This article is riddled with spoilers, consider this your warning!
Back in early April when it looked like Outlast 2 wasn’t getting an Australian release due to a bit of dodgy content that our classification board wasn’t terribly keen on, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. The first Outlast is one of my favourite horror games of all time, screaming my head off, sprinting from Chris Walker, uncovering the secrets of the Murkoff Corporation… developer Red Barrels left a positive impression on me as a long-time horror fan with their sleeper hit.
I was pumped for a sequel when it was finally announced, especially after getting the Whistleblower DLC, which ended up being even better than the main game itself. Once the issue with the Australian classification board was cleared up (all just a big misunderstanding, of course), Outlast 2 was set to release, and I thought I would show my appreciation for all of Red Barrels’ hard work by purchasing the retail version that combined all of the available Outlast content released so far.
I can certainly say it was worth it for Outlast and Whistleblower, but the overall experience of Outlast 2, truthfully, left me a little cold and wondering what had changed this time around. The visuals were stunning. They were a big improvement from the first game, which didn’t have bad graphics necessarily, but Outlast 2 blew me away with how gorgeous and atmospheric it was.
It had the same style of gameplay; first-person, where the main character’s only weapon is a camera they use to capture and record the brutal and shocking events that take place over the course of the game. The voice acting was another extremely positive feature for me – characters like the larger-than-life Father Knoth, the enigmatic Scalled leader Val (who, in my opinion, had the best delivered line in the entire game), even the tortured protagonist Blake, were all terrifically well done. So, why then, did Outlast 2 pale so much in comparison to its predecessor?
One thing that stood out to me was the emphasis on running away from aggressors, rather than strategically using stealth. Chase sequences were abundant in Outlast 2, and while exhilarating at first, they ended up becoming more frustrating than terrifying as they happened so frequently. Antagonists like the pickaxe-wielding nun, Marta, seemed to teleport to your location, making it nearly impossible to learn their AI patterns and outsmart them.
One part that stands out in particular was trying to evade gospel-spewing Marta while pushing a cart against a fence that would enable you to jump over to safety. I’d heard about how notoriously unforgiving this encounter was before arriving at it myself, and was dreading it – not because I was afraid, but because I wasn’t looking forward to being stuck for an hour trying to outsmart an AI who, for all intents and purposes, couldn’t be outsmarted. By sheer miracle, I’d managed to glitch the entire thing by ducking under a fence as soon as she appeared; I re-emerged after nothing happened for a few seconds, and could push the cart in one fell swoop without any trouble whatsoever. Marta had simply disappeared altogether, and enabled me to progress with no trouble at all.
Rather than being relieved, I felt disappointed. The rest of the game played out in an almost identical fashion – run around an area while trying to figure out where to go and what to do, while either dying repeatedly to enemies who seemed to have enabled ‘god mode’, or glitching the AI of enemies to allow progress. It was an extremely lacklustre formula that took what made the first Outlast great and re-used it to the point of overkill.
The sequence in the forest post-crucifixion, dodging flaming arrows shot by Nick and Laird, stood out as an example that was the most jarring of all. Trying to navigate your way in pitch black darkness while being shot at with pinpoint accuracy from great distances was, simply put, total bullshit and ruined the immersion completely. I couldn’t enjoy the classic horror trope of being pursued through the woods, because there was no real tension in dying repeatedly until you figured out where to go, and then hauling ass there on your fifth or sixth try.
It got stale with Marta in the beginning, and went completely rancid by the time Nick and Laird entered the picture. I missed being able to explore the environment at semi-safe intervals to absorb the experience, and let the atmosphere do most of the scaring. The best parts of Outlast 2, by far, were the hallucinations regarding his friend Jessica. It made me dread the day Red Barrels ever decids to do a purely supernatural-based horror game, because the notion is so terrifying I don’t think I could even play it. And, surprise surprise, they were the parts of the game that didn’t have you constantly running away from enemies and dying every two seconds.
Another missing component, and something Outlast 2 could’ve done much better, was showing more of its primary power players. Throughout the game, the player reads made up gospels and threatening notes about the hateful rivalry between Father Knoth and the rebellious former deacon Val, who have split the community of Temple Gate into two separate, warring factions. We see only glimpses of this in the beginning, and then it simply disappears entirely, save for documents found throughout the game. The player spends most of his or her time with Marta, or Nick and Laird, with Father Knoth only appearing twice in the entire game and Val appearing only in the last hour or so, which was incredibly disappointing when the game felt as though they were building them both up to be so much more than they ended up being.
The antagonists of Temple Gate ultimately didn’t leave half the impression on me that Richard Trager, Chris Walker and Eddie Gluskin did in the first game. The game could’ve benefited greatly from a bigger emphasis on their “main” antagonists and expanding on interactions between the player, Knoth and Val.
To an extent, I understand what Red Barrels was trying to do, but the experience of Outlast 2 paled in comparison to the first with the serious lack of tension and memorable encounters. They had such solid foundations in their graphics, atmosphere and voice acting that it was a crying shame the gameplay and story itself was so frustrating and disappointing, and it was something that ultimately let it down.
I still hold out hope that the inevitable DLC will expand on these characters in Temple Gate more, and elaborate on the story (ooh boy, *that ending*) – because despite my gripes about the overall experience, I’m curious to know more about Knoth and Val, and see more of how the feud between the Testament of New Ezekiel and the Heretics came to fruition. Nick and Laird can stay lost in the woods, though – I’ve had enough of those two to last me a lifetime