I’ve been a pretty big horror fan for most of my life, but the love affair with the genre easily started with games. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Clock Tower; even the more obscure stuff like Galerians and OverBlood were some of my favourites. I felt the genre was on a bit of a downward trend with first person horror games that were designed to be watched, not played. Outlast had the potential to buck the trend, but slightly missed the mark. Outlast II, with its new themes, settings and characters, feels like a better designed sequel that attempts to buck this trend.
The story of Outlast II takes place in the same world as the original Outlast but this is a largely standalone affair, with minimal links to the original game. You play as Blake, a journalist and cameraman who travels with his wife Lynn to the Arizonan desert to investigate the death of a pregnant woman. Through mysterious forces, Blake is separated from Lynn. Even worse, the couple are lost in a strange village cut off from society where a strange sect of Christianity live, who are convinced that the end of days is upon them and that Blake and Lynn have something to do with itI’ve purposefully described the story of Outlast II quite vaguely as it is best experienced completely blind. Fans of the original Outlast will love the way that Outlast II hits all the same beats when it comes to mystery and intrigue, providing a thrilling journey from beginning to end. The story in Outlast II is markedly different to the original Outlast – rooted more firmly in the supernatural and permeated with themes of religion and worship. Such a direction for the story works both to its strengths and detriment; some macabre, abstract stuff happens in Outlast II but there’s a lot of symbolism left up to the player to interpret long after the credits have rolled.
The jump in quality from Outlast to Outlast: Whistleblower was strengthened with a great sense of self-awareness. Developer Red Barrels were really in tune with what could be done better in future instalments and what prevented their debut title from being truly perfect. Outlast II continues this tradition. Most major issues that I had with both Outlast and Whistblower have been remedied in Outlast II.Outlast II eschews the closed in environments of Mount Massive Asylum for the wide open, Arizonan desert. This gives great variety in the locales you’ll be visiting, for sure, but it also provided Red Barrels opportunity to improve the way Blake can move around. Your character has a clear sense of momentum now, not unlike games like Mirror’s Edge, where running for longer improves your sprint speed. It’s a small change that heightens the tension and pacing of the game’s numerous encounters and it gives a sense of speed that illustrates that you’re truly putting everything into running away from your enemies.
Your options for self-defence are more numerous in Outlast II. Whereas you could hide in cupboards or under beds in the original game, there’s a slew of things you can do in II. You can still hide under beds and in lockers and cupboards, but you can also hide in thick foliage as well as underwater. Slightly more ingenious, Blake can also lock himself inside buildings using deadlocks too – though this proved more than tense when I accidentally locked myself in a room with something and had to quickly scramble to get back out.Much like in the original, Blake is also equipped with a camcorder that lets him zoom into objects of interest, film key moments of his investigation and see in the dark thanks to its nifty night vision feature. The camera is one of the key components of Outlast’s DNA and it’s used to great effect in II. The general appearance of the camcorder is improved from the original Outlast, better mimicking real-life night vision whereas the original game just brightened and over-saturated everything in green. Blake’s camera even has a microphone which can detect the direction that noise is coming from, although this is more useful in higher difficulty levels than in the standard one.
A huge issue I had with Outlast was that there were too many jump scares to the point where they got so formulaic that I began to predict them almost effortlessly. Outlast II still has jump scares, but it’s much more restrained in how it employs them. It better paces it’s scares, there’s more moments where you’ll be dreading what will be around each corner, behind each door. There’ll be moments where you expect jump scares and there won’t be, the whole process of mentally psyching yourself up proving to be more draining than what a simple jump scare might be. The style of Outlast II’s scares just feel better designed.Being a game where ritualistic murder and pregnancy plays a rather large part in the way the story plays out, you can imagine Outlast II plays with some pretty heavy themes. It would be both hard and outside of the scope of this review to discuss whether the content in Outlast II is gratuitous or not. Though this much is certain; the themes and the elements you’re presented with in Outlast II are done so in such a blunt way that you really don’t feel like Red Barrels held back in any capacity.Outlast II’s content is confronting, and it quite easily earns it’s R18+ rating.
Blake’s journey to reunite and escape with his wife will take most players between ten and twelve hours to finish depending on how well you evade your captors and how much you explore. Those looking to expand their experience will probably miss some collectibles along the way. These are usually notes relating to the scripture of the sect you’re running from or video diaries of Blake’s own thoughts. I recommend seeking them out as best you can, as they’ll not only lengthen the experience for you but also better flesh out Outlast II’s terrifying world.Outlast II is a great looking game too, and while it’s bound to have a constrained budget compared to more mass market titles, it’s a huge improvement over the original game. There’s great variety in the environments you’ll find yourself in and the atmosphere is as tense as ever. There’s clearly more attention to detail here, as unlike the first game most enemies appear to be designed individually rather than repeating the same four or five throughout.
But it’s the gore-laden details that complete Outlast II’s look. You’ll find human remains, horrifically mutilated bodies, crushed viscera and the like throughout the region you’re exploring. It’s visually intense, but it enables Outlast II to instil a great sense of dread in players, scaring them to progress further or inviting you to stare at the unnatural displays of gore and violence yet at the same time wanting to look away.
Outlast II is a marked improvement over the original Outlast in almost every way. It’s still scary, yet utilises smarter designed scares to keep the tension high from beginning to end. The story is bound to be controversial, given the themes it tackles, but will easily demand and keep your attention from beginning to end. First person indie horror as a genre has lost its vision over the years, but Outlast II firmly stands tall as one of the best examples. It’s absolutely terrifying and a staunch improvement over the original.
The Xbox One version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.
Outlast II is available digitally separately or at retail as part of the Outlast Trinity package, which includes Outlast, Outlast: Whistleblower and Outlast II. You can check out our older reviews of the original Outlast, as well as the downloadable expansion Whistleblower by the same author.