Review by Sesheenku
The leas scary horror game ever created.
I'm a horror veteran if you will. If I'm watching a movie it's a horror movie. If I'm playing a horror game, I'll usually find something good to say about it. Outlast 2 is the very first time where I couldn't find any strong redeeming quality that wasn't wasted whatsoever.
I've not played the first Outlast but heard it was well praised. I have played Amnesia and Penumbra, which are probably the closest cousin to the Outlast series. Throughout the review, I'll be comparing Outlast 2 to the first Amnesia to point out its flaws. Well, enough preliminary chatter, let's tear this stinker open!
Outlast 2 is primarily based on jump scares for its fear. Putting aside the inherent downsides of jump scares, the problem is that every scripted jump scare in the game is so utterly cliche, so obvious, that rather than being frightening, it makes you laugh. One such scare occurs early on in one of this games school segments. You walk down a dark hallway and a shadowy figure appears at the end. You roll your eyes as you predict that the monster will come dashing at you while roaring and them promptly disappear. You tell yourself to give Outlast 2 a little more credit! After all, the first Outlast was well received and this one has mostly positive reviews in most places! The monster proves your prediction correct and you begin laughing at how anyone could think such a poorly executed obvious cliche could ever be considered scary by anyone who doesn't jump at their own shadow.
The bulk of the game plays out like a dry, pitch black, even more unappealing version of Assassins Creed rather than a horror game. You walk from an obviously designed safe zone into an obviously designed obstacle. Except in Assassins Creed the obstacle still fits with the world and gets you some excitement on how you'll tackle it. Outlast 2 has no such excitement. You go crouch in a dark corner and see all the enemies that will ever appear. If there are interior spaces, you as someone with an IQ above 80 know to expect that every interior has at least one potential enemy. In EVERY single case you will be correct. So rather than an atmosphere of tension, you'll find yourself simply logically planning a route and bolting from hiding spot to hiding spot as you stumble blindly trying to find the one unrealistic exit in a map that makes no sense to be closed off. Repeat ad nauseam with NO change ever.
There's no tension at any point and so the enemies aren't scary. Then further taking you out of the experience are the levels that are so obviously designed that they look like mini obstacle courses, making you chuckle to yourself that the cultists put up idiotic fencing in illogical places and put houses in places that would hinder their daily activities. The layout of every slice of inhabited area in the town is so nonsensical that not even Tim Burton could replicate its madness in his lifetime.
In addition even some of the cultists actions make no sense. There are several NPC's that sing a song about hiding you in the blood of Ezekiel, a name used for the prophet of their misguided religion. These cultists are the funniest of all of the characters. You can stand right in front of them and they'll do nothing at all unless you mash yourself into their hitbox. If you do they'll hit you once like a father slapping his child for misbehaving and then carry on with their song harmlessly. It's absolutely comical. A female variant of this NPC can be found later in the game, she has a covered porch with several belongings. You can go into the porch with her watching you as she waves her dagger and sings and steal all of her medical supplies and backup batteries. It's so utterly ridiculous that I imagined stealing her last loaf of bread as well, sitting myself down in a chair, slapping my knees to the rhythm and recording her using the batteries I stole. In fact the game would be a FAR better game if it allowed you to do that since if you can't be scary then use your campy characters to make it fun.
One of the primary antagonists, Marta is hardly worth mentioning. Every once in a while she'll appear to talk to herself like the mad old lady she is and slowly lumber around, killing you if she can get within range of you... Which is unlikely unless she appears around a corner of a building you just entered. Because she's so easy to outrun it's just one of many flaccid attempts at jump scares that come across as passionless attempts at basic horror by amateurs. It's hard to be afraid of a geriatric witch that can't even outrun a classic zombie.
Finally Outlast 2 believes like many lesser garbage tier steam asset flip horrors that being pitch black is scary. It is completely incorrect. The biggest fear in Outlast 2 is running out of batteries and being completely unable to progress effectively without the ability to even see what you're walking into. Thankfully there SEEMS to be an adequate supply of batteries although near the end I used mine too much and did suffer a period of pitch black nonsense that was annoying and frustrating to deal with.
There is ONE good scare in the entire game and it takes place in the school segments. I won't go into detail since it's a spoiler but it's the one and only time that the Outlast 2 devs seemed to understand what makes a game scary. If the entire games scares were more like it, then this game would have been utterly bone chilling. It's not though.
Finally I'll compare this game to the first Amnesia to describe why the scares in Outlast 2 fall completely flat on their face.
Amnesia also has darkness... however your character adjusts to the darkness and can see where they're going without light which is both closer to reality and causes much less frustration to the player. In addition Amnesia's darkness has a mechanical purpose that ties in with the all important sanity feature.
The scares of Amnesia are good for two primary reasons. Sanity being one of them and the way that they handle enemies. Allow me to discuss enemies first.
The layout of Amnesia is the total opposite of Outlast 2. The map is interconnected and every room and corridor makes sense. It allows you to immerse yourself easily. In addition unlike Outlast 2 many areas in Amnesia are initially "safe" You can't see where the monster is because there's no monster there... yet. Once you enter one of these areas which I will now refer to as stalking zones, you are never safe. The enemy can spawn anywhere and anytime. This lays a foundation that fosters a constant sense of paranoia, dread, and tenseness. The enemy doesn't care that you're doing a puzzle. It's coming and you'd better hide because you don't know where until you bump into it. Outlast 2 completely lacks these elements. Because you can see all the enemies on the screen it becomes a clinical process of avoiding them removing all potential fear. Outlast 2 would be instantly better if it mimicked these elements and cultists appeared randomly. This would make every door slam, every footstep nerve wracking. It's not though because you can see them. You know where they are and you know what they can do. So it's just a game of tag until you hit the safe zone.
Then we have Amnesia's sanity system. The sanity system builds upon the foundation that the enemies create. It forces you to make an uncomfortable choice that is a constant throughout the game. If you hide in the dark you're far less likely to be spotted... but as your sanity decreases the chance of auditory and visual hallucinations increases. These hallucinations include minor and disturbing changes in the levels textures, seeing monsters that aren't there, hearing footsteps and breaths that aren't actually coming from anything. This doubles your paranoia and it's not perfectly safe either. See too many horrifying hallucinations and your character will give out as his sanity crashes into nothingness, alerting any monsters nearby of your location, even in the dark. The alternate choice is to keep your sanity up by using your latern and tinderboxes to permanently light fixtures around the level, however this means that if a monster spawns behind you it will see you immediately and if you've turned on most of the lights, then you'll have far less areas to hide.
This uncomfortable choice creates two scenarios that can be more or less dangerous depending on the level and its layout. It doubles down on the fear and paranoia caused by the enemies that can come and go as they please.
Outlast 2 has the basic structure of Amnesia but fails to understand why Amnesia works at all and takes the lamest aspects of it. A chase is nothing without constant fear and tension before it and Outlast 2 is all flaccid, dull, chases.
For the end, I'd like to discuss the good parts of Outlast 2 and what it could have been.
Outlast 2 has absolutely kooky cultists and just a fun cast of nutty characters. Outlast 2 is already somewhat exploitative, it could have upped that, it could have taken its campy fun characters and made them even campier. Have them having relations in ridiculous areas, have them eating and cooking odd things, have them bashing their heads against the sides of their houses, have them streak around waving their machetes like idiots. I could appreciate it as a gross out humor filled horror but as a serious horror it's scares are far too predictable.
I finished Outlast 2 because I wanted to see the end with the fat priest who was basically using the religion to spread his lust onto the underage girls of the community and all the other vile things we associate with stereotypes of ignorant inbred hicks. Unfortunately every bit of the game is unsatisfying. Imagine if Silent Hill 3 killed Vincent off immediately! It would be a huge waste of his antics. That's how poorly the cast of this game is used. They never get to realize their full potential, they simply don't have enough screen time.
This game is a truly awful game that stands out above work done by amateur asset flippers on steam only due to its production values. It's not scary because all of its scares are predictable. It's plot isn't delivered well, it's characters are disgustingly fun but criminally underused, and it's so obviously designed that it's impossible to immerse yourself in its world. These developers have talent but just not for an austere horror game. A campy/exploitative horror game is something they could do that nobody could do better. They should get on that.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Outlast 2 (US, 04/24/17)
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