for later viewing.
If you haven't played an Outlast game then here's something you need to know: you're not a hero in this game.
Outlast strips you of all your power and puts you in the role of a victim: you have to mostly watch, hide, and run from grotesque people and monsters that hunt you down. But that isn't to say you don't have power--it's just a different sort of power.
In Outlast II, you have to pay attention to your surroundings at all time. There's a true sense of riveting immersion that's created by sheer necessity: it has that eye-widening suspense and tension that's so thick it could be cut with a knife.
Now I will say that being chased all the time can be frustrating, especially when you're not used to the controls.
The beginning sequences don't really guide you. This is both a hindrance and refreshing and gives players a real sense of immersion.
The real frustration is that you don't always know where to actually go when you're being chased. This means you'll often have to retry the area over and over and do tedious trial and error before you know what to do.
But this trial and error frustration is 100% necessary and is an integral component of the game's formula.
If being seen didn't trigger that blind panicky heart-pumping fleeing, then the tension wouldn't be nearly as powerful.
At every moment, you're tense because you know being seen means almost instant death--every mess up, every error, every wrong step could be your doom.
Players have to hide in barrels, crawl under beds, swim under water and genuinely stay in the shadows in hopes of passing by enemies unseen. But if the horrors do see you, you're chased across the map in a mad scramble of survival.
This really is the core magic of Outlast--the sheer terrifying tension that's built from this unnerving sense of always being watched, and always being hunted.
Outlast II is more forgiving at times and really gets better as you play.
The sequences get more and more linear as they present you with fresh horrors, and you always feel rewarded when you progress because you're plunged deeper into the story.
And to me, the story is the main reason to play this game.
"There's a Father up above, and he's looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see."
For spoiler reasons, I don't often talk about stories in my game reviews. But I have to make a clear exception here because Outlast II's story is why you're playing the game.
There's six "acts" in Outlast II, each of which is intermittently broken up by haunting flashback scenes of Blake's traumatic experiences at St. Sybil Catholic School. These scenes are masterfully interwoven into the present-day scenes and really paints a picture of Blake's haunted psyche. It's a ghost story of the most intimate sort, a believable haunt that's embedded into our character's mind like a railroad spike.
Your main motivation for playing the game is two-fold: to SEE the twisted horrors and blasphemous revenants that roam this bizarre pocket of hell on earth, and to experience the story. You're very much rewarded in both regards.
The farther you get in this game, the more outright profane and blasphemous things you see.
I was crucified in this game. I was buried alive. I was overrun by locusts, and the heavens wept with blood rain upon the land. I saw so many things that were impossible, lived through untold horrors, and wept alongside Blake as I ventured into his dark past and faced a devilish foe.
It was a jaunt into a nightmare-fueled lunatic world where it's always night, a place where the sunshine never reaches.
This game's story is incredibly haunting, sad, and ultimately profane.
In many ways, I think it's less horror and more psychological: everything you see, hear, and do stays with you. It resonates strongly with the player and touches the deep spirituality within all of us.
But it's also a ghost story; a story about the Holy Ghost, about faith being a black scythe used to reap our souls, and a deep intimate journey into traumatic events that shaped our player character.
But make no mistake: Outlast II isn't about jump-scares and shock horror.
At least it isn't to me. It's much deeper than that, and strikes a chord that transcends the language barrier, a chord we all understand and feel within us: faith.
That's why this game is so effective.
Most of us growing up were exposed to religion at some point, whether it be Sunday School or even a Catholic school. There's this kind of reservoir within all of us that can be filled with faith, questions, or outright darkness. Outlast II taps that reservoir to show us a heart-breaking story while dunking our heads in blood in an unholy ritual of blasphemous sacrament.
After playing Outlast II for a few days, I found its strong imagery pervading my mind and imagination.
Jessica's haunting litany of "be careful little eyes what you see" played in my mind on an endless loop, sending shivers down my spine and making my hair stand up.
I thought about how religion is both important to any civilization, but how it can be contorted into a cruel vise that squeezes the life out of us. I thought about all the atrocities carried out in God's name; about Knoth's Gospel and the men and women who had slit generations of children's throat because they believed they were doing good.
I thought about insanity, too. Is this all in Blake's head? Is he imagining these apocalyptic events, or are they really happening?
I honestly teared up when playing this game. Yeah, I know...but I feel it's important to admit this. Because it shows how deeply it affected me, and why that makes it a truly effective experience.
When I found a woman cradling a dead baby amidst four dead children in coffins, I teared up. I shivered when I heard her song about lambs crying out for their mother.
I teared up when I found a child's crudely-written note outside Temple Gate's school begging her parents not to let them kill her. She loves her daddy, and her mommy, and God, and she doesn't want to die. Please, mommy, don't let them kill her.
I teared up when I found some of Jessica's crayon-drawn hangman clues in the flashback sequences. These drawings often showed her hanging from a noose, giving us terrible adaptations of one of the most truly striking scenes I've seen in a horror game.
And it wasn't a bloody disgusting gnarled mess of organs and bones. It wasn't hideous torture--not body torture, anyway--but a simple girl hanging from a noose.
But it was so effective because I knew who she was. I felt a bond with her, and had a window into her terrible story.
The game taught me so many things about this character in creative ways, giving me bits and pieces that made her a real person, portrayed her as a ghost that haunted Blake's mind (and heart).
These drawings are windows to Jessica's broken mind and broken spirit, and one, in particular, made me tear up because I knew what it meant.
You may not feel the same way when you play this game. You may look at these things and feel a pang, but not an all-out rush of emotion that contorts your mind and blurs your vision. I understand that, and frankly, I kind of hope that you fare better.
But my experience...it was something that really stayed with me. After I played this game, I felt tainted in a way. I felt as if I had really lived through some of it.
That, to me, is the sign of a good horror game.
The best horror movies are the ones that stick with you.
The ones that make you afraid to go to sleep at night, or the ones that ignite your imagination.
The best scary books make you ask, "what if," make you look at reality in a different way, to wonder about the dark side of humanity.
Outlast II made me wonder, made me think, but more importantly, it made me feel.
It's still hard for me to articulate how Outlast II made me feel. Every chapter presented me with stark nightmare-fueled visuals and fed me glimpses of a man's haunted mind and heart.
Yes, I was frustrated by some of the chase sequences, and yes, I did wish many times for a gun so I could blast away my foes.
But I'm very glad Outlast II gave me nothing but my smarts and a camera to document this black mass, this unholy sacrilege that always is with me.
You see, by withholding power from the player, Red Barrels made every instance of Outlast II feel even more powerful.
The game takes a life of its own. The tension is palpable, and you get this true sense of achievement when you survive it all, when you outlast your foes--and the night.
Should you buy Outlast II? Is it worth $30? If you're a horror fan or someone who can cross over into fictional worlds while suspending your disbelief, then yes, it is.
If you're someone who likes the idea of using their mind as a weapon and solve problems all while being hunted in a high-stakes chase, then yes, buy it.
Finally, if you're someone who appreciates good stories that aren't always literal and leave you to make up your own conclusions while providing you with metaphors, symbolism, and specific themes, definitely get it.
I've heard people complain about the ending. But I think it makes sense, and it underlines the haunting demons that we all carry inside of us--especially Blake.
- Creative terror doesn't rely on jump-scares and gore
- Authentically blasphemous and profane
- Stark visuals that inspire nightmares
- Haunting, heart-breaking storyline
- Intense, brutal, and rewards immersion
- Good controls
- Atmospheric visuals bring a true sense of immersion
- Amazing sound design that pulls you right into every sequence
- Jumping can be awkward
- Chase scenes can be frustrating
- Not a lot of replay value
- The ending doesn't answer everything
- Might be super offensive to religious people
Product Summary Breakdown
|Graphics and Visuals||85%|
|Sound Design & Horror Factor||90%|
|Overall TweakTown Rating||86%|
The Bottom Line: Outlast II proves Red Barrels hasn't lost their touch: this game is haunting, macabre, riveting and creatively horrifying. A must-have for gamers who appreciate good horror.
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