Outlast 2 – And I ran, I ran so far away – Review

Gare – Thursday, October 18, 2018 1:11 PM
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Full-on disclaimer: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Outlast. That’s not to say I consider it to be terrible – it did have its moments here and there – but I do feel like it gets frightfully repetitive as it drags along instead of being… you know, just plain frightening. Those first few occasions when you escape the bad guys by the skin of your teeth are tense enough, but – if memory serves – it all turns into routine work by the end of the campaign. Nonetheless, I was still able to disregard all that prior baggage and jump into Outlast 2 with relatively high expectations, partly because its demo had left a very positive impression on me, and partly because I found the setting to be intriguing enough. An insane asylum is one thing, but being out there in the countryside while surrounded by strange cultists brought back fond memories of running away from villagers in the early hours of the Lovecraft-inspired Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In short, the game had potential – potential it sadly squandered.

Outlast 2’s basic setup is very much similar to its predecessor’s – you have a camera with night vision and no way to fight back against the horde of crazies chasing you, so you’ll basically have to run and hide all the time. The problem – the first of many, actually – is that the game fails at making its antagonists feel like much of a threat, which is further amplified by how little screen time they get. There’s Marta, a woman carrying a massive crucifix who’s trying so hard to be this game’s version of Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis – an unkillable giant hell-bent on murdering you at various points in the game. That should sound intimidating enough, at least in theory. Too bad she’s barely in the game after your initial few run-ins with her, and even when she does appear, luring her away to one corner of the map and then sprinting in the opposite direction was all I needed to do to outsmart her. And Father Knoth, the religious leader of the community and the supposed “main antagonist” of Outlast 2? He appears in a cutscene or two and that’s about it. The game’s regular enemies don’t fare any better, either. They’re crazy villagers. That’s it. I vaguely recall being fatigued by Outlast 1’s “crazy patients” schtick, and I was most certainly fatigued by Outlast 2 essentially doing the same, except not as effectively. There are only so many times you can get chased around by these people before it becomes a chore, especially when it’s so easy to just run past most of them. As a result, I found most of my playthrough to be heavily lacking in any actual suspense or terror.

Similarly, the game’s chase sequences feel like linear theme park rides and your deaths are rarely ever meaningful. It’s mostly just a matter of finding the exact right way to go, and if you happen to turn the wrong corner – whoops, you’re dead, better luck next time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the repeated deaths I have a problem with, but Outlast 2’s encounters all feel so artificial, repetitive, and devoid of actual horror that it’s hard not to feel like the game is simply wasting your time. The importance of stealth is also surprisingly toned down: in fact, I could probably count on one hand how often I actually needed to hide, because most of the time, sprinting past enemies is generally the optimal solution. And trust me, even with his limited stamina, the main character sprints like an Olympic champion. Hell, I half-expected the poor guy’s legs to leave fiery skid marks upon hitting 88 miles per hour.

What also doesn’t help the game’s case is that despite its genuinely haunting setting, Outlast 2 likes to shroud its gorgeous landscapes in near-pitch black darkness, forcing you to rely very heavily on your camera’s green-tinted night vision functionality in order to do even the most basic things. This also prevents you from really enjoying the atmosphere of the place, because the nigh-constant darkness means that any meaningful exploration can only be done with the night vision switched on, which kills what little mood the game might’ve had – well, unless you’re Neo from the end of The Matrix and enjoy seeing everything in green all the time. The only slightly atmospheric moments of Outlast 2 come in the form of occasional dream-like sequences that have you explore an abandoned elementary school. But don’t worry, the game somehow manages to find a way to make even these segments feel forced and unwelcome, shoving them down your throat with an annoying frequency in the campaign’s later half. These bits have chase sequences as well, naturally, but they once again boil down to “oh, there’s the monster, better run at full speed in the opposite direction” and feel just as scripted and artificially put together as everything else about Outlast 2.

You may have noticed that I’ve barely touched upon the plot thus far, and that’s because it’s honestly nothing to write home about. It’s also basically two largely unrelated narrative threads forcefully meshed together for no good reason: one is about the cultists in the village, while the other concerns protagonist Blake Langermann and his connection to the aforementioned school and a girl called Jessica. Neither of these plot threads explore interesting themes or ideas and both could easily work as the standalone narrative to their own game (not to mention the connection between them is paper thin), making me question why Outlast 2 felt the need to constantly switch between the two. You’d think the mysterious school sequences would lead up to something that ties into the overarching narrative, but all they do is explain Blake’s backstory – which has very little to do with what’s actually going on in the cultist-ridden village. Not that the cultist storyline is any more worthwhile, mind you. In fact, it’s probably the weaker one of the two, with an ending that will very likely make you go “that’s it?”.

So that leaves us with a game whose two supporting pillars – gameplay and story – both fail to properly support it. The basic gameplay loop of hiding and running (but mostly running) from cultists grows stale very quickly, the on-rails chase sequences kill any semblance of mood and atmosphere the game may have had, the antagonists are dreadfully forgettable with barely any presence and the plot never comes together into anything interesting or memorable. Outlast 2 has you wander around in the dark for a few hours and partake in one underwhelming sequence after another, all of which try – and fail spectacularly – to induce a reaction other than frustrated boredom in the player. As previously implied, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the first Outlast, either, and yet even I’d recommend that game over this glorified sprinting simulator any day of the week. But really, if you want to see hide-and-seek horror done right, just do yourself a favor and play Alien: Isolation instead.

Outlast 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

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