Outlast was quite influential for video game horror in 2013. It was a surprise hit that had revived faith in a genre that had been stagnating since Amnesia: Dark Descent. It embraced a lack of combat and forced the player to run and hide if they were to survive the night in the Mount Massive Asylum.
It combined the successful elements of horror to great effect. It had jump scares that were backed by great timing and didn’t feel cheap. A creepy environment that contained a dark and truly messed up history. Gore that didn’t make you roll your eyes but made you uncomfortable. It even pits your most useful tool, the night vision camera, against you by having you find batteries to keep it powered. The only time Outlast fell short is when it forced you to do very video gamey tasks that bogged down the experience.
So is the sequel able to raise the bar again?
Back at E3 this year Red Barrels showed off Outlast 2 during the Microsoft press conference and now that very same demo is available to the public until the end of October. How could I resist?
Outlast 2 has an unsettling and malevolent atmosphere that stalks you
Outlast 2 takes place over one night in the Arizona desert and sees Blake Langermann and his wife, both investigative journalists, following a trail of clues that began with the murder of a pregnant woman. The investigation has led them miles off the beaten track, things go bad and they find themselves separated. His wife gets captured by some pretty devout, and inbred, Christians who plan on using Mrs Langermann for a good ol’ fashioned sacrifice, or a meal, it’s not clear.
The demo starts you off with Blake scrambling for his glasses and camcorder after having taken a tumble. The player then must navigate their way through the village up ahead with nothing but his wife’s screams to guide him.
One thing that you’ll notice is that the main character is voiced this time around. The first game relied heavily on the player being willing to read notes scattered throughout the game. With a voice, they’ll be able to blend the story and action more effectively.
If the demo is anything to go by it also appears that the game is taking a more linear approach, whereas the first game had players re-treading parts of the asylum turning on generators and unlocking doors. Honestly, I prefer the former as it means Red Barrels will be able to craft a tighter more directed experience for round two, the demo certainly had a nice balance of direction and exploration.
The visuals are quite something too. The outdoor setting is less static with rustling leaves, swaying signs and flapping cloth. Quite often I thought I saw something in the corner of my eye only to find nothing there. Outlast 2 has an unsettling and malevolent atmosphere that stalks you.
Lighting is being used in more creative ways, often to direct your gaze at something horrific. At one point you venture into a tunnel to discover a ditch filled with dead children, and if that wasn’t messed up enough an opening above casts crucifix shaped moonlight across the scene.
The manhunt through the cornfield towards the end of the demo is a real horror movie moment too, Billybob and friends comb the field with their flashlights while you stay low and look for a way out. Just watching the beams of light scan the area cutting through the corn is a very tense but cool moment.
The places to hide are more interesting this time around also. There are barrels with holes that only give you a glimpse of what’s out there, you could lift the lid and take a peek but do you want to risk being caught? There are troughs filled with water that isn’t ideal hiding places but sometimes you really have no choice, you’ll have to climb in and take a deep breath. Your vision is blurred and your hearing muffled which makes it difficult to know when it’s safe. I look forward to seeing the variety of hidey holes in the full game
You’ll be pleased to know that the enemies are just as messed up if not even more than the original game. You have the pleasure of meeting one face to face and oh boy, he ain’t pretty. These crazy hill dwelling types are rotten with syphilis, literally, they’re facial features are decomposing and disfigured. FYI, ‘extreme cases of syphilis’ isn’t something you’d want to Google, I’ll just tell you that the studio nailed it.
One thing that I didn’t expect was a dream sequence. Red Barrels wants to layer up the confusion between dreams/hallucinations with reality to keep the player guessing. I honestly find dream sequences a little hit or miss sometimes, once you know it’s not real for the character the punch is kind of lost. Any spooks during those sequences feel more ghost house than an immediate threat.
What I admire about Outlast is that it’s not afraid to include very adult subject matter, the stuff that really makes you uncomfortable. They really pushed the limits in Whistleblower but Philippe Morin ensures that they’ll be stepping it up for Outlast 2. God save our genitals!
The short, twenty minute demo only gives us a glimpse into the horrors of Outlast 2 and I really liked what I saw. Finding a balance between linearity and exploration will be make or break for some players so I hope the independent studio gets it right. They have estimated that the stealth horror will be around the ten-hour mark which is plenty of time to get acquainted with Mr and Mrs Crazy and their many cousins.